The Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, has today confirmed that all pupils will be able to return to school in September.
The Welsh Technical Advisory Group, which provides scientific and technical advice to Government during emergencies, this week recommended to the Minister that schools “plan to open in September with 100% of pupils physically present on school sites, subject to a continuing, steady decline in the presence of COVID-19 in the community.”
The paper which includes this advice will be published today.
The Minister announced that:
- Schools will return to full capacity, with only limited social distancing within contact groups.
- At full operations, a contact group should consist of around 30 children. Some direct or indirect mixing between children in different contact groups will also be unavoidable, such as on transport, receiving specialist teaching or due to staffing constraints.
- Social distancing for adults should remain in line with regulations and guidance.
- Schools will be required to minimise the risk of transmission by taking other mitigating measures using the hierarchy of risk controls.
- Every school should continue to be “Covid Protected” - having carried out risk assessments and mitigated them with a combination of controls such as hand and surface hygiene, one-way systems and so forth.
- If early warning information shows a local incident or outbreak then nearby schools should implement appropriate restriction measures.
- Each school will be provided with a supply of home testing kits.
The Minister confirmed that the autumn term will start on 1 September and schools that can accommodate all pupils from the start of the term should do so.
There will be a period of flexibility in recognition that schools may want to focus on priority year groups, such as those new to secondary schools, those sitting exams next summer or those in reception classes. This will also allow time, up to a fortnight, for any planning and reorganisation.
On childcare, work will take place with the childcare sector over the summer to increase the size of the contact groups and to support the gradual move towards full operations. Further guidance will follow on nursery education, due to the unique complexities and further implications for younger learners.
The Minister also confirmed that updated operational and learning guidance for September will be published next week. Government education officials are supported in this work by local authorities, head-teachers, public health officials, teaching unions and education practitioners. The Minister outlined plans just hours after confirming the Welsh Government would make £29 million available to ‘recruit, recover and raise standards’ in Welsh schools in response to the impact still felt from the pandemic.
Speaking at the Welsh Government daily briefing today, the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams will say:
"We all know the devastation Covid-19 has caused, especially to our young people. I have been clear throughout this pandemic that our priority must be to deliver maximum learning with minimal disruption for our young people.
"Every decision we have made has been backed by the latest available scientific and medical guidance. Thanks to Wales’s cautious and careful approach, Covid’s presence in our communities is declining. In the expectation that this will continue, the advice to me is that schools can plan to open in September, with all pupils present."
Commenting on the additional funding announced, the Minister added:
"We will recruit, recover and continue to raise standards. With this funding, we will recruit the equivalent of 600 extra teachers and 300 teaching assistants throughout the next school year. We will target extra support at Years 11, 12 and 13, as well as disadvantaged and vulnerable learners of all ages.The support package, provided at a school level, could include extra coaching support, personalised learning programmes and additional time and resources for exam year pupils.
"We must never lower our expectations for any of our young people, no matter their background. Together, we will continue to raise standards for all, reduce the attainment gap and ensure we have a system that is a source of pride and public confidence."
Councillor Ian Roberts, WLGA Spokesperson for Education, said:
"Since schools closed at the start of the crisis, many children and young people have felt anxious about loss of learning and not being able to see their friends. The Minister’s plan today will enable schools to safely reopen classrooms from September. Local authorities will work closely with their schools to make sure that necessary arrangements are in place to abide by Welsh Government guidance.
"Our schools have been hit by severe disruption during this pandemic, and we welcome the £29 million pledged by the Minister for targeted support to minimise the effects of the past few months on pupils. We will continue to work together in partnership the safest and best possible learning experiences for our children and young people, especially in such challenging circumstances."