Welsh Government has confirmed that plans are in place to support a ‘partial and phased return to face-to-face learning’ in schools across Wales from 22 February.
The announcement follows latest advice from the Technical Advisory Group and chief medical officer based upon recent improvements in public health conditions.
Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education, has outlined how pupils aged three to seven who are within the Foundation Phase from nursery to year two will be able to start returning after the half-term holiday.
As part of the planned return, an extra £5m is being provided to help schools make necessary preparations and provide safety arrangements such as twice-weekly coronavirus tests for teachers.
The return of older pupils will be considered as part of Welsh Government’s next lockdown review, which is due on 19 February.
Announcing the decision, Minister for Education Kirsty Williams said: “After half term, from 22 February, our Foundation Phase learners will start to return to school during that week.
“Children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as those taking exams or assessments and learners in special schools, will continue to be able to attend as they have done throughout the pandemic.
“We have prioritised our youngest learners because of the favourable evidence on transmission in younger children, and also because we know they find it difficult to learn remotely.
“Small numbers of vocational learners, including apprentices, will also be able to return to colleges. Again, this is because of difficulties with remote learning, as they will need to access training or workplace environments in order to undertake their practical qualifications.
“Following productive discussions with our union colleagues and local authority and further education partners, we are introducing a number of additional measures to provide staff with an added level of assurance for their safe return to face-to-face teaching.
“This includes the introduction of twice-weekly testing for staff members as well as increased financial support for new face coverings.
“We are providing an additional £5m to support schools, colleges and local authorities to invest further in items they need to keep their premises safe.
“As we all know, you only get one childhood, which is exactly why we are all working so hard to support young people back into schools so they can learn with their friends.”
Bridgend County Borough Councillor Charles Smith, Cabinet Member for Education and Regeneration, commented: “The minister has been very clear that this move does not mean the alert level four restrictions are over, and all necessary rules must continue to be followed outside of school.
“The safety of children and the continuity of their education has remained a top priority throughout the pandemic, and while Bridgend County Borough Council will do all that it can to ensure that face-to-face learning can resume safely, all pupils, students, parents, guardians and carers will need to continue to follow the guidelines in the meantime in order to help fight the spread of coronavirus.
“We will shortly be issuing more details, and will be confirming the plans that we are putting in place for the week after the half-term break.”
- To read an open letter from Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education, to all head teachers in Wales, visit the Welsh Government