This article was originally published in Education Wales, Thursday 11 March 2021

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Education Minister, Siân Gwenllian, explores the work that must be done to help our children and young people recover from the pandemic:

It’s been estimated that all children in the UK have, by now, lost half a year of ‘normal’ face to face learning. Recovery of this lost learning is vital, but recovery mustn’t just focus on information gained and retained, it also needs to help our young people deal with their experiences of the pandemic. Recovery needs to consider all the negative impact that the pandemic might have had.

The reality is that no child or young person has escaped the impact of the pandemic.

Of course the schools being closed has disrupted their learning, but what of the lost social interactions and the resulting isolation? We’re only just beginning to understand how this has impacted – and continues to impact – our children.

A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales describes the impact as “crushing” and says that “life has been difficult for all age groups.”

While coronavirus is said not to discriminate, it has exposed the inequalities that exist in our society, and children have not escaped this cruel fact.

Facts such as children in more disadvantaged areas have lost the most learning. This is because disadvantaged areas have seen higher infection rates resulting in higher school absence rates.

Children in these areas are also less likely to be able to access remote learning – put simply, they are less likely to have the kit needed to access the online learning, and some children were found to have been accessing learning on their mobile phones. A Senedd Committee recently heard evidence that schools in the most disadvantaged areas had the fewest log-ins to online learning portals – not a surprise, but the first concrete evidence of something that has been known since the start of the pandemic.

So with this in mind, it might come as a surprise to hear that the Labour Welsh Government hasn’t yet published a plan of how they propose to help our children and young people recover from this. My role in opposition is to scrutinise government, but right now, there’s nothing to scrutinise.

This is why I’ve developed an education recovery plan for Plaid Cymru. Come May 6th, if we’re voted in to form the next Government, as the Education Minister in a Plaid Cymru Government, I would be ready to lead on educational recovery.

Crucially, this isn’t a one off plan – it’s the start of an ambitious drive to invest in teaching and support children and young people with their mental health and well-being. The way I see it, the crisis must lead to lasting positive change.

My plan centres around the need to support teachers to lead on the recovery. It’s the teachers who are in the classrooms right now (virtual and real classrooms) who will help lead the recovery - we need to invest in them.

Plaid Cymru will do this by increasing the workforce. Put simply, we’ll increase the number of people available to nurture well-being and social interaction as well as improving educational skills.

This will be achieved in a variety of ways:

  • Fixed contracts for qualified teachers (including supply teachers) and recruiting staff currently out of work.
  • We would give a direct role to those currently training to be teachers and classroom assistants.
  • A two-year national Teacher Volunteer Scheme, aimed at retired teachers and other education professionals would be established.
  • We would actively promote secondments of teachers not currently teaching and from other professions such as youth workers.
  • We’ll also recruit a pool of community volunteers – with months of having to facilitate learning at home, we have many people who may want to take their experience to the classroom.

Plaid Cymru will open up pathways to ensure there are no barriers to all those qualified and willing who would like to help the national effort.

By increasing the workforce over the next two years, we can really focus on targeted support for the children who need it most – increasing one-to-one and small group working.

We’ll also focus on that other important aspect – the negative impact the pandemic has had on our children’s well-being and mental health. We will engage artistic practitioners to help pupils express their COVID-19 experiences creatively. Healing through play, not through rigid sessions in a classroom.

Lastly, we will support teachers by removing unnecessary bureaucracy – this includes suspending Estyn school inspections for a year. 

A recent report showed that as at the end of February of this year, Wales had spent far less on education recovery than Scotland - eighty-eight pounds per pupil in Wales compared with two hundred pounds per pupil in Scotland.

The Welsh Government has promised that no child will be left behind, but their actions don’t match their words. The reality is that our children are at risk of being punished by a lack of ambition from the Labour Welsh Government.

Without a plan from Welsh Government, there is really just one choice at the ballot box in May if you want to give our children the best start in life. A vote for Plaid Cymru is a vote for our children and a vote for the future of Wales.