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Introduction

The response to COVID-19 has raised many issues for the whole of the education community. Both learners and staff will have faced a range of challenges arising from lockdown, social distancing and illness and possibly bereavement. Returning to education in a physical setting raises its own challenges.

Schools and practitioners have already stepped up in the defence against COVID: establishing provision for children of critical workers and vulnerable children and managing remote learning on an unprecedented scale with astonishing pace. As we move to this next phase, the role of schools, settings and practitioners at this time will be just as critical: nurturing our children and supporting them to continue to learn and to succeed. As practitioners, both individually and collectively, you are invaluable to our efforts as a nation in the defence of our health.

On 3 June, the Minister for Education announced that schools would increase operations from the 29 June so that all learners have the opportunity to ‘check in, catch up and prepare for summer and September’. It is expected that all learners who are able to, have the opportunity to attend their school or setting for contact time over the remainder of the summer term. In practice, this means schools accommodating reduced number of learners each day according to their capacity while ensuring appropriate social distancing is in place. 

As more learners return to the physical school environment, practitioners will be operating in a very different context. This will continue for the foreseeable future: providing a combination of face to face learning with remote learning – a blended learning approach. Schools and settings will have to develop new learning and approaches to meet the needs of their learners in response to the pandemic. In so doing, practitioners can consider the purposes of learning and weigh up their priorities; flexibly drawing on a wide range of curriculum guidance to support them in this work.

In meeting these challenges all staff will need to draw on the full range of their professional expertise. Schools and settings have a unique and vital contribution to make to support young people to cope with the challenges posed by the pandemic. Engagement in deep and satisfying learning can provide necessary respite from the many pressures children and young people are facing. As an education system, we will also need to think and act creatively in providing necessary support and guidance to schools.

The decision framework for the next phase of education and childcare was published on 15 May as a working document to advise on approaches to changing the operation of schools and other providers over time in response to COVID-19. This reiterated the Minister for Education’s five key principles for the next phase which are:

  • the safety and mental, emotional and physical well-being of learners and staff
  • continuing our contribution to the national effort and strategy to fight the spread of COVID-19 
  • the confidence of parents and carers, staff and learners – based on evidence and information – so that they can plan ahead
  • ability to prioritise learners at key points, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • consistency with the Welsh Government’s framework for decision-making, to have guidance in place to support measures such as distancing, managing attendance and wider protective actions.

These principles are critical not only in any decision to increase the operations of schools during this time, but indicate the priorities for the system in the coming months ahead.

Purpose of this guidance

This guidance provides advice on learning and teaching that schools and settings may wish to provide for the remainder of the summer term. It is also intended to support practitioners’ thinking as they prepare for the autumn term. It is aimed at schools and pupil referral units. It may also be of general interest to those working with children and young people of other ages, such as non-maintained early years providers.

We are publishing this guidance to support schools and settings as they re-evaluate learning for the foreseeable future in response to a range of challenges such as:

  • supporting learners to be ready to learn again
  • developing learning which allows learners to continue to progress
  • ensuring coherence for learners between in school and remote learning
  • developing appropriate learning to adapt to the current situation
  • using the ethos, principles and guidance of the new Curriculum for Wales as a support to the current challenges
  • encouraging practitioners to use and develop their professional judgement to best benefit learners.

This guidance sets out key principles to guide schools and settings’ planning and learning development. It is not intended to replace curriculum guidance, but to give practitioners flexibility in developing learning.

This guidance will be updated in due course, and more detailed advice will be provided for schools and settings in advance of the next school year.

To support this, guidance on the practical operations of schools and settings as they return is also available. Therefore, this guidance should be read in conjunction with the Keep Education Safe: Operational guidance for schools and settings (COVID-19). An FAQ area has also been developed to respond to common queries as they arise.

Expectations for learning over the summer term

The time before the summer break is limited and schools will have restricted opportunities to engage with their learners. It is, therefore, important to put this time to best use and to focus of what is most important to support all of our learners. This time should be used to:

  • spend time undertaking activities which support the health and well-being of learners and staff
  • check in with learners, undertake activities to develop their readiness for learning and begin to reintroduce in school learning as appropriate
  • test operations for partial reopening under social distancing (Keep Education Safe: operational guidance for educational settings)
  • engage with families, understanding learners’ well-being needs and building confidence in the careful approach we are taking.

At this time more than ever, the focus should be on identifying and supporting the needs of individual learners.

Welsh Government will clarify the expectations for the next academic year in the next update to this guidance.

Supporting health and well-being

The critical importance of well-being

As in-school operations increase, learner and staff well-being should be the primary concern. The reality of social distancing also means that learners will still spend a significant amount of time learning remotely. 

When we refer to health and well-being, we are not simply talking about the physical risks of infection of COVID-19. For learners the wider physical, mental, emotional and relationship implications of social distancing, lockdown and potentially bereavement will be much more relevant.

Well-being is both vital in its own right and a key enabler of learning: physical, mental and emotional well-being can all support learning or act as barriers to learning.  Relationships are particularly important in difficult times and engagement in learning alongside classmates will make a vital contribution to the mental health and well-being of young people. Learners and practitioners who are not content, safe and secure will not learn effectively. Practitioners should focus on supporting well-being as a foundation for learning. This should be the starting point for schools during the summer term.

Practitioners will need to have particular regard for learners who, for whatever reason are unable to attend a school or setting to receive any contact time and how they can be supported remotely.

There is a wide spectrum, or continuum, of well-being and our well-being will be affected by the challenges we face. The pandemic is likely to have negatively affected well-being in some way, particularly for children and young people who may find it difficult to place issues and concerns into perspective.

The different experiences learners will have had at home and with their families will play a large part in how easily they adapt to attending school or setting in a partial return. For all learners, this is likely to feel very different to their experience of school before lockdown. Given this, it is natural that some may require more support than others in making the transition back to school. Staff will need to consider how to support all learners to respond to:

  • the long period at home, especially for those in challenging circumstances or who have found this hard to manage or those who may be anxious about returning or find the prospect of returning threatening
  • issues and concerns related to COVID-19 and the response to it
  • pre-existing issues that may have increased as a result of COVID-19
  • the process of integrating into a physical setting for education.

The support necessary will range from that offered to the majority who require low level universal interventions to rebuild relationships with teachers and peers, as set out below, to the few who will require more targeted, specialist support. The frequency of this will of course depend on the individual learner.

Mental and emotional well-being

The return to school can offer learners a range of mental health benefits. It may provide them with time with friends, a sense of routine and a chance to spend time with adults in school who have become important to them.

Communication and conversations can be an important support. For some learners, being able to talk to a trusted adult who they know well can be more therapeutic and more immediate than being referred to another professional who may not be readily available. Conversations about how they are feeling will be critical throughout this period. Staff should encourage learners to discuss their questions and concerns. Learners should recognise that it is normal that they may experience different reactions and be encouraged to talk to staff if they have any questions or concerns, especially around COVID-19. Information should be provided in an honest, developmentally appropriate manner.

For many learners, simply engaging in meaningful learning experiences will support their mental well-being; helping them to feel a sense of purpose, progression and enjoyment in learning.

Schools can support learners to respond to the disruption of routine and school structure and the impacts of long periods at home which may have been difficult. Learners may well have suffered or will suffer bereavements, or be aware of the anxiety felt by the adults in their lives. The impact of parents/carers remaining at home for long periods may also have had an adverse impact on the mental health of the whole household. Schools can give learners a sense of safety and relief from this.

Returning to school itself may well cause anxiety and some learners, especially younger or the more vulnerable will find the disruption of partial return difficult to manage. Practitioners should appreciate that many, if not all learners may find challenges in this and some learners will find this especially difficult to adjust to.

All learners should have access to a range of tools and support for their emotional and mental well-being at school. Universal provision is not about learners requiring and accessing dedicated specialist support. Rather it is about practitioners providing time to support learners in understanding their own well-being, in rebuilding resilience and developing coping mechanisms to manage challenges COVID-19 brings. Schools should consider how youth work approaches or universal pastoral support can be used.

For many learners, school provides additional specific interventions beyond learning to help them manage their mental health. The summer term also provides the opportunity for schools to identify these needs in advance of the autumn. Schools may well provide a key opportunity to raise safeguarding issues where a learner’s experience has been traumatic or abusive. Advice on these is set out in the operational guidance.

It is also important to remember that for at least some learners, some aspects of lockdown may have been relatively positive: providing more family time, a structured day with access to recreation and appropriate learning. Schools should continue to encourage families in this way.

Relationships and social well-being

A physical return to school has the potential to be a welcomed opportunity for learners to meet friends, revive social connections and to spend time with adults in school who have become important to them. Some learners will need additional support to reconnect. A feeling of belonging and connectedness are key drivers of well-being. Education settings are deeply social places and therefore play a vital part in developing a sense of belonging and connectedness in their learners. This happens in multiple interactions throughout a day in a school or setting and not just in the classroom. Education settings actively contribute to a sense of belonging and connectedness in a number of ways including through:

  • nurturing both positive peer relationships and those between staff and learners
  • ensuring learners feel valued, listened to and heard
  • giving learners opportunities to work collaboratively, in purposeful learning
  • developing a sense of community. 

Relationships with other learners and staff are a key aspect of learners’ well-being. As learners may also be missing other key relationships, such as their relationships with grandparents, having opportunity to rekindle relationships at school will be critical.

After many weeks without face-to-face peer interaction, being allowed into school but made to remain 2 metres away from friends could be difficult and upsetting for many learners. Learners will require time, support and understanding to develop new behaviours and opportunities to play, socialise and nurture relationships in the context of social distancing can support this. Practitioners should ensure that learners have time, space and structured activities to re-form relationships with other learners and with staff. Practitioners will also consider how they work to re-establish the relationship between learner and teacher.

For some learners, these relationships may have continued online which will have been a very important and positive support to allow them to spend time with their friends. However, practitioners should remain alert to the potential for increased instances of harmful behaviours online.

The role of practitioners should be first and foremost to nurture children and young people. Learners should be supported positively to understand and observe hygiene and social distancing requirements but practitioners should ensure their expectations of learners are reasonable and support their well-being.

Physical well-being

Schools can provide important opportunities to support learners’ physical well-being. This gives young people opportunities to enjoy a range of physical activities. It can also help them to understand the importance of a healthy balanced diet and access and enjoy foods as part of this. Lockdown may well have had a significant impact on learners’ access to these. Their sleeping habits may also have changed significantly. Indeed for many children, routine will need to be rebuilt and this may be especially difficult in the ‘part-time nature of some schools and settings. Schools should consider how learners can enjoy activities to support their physical health and to understand and develop healthy behaviours. Particular emphasis should be placed on enjoyment: as this supports them to develop health-affirming behaviours.

Schools should also help learners understand and manage guidance on social distancing and hygiene. Some learners will find these difficult to adjust to at school, or may have received conflicting or confusing advice from elsewhere.

The role of play and outdoor learning

Practitioners should consider how play and outdoor learning can support learners’ well-being. Both provide wide ranging opportunities to support learning as well to enhance learners’ relationships, physical, mental and emotional well-being. They should therefore be considered central to any approach to phased return.

Play for all learners

Practitioners should recognise the important role of play for learners of all ages. This is critical to their development, their well-being and their socialisation. Even while seeking to maintain social distancing, practitioners should ensure learners have the opportunity to play.

All learners should be given opportunities to play and socialise both through structured activities and unstructured breaks. Risks should be minimised, for example, by having very small groups or holding play activities mostly outdoors. Break times could be staggered to support this.

Outdoor learning

Schools should maximise the time learners spend outdoors. The physical, mental and educational benefits of outdoor learning approaches are clear as:

  • learning ‘in’ the outdoors has been shown to support both physical and mental health and well-being
  • learning ‘about’ the outdoors provides a context to develop ambitious, capable learners (particularly though science and humanities)
  • learning ‘for’ the outdoors can be about understanding the climate emergency and environmental sustainability, leading to the development of ethical, informed citizens.

It also has important benefits during the COVID-19 outbreak as:

  • evidence indicates that the risk of infection is reduced outdoors
  • evidence suggests that the virus suffers in sunlight
  • social distancing is easier to observe and maintain outside, which Practically, it may be easier for practitioners to manage larger groups of learners outdoors.

There are a wide range of organisations and resources available to support schools and settings when considering outdoor learning. Schools and settings can access support via Hwb, as well as through the Wales Council for Outdoor Learning, including their guidance on ‘High Quality Outdoor Learning for Wales’.

Developing learning experiences

Clarifying expectations for the summer term

In addition to the emphasis on well-being, schools should as appropriate, begin to widen learning and teaching. This should include supporting transition so that as far as possible learners are ready for the next academic year.

This guidance on learning is meant to be light touch, recognising that schools will have limited time before the summer holidays. However, it will also be useful for schools and settings in planning for a continuation of partial operations in the next academic year. More detailed guidance on this will be published later this term.

At present, schools may wish to draw on existing curriculum guidance but should also consider how new curriculum guidance can support development over time. In the limited time available before the summer holidays, the balance of the role of the teacher may shift from one where the teacher designs most of the learning within the classroom and offers some learning opportunities beyond the classroom (e.g. homework) to a teacher who principally designs learning opportunities for learning beyond the classroom and offers some opportunities for learning within the classroom.

Practitioners should not attempt to ‘cover’ or ‘catch up’ on all that the activity they would have done in the time that learners were away from settings. This is not expected of them and should not be the focus of learning during this time.

The key principles which should guide any learning both over the remainder of the summer term and for partial return during the next academic year are as follows.

Over the summer term, there should be:

  • an increased focus on well-being, play and outdoor learning (highlighted in the section above)
  • a focus on learners becoming ‘learning fit’: learning should have a clear focus on preparing learners to learn again, on their progression and next steps, rather than focusing on level attainment or a need to ‘catch-up’ on activity. Where assessment is used, this should be only used to help learners progress in a supportive way
  • where learning is reintroduced, learning experiences developed in response to learners’ needs: learners will have a variety of needs, across physical and remote learning and practitioners will need to design learning to support these, rather than carry on with ‘business as usual’

As schools and settings begin to think about learning and teaching for the next school year, they should also consider the following principles.

  • A focus on the purposes and principles of the new curriculum to support learning: many of the answers for schools on the focus, flexibility, autonomy and challenges of this academic year can be found in the Curriculum for Wales guidance.
  • A blend of ‘in school’ and ‘out of school’ learning driven by a single curriculum: learners should not expect or experience two parallel curriculums, but practitioners will need to think how learning outside classroom supports the valuable and limited contact time.

Preparing learners for learning fitness

Learning should focus on preparing learners to be ready to learn in school again, to make progress and identifying their next steps, rather than focusing on level attainment or learning loss. Learners will need time and support to develop their readiness for learning. At this point support should focus on learners’ next steps for progression, rather than trying to ‘catch up’.

Learners will need time and support to re-adjust and may need to rebuild the confidence and motivation for learning again. For those undertaking external exams next academic year, they may feel that they are facing further uncertainty.

Assessment and progression

As learning in school is reintroduced, assessment should be used to support each individual learner as they re-engage with learning, to encourage progression in learning and to build their confidence in what will continue to be an unfamiliar context. Crucially, assessment should help learners to identify what they have achieved and what next steps they should take both to enable them to be ready to learn and to continue to make progress in their learning.

Assessment should not be about ‘testing’ learners to identify where they are against levels. As a fundamental part of the learning process, assessment should contribute to developing a holistic picture of the learner in order to identify and support their next steps. In this context, communication between the practitioner and the learner is key to ensuring well-being. Practitioners should look to provide feedback but this should focus on supporting the learner to move forward by reassuring them, acknowledging effort and achievement and helping to identify next steps.

Transition

Schools and settings are best placed to ascertain the most appropriate ways of working in order to support learners during the transition process, in particular from primary to secondary school. Ensuring the well-being of all learners is integral to this process, recognising the needs of individuals and supporting continuity in their learning and progression. 

For learners moving schools, such as from primary into secondary, the transfer of information between schools will still be required.

Schools and settings developing learning for individual learners

As learning is reintroduced in school contact time, learners will have a variety of needs, across physical and remote learning and practitioners will need to design learning to support these, rather than try to carry on with ‘business as usual’. 

Learning approaches should recognise that current curriculum programmes of study were not designed for blended learning. However, approaches can draw on these as appropriate, as well as drawing on the purposes and principles set out in the new curriculum along with the new curriculum guidance as a whole. The Curriculum for Wales guidance has been developed with the profession to support greater subsidiarity allowing practitioners to exercise their professional judgment within a national framework.

It will be for schools and settings to decide the approach to learning that will be most beneficial for their learners based on considerations such as:

  • what support do learners need to be able to build their learning fitness?
  • how might we prepare learners most effectively for the blended approach to learning that they will experience?
  • are there key experiences that are essential for particular year groups to enable them to make progress next year that must now be built into the curriculum before the summer break?
  • for those providing for EOTAS learners, what specific support is required?
  • are there key experiences that are essential for particular year groups that have not yet been undertaken?
  • is any additional support for literacy, numeracy and digital skills necessary to prepare for the coming year?
  • what are the immediate needs of learners whose language at home is different to the language used at school? How can these needs be supported as they continue to learn both at home and in school?
  • how can the setting recognise and celebrate learning undertaken at home to date?

This guidance on assessment is essential to support all learners, including those in Years 10 and 12 currently studying for qualifications. They will have specific concerns when they return to the school environment this summer term and their mental, emotional and physical well-being will be the first and foremost priority for practitioners during this time.

Using new curriculum principles to support learning

As schools begin to think about learning and teaching for the next school year and for partial return, the new curriculum guidance can offer important support. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted, more than ever, the need for the four purposes in learners’ education. Practitioners will be developing and changing their approaches to their curriculum in response to the current situation. The four purposes offer a central focus for the learning and teaching they develop. Many of the answers to the flexibility, autonomy and challenges of the foreseeable future are found in the new curriculum; which has been developed with practitioners over recent years with greater flexibility as a key principle. The new curriculum should not be seen as an additional burden, but rather an important solution for many of the challenges we are now facing.

In particular, the Health and Well-being Area of Learning and Experience element of the guidance provides important support that schools can draw on at this time. This supports schools and settings to develop learning which helps learners to support their mental and emotional and physical well-being, form and maintain healthy relationships, make health affirming decisions and engage critically with the social influences around them. These behaviours will be critical to learners at this time.

Schools and settings should also use the current flexibility to make learning opportunities out of the current situation. This can help learners understand and make sense of the current situation and to use it as a gateway for wider learning. For example:

  • the importance of protection from infection in Health and Well-being
  • the nature and characteristics of viruses and the development of technological solutions to reduce the risk of transmission in Science and Technology
  • data and exponential growth in Mathematics and Numeracy
  • the unprecedented impact on migration and economics in Humanities

‘In school curriculum’ supported by remote learning

As schools and settings prepare for a longer period over the autumn, the blend of ‘in school’ and ‘out of school’ learning should be supported by a single curriculum, driven by the learning undertaken during the time spent ‘in school’. It is critical that learners should not experience two parallel curriculums which would lead to a confusing and disjointed learning experience.

The contact time learners have will be valuable and precious. Practitioners should think about the balance and relationship between these: using contact time carefully and effectively and identifying how remote learning can support that. Contact time should not be spent doing things that learners can do from home. Rather practitioners should consider how they can empower learners to undertake meaningful investigations and learning experiences at home. Time at home can give learners opportunity to research, prepare and think, before exploring and consolidating concepts and skills during contact time.

Practitioners will need to consider carefully how learning and teaching uses the physical space available and that the use of physical space enables learning rather than presenting an obstacle. For example, if learners are sat at the same desk all day, this is very likely to inhibit effective learning. Likewise, learners may feel more exposed sat in a distanced desk. This may affect their willingness to participate and they may need more support and encouragement. 

Remote learning which supports this is especially key. Practitioners should also draw on the expectations and supporting documentation set out through Stay Safe, Stay Learning which will support practitioners in developing the ‘how’ of remote learning. This has important implications for pedagogy.

Wider system collaboration and support

In light of capacity challenges, schools and settings should look for opportunities to co-construct, and if need be co-deliver provision in partnership with their clusters and networks. This has potential to allow settings to help manage capacity issues, especially around remote learning. Similarly, schools should seek to draw on the potential for engagement and collaboration with other agencies such as youth services and library services.

As the operations of schools increase, practitioners should look for opportunities to use the new curriculum to inform their approaches. Professional learning should support practitioners to develop approaches to curriculum design, informed by the Curriculum for Wales guidance and in particular ‘Designing your curriculum’.

During this period, we do not expect key stage assessments to be undertaken, nor data about the outcomes of such assessments to be gathered. It is not appropriate during this time for schools to use summative assessment for the purpose of tracking. Schools should focus on supporting each individual learner to take their learning forward while continuing to work in an unfamiliar context.

Schools should also work with their local authority and consortium to consider:

  • how we as a system build confidence in families and the wider public of what is happening in school and learning
  • how remote learning contributes to ‘in school’ learning and how practitioners manage this as operations increase over time?

We are fully aware of the challenges that these learners are facing and Qualifications Wales is currently carrying out work to consider the options which might apply for various scenarios during the next academic year. There is no one size fits all solution and it is likely that options for qualifications may need to be considered individually. The learner remains at the heart of these considerations and further information will be shared as soon as it’s available.

Dialogue with parents and carers

The communications between schools and parents, carers and children will be critical throughout the coming period. At a time of uncertainty, parents and carers will need clear communication to ensure they understand how they should contribute to their children’s learning at this time. In particular:

  • how parents/carers support a blended approach to learning. The level of remote learning will require an enhanced role for parents/carers. Schools and settings will need to support them to understand their role, how they should support virtual learning and how they can support learners through other activities, rather than feeling the burden or expectation of having to “home school” their children. The four purposes in Curriculum for Wales can help to establish a common language and act as a secure point of reference for creating learning experiences that have educational integrity
  • managing parents' and carers’ expectations so that they understand learning will look like and why, including supporting understanding of the role and purpose of remote learning, the social and emotional benefits of play and use of outdoor spaces
  • discussion with families to understand learners’ experiences during school lockdown will be important. Additional support will be required for many, such as children who are experiencing grief, children with special educational needs or other barriers to learning and children with existing mental health problems
  • communications and reassurance. Schools have a significant role to play in reassuring staff, children and parents and carers. Many families and practitioners will be anxious about putting children at risk and schools have a role in reassuring them. Communication should be factual, clear and based on the latest evidence and guidance and clear.   

Reporting to parents and carers this summer term

It is important that headteachers continue to provide a relevant and useful report to parents and carers (and adult learners) on learner progress for all learners this year, where they and teachers contributing to reports are able to do so. 

The provision of a ‘school leaver’s’ report will remain a statutory requirement to ensure these learners are not disadvantaged in any way. Although a report must still be provided for these learners, these will not necessarily be full reports, and the format, content and timing will subject to ‘reasonable endeavours’. For learners in Years 10 to 13, given that the calculation of grades for GCSE, AS and A Levels will use centre assessed grades and a standardisation process, we are strongly advising that reports should exclude estimated grades or mock exam results. This is in order to avoid creating either confusion or expectation about the grade a learner is subsequently awarded.

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