Staffing concerns as Gwynedd plans to keep schools open
A Gwynedd headteacher fears that a decision to keep schools open next week could cause staffing headaches for the county’s schools.
Several Welsh authorities have announced that all learning will be held online for the final three days of the current term in a bid to limit spread of Covid-19.
But despite heightened tensions over the Omicron variant, Gwynedd is set to persist with in-person teaching until 22 December.
Speaking on BBC Radio Cymru’s Dros Frecwast programme on Wednesday, the headteacher of Bangor’s Ysgol Friars said the decision could lead to heightened staffing issues with recruiting supply staff already said to be problematic.
“I do sympathise with decision makers as, especially in secondary schools, if they close earlier than expected it will reduce the amount of time for those in years 11, 12 and 13 who are facing exams in January and over the summer,” said Neil Foden, who’s also strategic headteacher of Ysgol Dyffryn Nantlle in Penygroes.
“But on the flipside it also raises the levels of danger facing the children.
“In Gwynedd I think there’s an additional factor following the decisions made by bordering counties, especially Anglesey, which will increase pressure on Gwynedd to reconsider.
“Many of our staff (at Friars) live on the island and some in Conwy, which hasn’t made a decision yet as I understand, but staff have the right to take time off if they face an emergency situation in regards to childcare.
“So while we’ve managed to get through the current term without having to send groups of children home, if we hit a point at the start of next week where many staff are off – either through illness or having to care for their children – supply staff are very scarce at the moment and it’s likely we’d hit a point where we wouldn’t have enough staff.
“I’d rather keep open if possible as secondary pupils have lost so much teaching time…. but on the flipside what kind of education can we offer if we’re having to depend on supply staff or even putting year groups together in the hall just to oversee them?”
Mr Foden added that while some parents had expressed concern that schools were remaining open, there was a fear among staff due to the discrepancy between neighbouring councils.
He added that Friars had witnessed 355 cases during the present term including 27 members of staff, but that long Covid had also been an issue.
“The biggest issue is staff, we tried to contact an agency last week which has 80 supply teachers but all of them were already out in schools,” he said.
“So the main concern for me is not how many children will be absent but will we be able to control the school and keep everything going with more staff being off.
“There’s something to be said for lessening the strain on staff and pupils over the last three days of term next week by moving teaching online and trying to regroup in January firing on all cylinders.”
A Gwynedd Council spokesperson said: “We can confirm that schools in Gwynedd will remain open until 22 December in accordance with Welsh Government guidelines.
“Through the Multi Agency Gwynedd Surveillance and Response Group – which includes representatives from Public Health Wales and the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board – we are continuing to closely monitor and respond appropriately to all the available scientific data.
“At present, this data shows that infection rates in Gwynedd have fallen significantly over the past week. However, should the situation change, arrangements are in place to introduce blended learning if an individual school reaches a certain threshold in terms of case numbers and/or staffing levels.
“As a council we are grateful to all our school staff for their hard work and dedication during this difficult time and to parents and guardians for their continuing support and understanding.”
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