The way the Welsh Government provided laptops and wi-fi devices to address the lack of access to online learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic has been described as ‘commendable’ in an independent report published today (Friday, October 9).
The new report, by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), also says the Welsh Government was successful in ensuring that families eligible for free school meals had ‘access to timely and appropriate support’.
The Education policy responses across the UK to the pandemic report is the first detailed analysis comparing how the governments of each of the UK nations supported pupils’ education during the period of closures to schools this year.
In a section looking into supporting online learning at home, the report states that, in contrast to other UK nations, the Welsh Government was able to draw on ‘well-established infrastructure to act quickly following the closures’.
It says: "Policymakers and schools were able to re-purpose existing stocks of laptops and send internet routers to disadvantaged learners by the end of May.
"The delivery of laptops and internet routers came later in England, as new procurement systems were needed. The majority of equipment was delivered by the end of June…In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the response was far slower. Laptop and internet delivery in these countries was not even complete by the end of the school year, leaving poorer pupils to wait several months to access online learning materials."
The report goes on to cover free school meals in which it says:
"Scottish and Welsh responses proved more effective as they were delivered through local authorities, used existing infrastructure and were flexible according to families’ needs.
"On extending support to those who receive free school meals into the summer, Wales was the only country to give certainty to families by announcing the policy very early on, in April."
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said:
This report makes for interesting reading; as I’ve said before, there was no guide left on how to run an education system during a pandemic.
Clearly there is plenty of room for improvement for all governments across the UK. That is why it is so helpful to have evidence collated like this – devolution means we are all able to learn from each other to deliver for our citizens.
Ensuring that no child or family was left behind as a result of this crisis remains a key priority for the Welsh Government, so it particularly encouraging to see the EPI highlight our work in response to providing free school meals and supporting online learning.