All school pupils in Wales will be able to return to school in September, Welsh Government’s education minister Kirsty Williams has confirmed.
Schools will return to full capacity on September 1, with limited social distancing between ‘contact groups’ consisting of around 30 pupils, subject to a continuing fall in the presence of coronavirus in the community.
The announcement comes after a recommendation from the Welsh Technical Advisory Group, which provides scientific advice to Welsh Government.
The devolved administration has also committed to recruiting 600 extra teachers and 300 teaching assistants throughout the next school year as part of a £29m package.
Speaking at the Welsh Government daily briefing on Thursday (July 9), Ms Williams said: “I have been clear throughout this pandemic that our priority must be to deliver maximum learning with minimal disruption for our young people.
“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.”
However, Ms Williams has accepted that some “direct or indirect mixing between children in different contact groups will be unavoidable, such as on transport, receiving specialist teaching or due to staffing constraints”, but said social distancing would remain in place for adults at schools.
Each school is set to be given a supply of home testing kits and will continue to be “Covid protected” with measures such as one-way systems and regular surface cleansing.
Caerphilly’s Senedd Member, Hefin David, “cautiously welcomed” the announcement and said it “provides more clarity to parents and teachers in what has been a very challenging time for all”.
Dr David added: “I will continue to engage with the Welsh Government, the local authority and parents in the weeks ahead prior to pupils returning in full to school.”
Plaid Cymru Senedd Member Delyth Jewell said the “long overdue” announcement provides “much-needed clarity” and called on Welsh Government to “issue guidance to schools as a matter of priority since they only have around 50 days to prepare their premises to ensure everyone’s safety”.
Ms Jewell added: “The interaction between pupils and teachers is of paramount importance to their educational development, which is why the decision to create 900 extra teaching posts is also a welcome move.”
Welsh Conservative shadow education minister, Suzy Davies, said: “As we always suspected, we could have had this announcement a week ago. Local authorities and teachers were craving this certainty. At least the Minister has finally listened to us and thousands of families and teachers as well as the Children’s Commissioner.
“Our young people need to get back to school so that the legacy of this pandemic is not their lost futures.”
Nicola Savage, GMB Union’s educational lead for Wales, welcomed the announcement and said: “We will continue to engage with the Welsh Government and other stakeholders to ensure a safe return that supports pupils’ educational needs, the staff and their families across Wales.
“So far the Welsh Government has shown real leadership in this crisis, and has engaged fully transparently and constructively with GMB in the true spirit of social partnership.”
Schools in Wales reopened on June 29 for the first time since March, but no formal education is taking place.
Many pupils who have returned to school are only in for four hours a week, due to social distancing measures. The current school term will end on July 17.
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