SCHOOLS in Ceredigion are prepared for any need to close – either fully or partially – if a local or national Covid-19 lockdown is required.

How Ceredigion County Council’s education department had supported its schools during lockdown – and beyond – was the focus of a special learning communities scrutiny committee on Thursday (October 8).

Chief education officer Meinir Ebbsworth provided councillors with details of the online work, live stream teaching training, digital resources and much more made available for teachers and pupils during lockdown.

Around 511 IT devices were distributed to children without access and there are currently 600 pupils receiving online instrument music lessons.

She also outlined the work to reopen schools including risk assessments, safety measures and the communication with school to keep up to date on Covid-19 guidelines, including close work with the track, trace and protect team to identify any potential pattern of cases in schools.

“We are taking everybody’s safety extremely seriously,” said Mrs Ebbsworth.

“The robust contingency plans that all schools have in place includes a continuity of teaching programme,” added Mrs Ebbsworth with guidance on live stream lessons expected to change to allow more flexibility with any future lockdown conditions expected to be different to what was implemented in March.

“Every headteacher has a right to close a school because of safety,” including if there are too many teachers absent due to illness or the need to safe isolate, councillors heard.

The committee also heard from several headteachers from primary and secondary schools who championed the support they had had from the authority – as well as the hard work of teachers, governors and children – to allow them to ensure pupils continued their learning and monitoring their well-being.

Mrs Ebbsworth said that the number of safeguarding referrals had gone up during lockdown, which had dropped in other areas, due to the focus on ensuring children were contacted weekly and spoken to directly to see how they were.

She said that teachers had clear guidance on referring a safeguarding concern including if a phone went unanswered.

The hard work of teachers was recognised by councillors and it was hoped that the training and use of digital resources would be continued.

Cllr Mark Strong raised concerns about children being moved from Welsh medium schools to English language when parents had struggled to maintain Welsh at home.

He was told there was no “statistics or patterns to confirm that” although the number of children being deregistered for home schooling had increased, Mrs Ebbsworth added that there were resources available for English speaking parents.

“The Authority has prepared closure action plans or partial closure action plans for schools, and a plant for the recommencement of distance learning,” it states.

At the time of lockdown in March there were 9,590 children, from nursery age to year 13, in Ceredigion’s schools.

Details of plans for examinations and whether they will be held next year or be coursework based are expected from Welsh Government after half term.

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