The Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams MS, has announced that schools and colleges will shut and move to online learning until at least Monday January 18.
In a statement released this evening, Kirsty Williams MS said:
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.
Laura Doel, Director of NAHT Cymru, the Welsh school leaders’ union said: “The decision to close schools to gain control of Coronavirus has been inevitable for some time. The announcement this evening will bring some much-needed clarity to the situation.
“Besides parents and carers there is no one more committed to the education and welfare of children at school than school leaders and their teams. NAHT Cymru members want children back in school as soon as possible and the restricted attendance from tomorrow should be used to organise an orderly and sustainable return.
“The Welsh Government has repeatedly said it wants to prioritise education, in that case it must also prioritise safety in schools and the communities schools serve.
“Work should be undertaken with school leaders and Public Health Wales to establish and agree new Covid-related safety measures in schools during the temporary restriction for implementation in good time prior to lifting restrictions.
“There needs to focus on vaccinating staff so that further disruption to teaching and learning can be ruled out.
“Welsh Government must also urgently review its approach to special schools given the statement that states special schools should remain open if possible. This once again demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the complexities faced in special schools in keeping Covid restrictions in place.
“It is uncertain whether the next two weeks will be enough time to ensure a fully risk-assessed plan is put in place to facilitate the safe return with a properly organised and resourced testing regime and priority vaccinations for staff, but I know that NAHT Cymru members stand ready to work with the government for the good of all children. For its part the government should be prepared to work directly with leaders from every phase and sector of education.”