First Minister asks for specific education advice ahead of review next week – warns ‘probably unlikely’ any change
The first priority if and when there is headroom to change restrictions will be to look at how children and young people can return to the classroom, Wales’ first minister has said.
Schools and have been closed to all but key worker and vulnerable students since the start of the new term, with colleges also largely moving to online learning.
It is anticipated that this will continue until the February half-term unless there is a reduction in cases across Wales.
The seven day average across Wales is now at 271.0 per 100,000, the lowest it has been since the end of 2020. Wrexham however saw +76 new cases on the day on day update, and the rolling seven day figure is now 660.5 per 100k.
Speaking at today’s Welsh Government briefing Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said that whilst there are signs of improvement across all parts of Wales any headroom at the upcoming review next Friday (29 January) would be limited.
Second slide shown 'cases are falling in all areas of Wales' – FM warns again complacency as he notes 'these are still very high rates' pic.twitter.com/iqKiRNZLc7
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) January 22, 2021
However Mr Drakeford added that while he doesn’t “rule out” some changes to schools ahead of the half-term, he admitted that a full return of all students to the classroom at the same time would be unlikely.
The first minister said: “We are now seeing cases of the virus fall in the community, but we need to see that fall also happen in our NHS to alleviate the pressures that the health service is seeing.
“We have some encouraging early signs that the number of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus is starting to stabilise. But as of today, we still have very high numbers in hospital with COVID-19 and our critical care units particularly remain under enormous pressure.
“We’re having to factor in the added dimension of the new and emerging strains of the virus. We know that the highly contagious strains, sometimes called the Kent variant, is now widespread across Wales. We are closely monitoring three other new variants, one from South Africa and two from Brazil, all of these are cause for concern.
“We already have six cases of the South African variant identified here in Wales, we are not immune at all to changes which can happen in other parts of the world.
“This is why we all have to go on taking that cautious and careful approach, living with the restrictions that we have, and that are making that difference.
“As we go into the review next week our first priority as ever, will be our children and our young people – looking for ways to get them back into schools and colleges, when we have sufficient headroom to do so.”
Asked how realistic schools returning next month can be, Mr Drakeford said he had specifically requested the chief medical officer to gather evidence and report if there is “any prospect of a greater number of children returning in the week before half-term.”
He continued: “Last week that I chaired a meeting of the teacher unions, the staff unions in the schools, the local education authorities and we all agreed that we would work purposefully together to find ways of bringing more young people back into the classroom.
“Does that mean that we will see a wholesale return of every child in every classroom, everyday of the week across Wales? I do think that that is probably unlikely.
“There’s are some intermediate positions between where we are today, with very few children in school and everybody being back.”
“Some practical ideas were put forward by trade union colleagues and by local education authorities on ways in which some children, for some of the week, could still be back in the classroom if they’re preparing for qualifications and very young children for whom online learning really isn’t a genuine possibility.
“I thought it was a meeting with a number of creative and imaginative proposals around the common goal of getting more children back into school.
“I certainly don’t rule out making some of those things happen after the February half-term, but I do think it’s unlikely that we will see every child back full time in every classroom in the way that we would ideally wish to do.”
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