Today I want to give you an update on schools and the home learning facilities we have in place.
We continue to have four school facilities open.
Notre Dame for Lower Primary children.
St Anne’s for Upper Primary children.
Westside for Secondary school children.
And we also have St Martin’s open.
We are operating creche facilities for those children who are under school age.
All of these have been operating during what traditionally would have been the Easter school holidays.
We have extended hours in the primary and secondary schools – from 7.30 in the morning until 8.30 in the evening – to cater for those working shifts.
We continue to have around 160 children attending these facilities.
This means that the vast majority of our children are at home.
We realise the stress or anxiety that the current situation can cause.
We have a helpline for children and for parents who are concerned about their children’s mental health.
The number to call if you need this service is 200 12499.
It is staffed from Monday to Friday between 8.30 and 4.30 in the afternoon.
Concerns can also be sent by using the form in our website – education.gov.gi.
Anyone sending a form will be contacted.
Education is, of course, like almost everything else around us these days, conducted in a very different way to what we have been used to.
It is nevertheless important, for educational and other reasons, that children are not idle, that children continue to develop key skills and that children continue on their learning journey.
That is why we have set up home learning platforms for both Primary and Secondary school children.
The vast majority of children in the Primary sector are engaging regularly with the platform.
The focus is on developing key learning skills and supporting emotional well being.
This is naturally not the same learning that we have in classrooms.
I would therefore like to reassure parents that no child is falling behind with the curriculum if they are not able to complete the tasks that are being set.
We ask the public to have confidence that when our schools resume, our dedicated team of professionals will ensure that our students are supported in making the expected progress.
At secondary level, we also have an online platform that children can engage with where they will be provided with a series of activities by their teachers.
There are a number of key principles that guide this home learning programme.
There should be a routine for students to follow.
The routine should include exercise activities as well as a mental health or mindfulness element.
There should be a balance over the week, with the time allocated to subjects reflecting the proportion of the usual weekly timetable.
Where possible and helpful, work will be differentiated according to the needs and abilities of students.
Activities set should be as engaging as possible.
They should be able to be completed within the home environment with resources you would expect to find within that environment.
The pace of moving forward is not intended to replicate the pace at which teachers would have moved forward had the children been in school.
It will be practically impossible to match that rate of progress.
The aim is to make good use of the time that we do have available and help the students to make progress so that when normalcy is resumed, our students are as prepared as possible to continue their learning in the school setting.
We are in the final stages of setting up a subscription to GCSEPod – an online platform that offers a series of learning and revision podcasts across 27 GCSE subjects.
This is designed for remote learning and we expect that it will be rolled out in the next week.
These podcasts are clearly not intended to replace or be a substitute for the classroom environment but in times where that environment is not available, it will provide an additional resource for both teachers and children as we strive to make home learning as meaningful and productive as possible.
The subscription we have for GCSEpod will take us until next year so the platform will be available to children even after schools reopen.
We are grateful to the Kusuma Trust for having offered to fund this subscription.
When schools closed one of the matters that most concerned students was what would happen to their GCSEs or A Levels.
Would they be delayed or how were they to be assessed?
We then had confirmation that the exams were cancelled and we now know that there is going to be a process for grades to be awarded.
Even though these students will not be taking their exams this year, it is nevertheless important that we prepare them for the next stage in their education.
We are therefore rolling out bespoke programmes for Year 11 and Year 13 students.
For Year 11s, this will include some insight into the A Level courses available and guidance on skills development and practice.
For the Year 13s, it will focus on independent learning skills and academic research and referencing tools for those planning to progress onto University for tertiary education.
It will also provide job seeker guidance for those wishing to go into employment.
These additional programmes will be rolled out as from Monday 20th April for the Year 13s and as from Monday 27th April for the Year 11s.
With regard to the assessment process for GCSE, AS and A Levels, our website at education.gov.gi contains all the information that Ofqual has issued for students and parents to date.
This website will be updated regularly with any further information that Ofqual publish.
We would ask students and parents to check our website if they have any queries about the process and what to expect.
It is very important to note that professionals are not allowed to engage with parents and students on any aspect of the process specific to individuals as Ofqual have issued strict instructions to this effect.
We therefore ask students and parents to refrain from contacting the schools to discuss centre assessment grades as our professionals are unable to engage with them on this matter.
We appreciate that these are very uncertain times for students and parents and an unprecedented situation for our professionals, too.
Everyone involved in the process is aware of how important these qualifications are to the young people completing them, and will use their professional experience to make a fair and objective judgement of the grade they believe a student would have achieved had they sat their exams this year.
I can reassure you that the process will be robust and rigorous, with a team of experienced professionals working with all the pertinent staff within each of the 3 secondary institutions, to ensure that the process is fair and objective.
Ofqual have announced this week that the results for GCSEs and A Levels will be given on the dates that they were originally planned to be handed out.
These are 13 August for A levels and 20 August for GCSEs.
Students will also be asking themselves about the process for applying for scholarships.
That will be no different to other years.
An advert will soon be published inviting applications for Government scholarships as from September.
Application forms will be available online at the education.gov.gi website.
There is, of course, uncertainty as to what the state of play in the UK will be in September and whether Universities will reopen then.
We do not know exactly what will happen but from the Department of Education’s point of view we need to plan and we need to be prepared for whatever the position may be.
We certainly do not want to be caught by surprise and that is why we will be inviting applications for scholarships.
At the same time we also have to be prepared for those children entering Nursery or Reception years who need to be enrolled in our schools.
An advert asking parents to enroll children of school age has already appeared in the local press.
We also have those application forms available on the Education website and I would urge parents who have not yet done so to fill in and submit those forms.
Again, we need to be prepared and we need to know which children will be coming to Government schools as from September.
Will schools actually be open in September?
Nothing would make me happier than to have seen the back of COVID 19 and for normality to be restored.
The reality is that we cannot know for sure but we have to plan for it – whether it happens before the summer break or in September.
What is, however, clear is that we have to get this right and if that means that we have to be cautious and patient then so be it.
Whatever happens, it is unlikely that we will go back to normal from an educational perspective overnight.
It will be a gradual process.
We may, for example, have a return to school by year groups or by sector.
We may also have at the beginning different start and finishing times for different years – similar to the arrangements we made before schools were closed.
This will avoid large gatherings at school entrances.
Whenever that may happen, we want our children to be as best prepared as possible and to have made the most of the time that they have spent at home.
You can rest assured that the Government will make an announcement on the process for the return to school as soon as it takes that decision.
As we have said on other matters, look out for official announcements and do not rely on speculation in social media platforms.
In the meantime, we have to be aware that this battle is not yet won.
It is certainly a huge relief to all of us that the number of confirmed cases is not going up in large numbers and that, conversely, the number of active cases is now down to only 12.
As I said at the daily briefing last Monday, that is down to the efforts which all of you are making.
You will all have seen studies, mathematical models, projections, hypotheses and assumptions made by experts all over the world.
Most of those are charectorised by two things – a lack of evidence and uncertainty.
Uncertainty as to how precisely the virus will behave, uncertainty on when there will be a vaccine available, uncertainty over the extent of the effect of antibodies or immunity that anyone who may have had the virus will have.
There is also uncertainty about a possible surge or other waves of the virus if we unlock too early.
We are already seeing those second waves happen in other countries such as Singapore and Japan.
Amid all of these uncertainties there are also two things that are absolutely certain and on which all the experts agree.
Firstly, washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is absolutely vital.
So keep washing your hands.
Secondly, the best barrier to the virus is your front door.
That is why staying at home is the best medicine against this virus.
That is what best prevents or minimises the spread of infection and allows us to continue to have sort of numbers which we have seen today.
Of course, we are not going to be confined indefinitely.
The time will come when the circumstances are right to start to ease the restrictions.
We are not there yet.
We need to be cautious and we need to be patient.
Above all, we need to continue with our collective effort to protect our community and save lives.
Let us not forget – we are in this together.
We will fight this together.
And we will pull through together.