Local decisions on covid measures in schools set to return with face coverings remaining “for the time being”
The use of face coverings in schools in Wales are to remain in place “for the time being”, the education minister announced today.
However from the start of the new term on February 28 it is expected that decisions on covid measures in schools will be made on a local basis “in line with the Local Infection Control Decision Framework”.
Current Welsh government guidelines advise that face coverings (not FFP2 or FFP3 masks) are be worn by staff and visitors in all indoor areas of all settings, including classrooms, where physical distance cannot be maintained.
Face coverings also should be worn by secondary aged learners in all indoor areas, including classrooms, where physical distance cannot be maintained.
It is also recommended they be worn by secondary aged learners on school transport.
At the start of the January term staff were given preparation days to put in place measures to reduce the spread of the virus and to prepare for any potential return to online learning.
Schools were also given the option to temporarily introduce staggered start and finish times.
Speaking today Education Minister Jeremy Miles said subject to the evidence at the next three week review on 10 February, schools will return to making local decisions on mitigations in line with the Local Infection Control Decision Framework by the beginning of the new half term on 28 February.
The minister also encouraged students who are eligible and school staff to come forward for vaccination and to continue with taking regular lateral flow tests.
He said: “As a government, we are absolutely clear that, for wellbeing and learning, it is vital that children and young people are in school.
“I am signalling today that, if the evidence supports it, we will confirm at the next three-week review point on 10 February that schools should return to making local decisions on mitigations in line with the Local Infection Control Decision Framework by the beginning of the new half term on 28 February.
“In preparation, schools should work with their local authorities and public health advisors to determine the measures they may need to put in place, based on their local circumstances.
“A small proportion of schools have made use of the disapplication of the Changing of School Session Times (Wales) Regulations 2009 put in place for the return of learners at the start of this term providing flexibility for schools to temporarily change their school session times.
“These arrangements have been particularly useful to Special Schools, so will be extended until the half-term break, after which all schools will be required to revert to their normal timetable.
“To manage and improve ventilation in classrooms, CO2 monitors have been provided for every classroom in Wales, and £95m has been provided to support maintenance work such as such as repairing windows or replacing air filters in air handling units where schools face challenges.
“Advice from our Technical Advisory Group on the importance of ventilation and on the use of air cleaning devices in specific circumstances will be published in the coming days, offering guidance to local authorities on the use of the devices in the small number of cases where they are needed.”
Asked about whether face coverings will continue to be needed in schools, Mr Miles said they will be kept in place for “the time being”.
This is in contrast to England where their use in the classrooms is being scrapped.
However Mr Miles said it is his expectation that in Wales face coverings will continue until at least the end of this term.
He added: “My hope and intention is subject to the data that by the beginning of the new half term we will be seeing schools operating fully in accordance with the local covid control frameworks, including in relation to face coverings.”
On whether he was comfortable that schools across Wales could eventually be operating on different rules around coverings, the Minister said: “The point is those flexibilities enable a school to respond to the local circumstances which that school faces.
“I would anticipate there being a range of approaches in schools, but they will be making those judgments as they have with advice from the local education authorities and public health colleagues.”
Commenting on today’s announcement, Laura Doel, Director of NAHT Cymru said: “When national restrictions were relaxed last summer and schools returned in September to little or no mitigations in place, we saw immediate and prolonged disruption. Staff and pupil absence really affected the delivery of education.
“While there is reason to be hopeful now that case rates are dropping nationally, we have urged the Welsh Government not to relax too many mitigations in schools too soon and proceed with cautious optimism.
“The Education Minister’s statement today reinforces the need for a slow and steady approach and we will work with government officials to ensure schools have clear guidance in place once mitigations begin to lift.
“If high levels of disruption continue in our schools and the relaxation of any mitigations compounds the problem, we will be the first to call on the government to move swiftly to rethink the approach.
“No-one wants to see mitigations in schools, but the priority must be to keep schools open as safely as possible for staff and learners.” Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com