All schools in Wales will remain closed until at least Monday, January 18.
The decision will include primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges, with learning moving online.
Schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments. Special Schools and Pupil Referral Units should also remain open, if possible, the Welsh Government has said.
In a statement on Twitter, Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced the decision had been reached with the Welsh Local Government Authority and Colegau Cymru.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams’ written statement in full
The situation in Wales and across the UK remains very serious. Today, the four UK Chief Medical Officers have agreed that the UK is now at the highest level of risk, Joint Biosecurity Council level 5.
In the light of that decision the Welsh Government, in consultation with the WLGA and Colegau Cymru, has agreed that all schools, colleges and independent schools should move to online learning until January 18th.
As a government we will use the next two weeks to continue to work with local authorities, schools and colleges to plan for the rest of term.
This is the best way to ensure that parents, staff and learners can be confident in the return to face to face learning, based on the latest evidence and information.
Schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments. On this basis Special Schools and PRU’s should remain open if possible.
We had initially given schools flexibility in the first two weeks of term to decide when to reopen based on local circumstances.
But it is now clear that a national approach of online learning for the first fortnight of term is the best way forward.
We know that schools and colleges have been safe and secure environments throughout the pandemic.
However, we also know that education settings being open can contribute to wider social mixing outside the school and college environment.
We are confident that schools and colleges have online learning provision in place for this immediate period.
Universities in Wales have already agreed a staggered start to term. Students should not return to universities for face to face learning until they are notified that they can do so.
Wales remains in the highest level of restrictions. Everyone must stay at home.
I will continue to update members.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.
Why the change in policy?
The Welsh Government has been under increasing pressure not to reopen schools following the Christmas holidays with concerns about staff and pupil safety.
Teaching and education unions NASUWT and the National Education Union have previously called on the Welsh Government to delay the reopening of schools until transmission rates are lower and more staff vaccinated.
Today (January 4) several schools in the Caerphilly County Borough announced they would remain closed this week.
The Welsh Government had previously said closing schools was a last resort.
The UK’s four Chief Medical Officers earlier agreed to put raise the country’s alert level from four to five.
In a statement they said: “Many parts of the health systems in the four nations are already under immense pressure. There are currently very high rates of community transmission, with substantial numbers of Covid patients in hospitals and in intensive care.
“Cases are rising almost everywhere, in much of the country driven by the new more transmissible variant. We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.”
What do opposition parties say?
Both Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives have called for teaching staff to be a priority for the vaccine rollout an both parties have criticised the timing.
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Education, Siân Gwenllian MS said: “This is clarity at the eleventh hour from the Welsh Government, leaving little or no time for parents and teachers to adapt to the changing circumstances.
“In Scotland, the Government has decided to move education on-line until February as the virus has got ahead of the vaccine. The Welsh Government needs to explain why it is lagging behind in taking robust action to get the virus under control.
“It is unclear what the Welsh Government expects will change in just two weeks’ time and so we risk being in the same position yet again with yet more confusion in a fortnight.”
Suzy Davies MS, the Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Education, said: “What parents, pupils, and teachers across Wales need is reassurance from the Minister as to what conditions must be met for schools to re-open, because while a prudent measure, to read that the next two weeks will be used to plan for ‘… rest of term’ offers little reassurance.”
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