A headteacher has described how she has been cleaning her school and covering for absent class teachers as Covid chaos continues.
Annamaria Bevan, head at St Margaret’s RC Primary in Aberdare, warned children are missing out on their education across Wales.
Thousands of teachers and other staff have been off for Covid-related reasons since term began with fewer infection restrictions and there is a Wales-wide shortage of supply teachers to cover for them. You can read more about that here
Mrs Bevan has been going into her school at 7am to clean before covering for class teachers who are off ill, self isolating or preparing for the new curriculum.
She said she is willing to work hard but the situation “is not sustainable”, children are being affected and she is now off with Covid herself.
The experienced head, who campaigned for schools to stay open last yea r, does not blame her local education authority but said life was “anything but normal” in schools.
She warned the situation is being made worse because staff also now have to take time out to train for the Welsh Government’s new curriculum reforms.
Describing the first half of term as tough Mrs Bevan said Covid has left her feeling drained and the virus is now “rife” in schools.
“It has been an extremely difficult half term and definitely not business as usual for schools," she said.
“I had no cleaner for the first four weeks back as she had Covid so badly.
“Most of us have had to cover classes as there is just not enough supply out there. Covid is rife and it’s having a huge impact on the quality of teaching and learning because we can’t get the staff.
“I cleaned with the caretaker most days. I wasn’t the only one in that position it was so bad everywhere, so many schools without cleaners. My caretaker did what he could and made sure toilets and surfaces were clean but some mornings I started my day by vacuuming.
“The last few weeks I’ve spent from 7am most mornings trying to cover staff who are not just off with Covid but stress too.
“The children are missing so much and when they are in they don’t necessarily have their own teacher or teaching assistant.
“On top of this is the pressure of the new curriculum and trying to release teachers to work collaboratively on curriculum design. It’s just not sustainable.”
Mrs Bevan said she had thought it was important for children to mix without contact bubbles, but more children are missing school now that restrictions have been relaxed.
“I was glad to see the back of bubbles. Children were desperate to mix again but with all the restrictions lifted in the community as well it has become impossible to keep the children safe from Covid.
“During the last 18-months of hubs and schools in bubbles we didn’t get the Covid rates we are seeing now
“I fought to keep schools open and I wanted normality to return - no bubbles etc - but now I see that perhaps we would have less children and staff off if we kept the bubbles.
“However, if society is back to normal (football games, birthday parties, sleep overs etc) then perhaps bubbles wouldn’t make a difference.
“I think we should stay open I just wish they’d recognise that we are struggling.”
Mrs Bevan said her local education authority, Rhondda Cynon Taf, has been “empathetic” but there was little it could do with the new curriculum and schools re-opening guidance run by the Welsh government. There was also little that LEAs could do about lack of supply teachers because of the way it is run across Wales with private supply agencies.
Last week more than 6,000 children were off for Covid-related reasons across Wales. But the true figure could be higher because being ill with Covid is lumped in with all other illnesses. Complaints from school leaders about this has prompted a review of the data announced by the Education Minister.
The Welsh Government responds
Asked about problems schools are facing and the shortage of supply cover a Welsh Government spokesman pointed to a statement made by Education Minister Jeremy Miles last week.
In the statement Mr Miles said: "I am aware there are concerns about accessing supply cover due to staff illness, or awaiting PCR tests for example.
"I am aware, from the framework agencies, that the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are taking longer than expected.
"My officials have written to the DBS to discuss this urgently. I can also confirm that we are continuing to provide funding via the Hardship Fund to support supply cover for teachers and teaching assistants who are off sick with Covid-19, or are required to self-isolate, this will continue while rates remain high."
How schools re-opened with less Covid restrictions this term
This term the Welsh Government introduced the new Covid “framework” for schools. Decisions on what restrictions are imposed are made on what the virus is doing locally and pressure on the NHS as well as what cases might be coming in to schools.
Instead of blanket all-Wales guidelines councils and local health authorities now decide what category their schools should be in following risk assessments and checking the local situation
The framework has four Covid alert level categories for schools to follow. The levels of restrictions depend on local circumstances: low, moderate, high and very high and can vary at LEA or individual schools level.
How councils around Wales vary on schools Covid alert levels.
WalesOnline asked all 22 councils what level of Covid alerts their schools are at. These are the responses of those who have replied so far
Merthyr: - varies between schools. A spokesman said: “The local authority has adapted the framework, so it doesn’t sit fully in one level.”
Carmarthenshire: Moderate. A spokesperson said: “Schools in Carmarthenshire are still operating at the moderate risk level in terms of the mitigations they have in place.”
Flintshire: - Zero. A spokesperson said: “All of our schools are currently at Alert Level 0”.
Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan: - All schools in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan were moved to the “high” Covid alert level at the end of September community infection rate in both areas rose. At the time they said they expected to remain on the high alert level until at least half term.
A spokesperson for the Cardiff and Vale Incident Management Team, led by Cardiff and Vale University Health Board and the two councils, said at the time: “Based on the criteria in the Welsh Government infection control framework, the Cardiff and Vale region is now in the “high risk” category, due to increasing cases in older people, increasing hospital admissions, and pressure on the Test, Trace and Protect service locally.”
Swansea and Neath Port Talbot: - All schools in two council areas were moved to the “high” Covid alert level in September after rising levels locally of coronavirus. Schools were asked to re-introduce restrictions such as one way systems, social distancing and pupils facing to the front in classes.
Newport: A spokesperson said: "As a minimum, Newport schools are operating at the moderate operating level (this was decided at a Gwent level at the end of last month). This is being kept under regular review at both the Newport and Gwent level."
Powys: Low and medium. Powys has warned a 50% rise in cases in the last week has been driven by schoolchildren.
"The county has seen more than a 50% increase in Covid-19 cases with secondary school age children particularly affected," a spokesperson said.
"Twice weekly LFD testing is strongly encouraged for all secondary school age learners to help identify and isolate asymptomatic cases as soon as possible.
"The huge increase in case numbers is also having an impact on the county’s dedicated contact tracing team which is being stretched by the volume of cases. It has asked residents to be patient warning that calls may be delayed but that the team is working hard to reach contacts."
The council said Covid alert levels vary between schools: “Our Covid alert levels are based on cluster ratings and individual schools.
“All clusters are at a low rating and the vast majority of schools are also low. A small number of schools are at medium.”
In the seven days to October 17, 694 new cases were reported in the county with cases per per 100,000 in Powys now standing at 524.
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