Face masks will no longer be compulsory in schools come September, Wales’ Education Minister has proposed.
Staggered start and finish times are also set to come to an end, while the contact ‘bubbles’ are also set to be axed in time for the new term.
It is hoped that by scrapping bubbles, less pupils would be forced to self-isolate – meaning less classroom time would be lost unnecessarily.
At the end of June, around 1,000 pupils were forced to self-isolate after a cluster of coronavirus cases at Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni’s campuses in both Fleur de Lis and Caerphilly town.
Under the new rules, pupils would not automatically be forced to self-isolate simply because another pupil in their bubble has tested positive, instead only having to isolate if contacted by contact tracers.
Education Minster Jeremy Miles has written to all headteachers in Wales to provide more clarity on how schools and colleges can operate safely after they return from the summer holidays.
Mr Miles pointed to the Welsh Government’s commitment to have offered all adults in Wales both coronavirus vaccines before the end of September, saying it would provide “greater protection for our education workforce”.
In his letter, he said: “A growing body of evidence also shows that children and young people are more at harm from missing school than from Covid.
“Lots of young people I have spoken to have said that they don’t believe the current system is proportionate. They just want to be treated the same as everyone else – and that sounds fair to me.”
He also thanked teachers for “all your hard work and effort over the last academic year,” and praised their “immeasurable determination and resilience in supporting learning and keeping education settings as Covid-secure as possible”.
Mr Miles previously admitted “we will not simply be back to normal by September”, but has stated his intention to “gradually ease” coronavirus restrictions in education settings so they can operate as “normally as possible” come the autumn.
The Welsh Government has said it will publish a framework at the start of the autumn term so that schools “have time to embed new systems during the weeks that follow”.
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It said the framework will allow schools and colleges to tailor some of the safety measures to reflect the level of risk identified locally, meaning schools will be able to make their own decisions relating to safety measures.
This has drawn criticism from South Wales East’s Conservative Senedd Member Laura Anne Jones, as well as Plaid Cymru councillor Lindsay Whittle, who represents the Penyrheol, Trecenydd and Energlyn ward on Caerphilly County Borough Council.
Ms Jones said clinicians and government ministers should be responsible for coronavirus measures in schools, not headteachers, while Cllr Whittle said: “The idea of schools setting their own agenda is an appalling negation of duty, in my opinion.”
Cllr Whittle, a former Senedd Member and council leader, added: “It is grossly unfair on headteachers to have to make decisions when incidents occur in schools. Government, either nationally or locally, should set the guidelines.
“It is up to them to make decisions not headteachers. Heads are there to educate our children.”
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