ALL youngsters in Wales should be back in school after the Easter holidays, eduction minister Kirsty Williams said today.
On the day the first pupils – those aged three to seven – returned to classrooms in Wales, Ms Williams outlined her plan to see the remaining children return to school.
“If conditions continue to improve – as we have been seeing – over the next three weeks, we will be in a position to see all of our primary age children start to return to their classrooms from March 15,” she said.
“At the same time, we would also like to see those in years 11 and 13 in schools and those doing similar qualifications in colleges able to return to face-to-face learning in a safe and flexible way.
“Where possible, we also want to give some flexibility around other learners such as year 12 and those in year 10 who may also have been entered for qualifications this summer.
“Unfortunately for those learners in secondary settings or colleges, this won’t necessarily be a return to full-time on-site learning, however, we will do all that we can to support these learners because I know how anxious this time can be as they consider key decisions about their next steps in life.
“We will confirm the situation for other learners before the Easter Holidays, but I can tell you now that my preference is to get all learners back in school after the break.
“I promise to provide further details on how this will look when I’m able to do so.”
Ms Williams was asked about England’s approach – where all schools can re-open for all pupils on March 8 – and why this differs from the Welsh approach.
“I haven’t received any new evidence or advice that supports a different approach to the one that we’re taking here in Wales,” said the minister.
“Our phased and very careful approach is in line with the public health advice that I have received and in fact is also consistent with UK-wide advice.
“If there is different information and new information available which contradicts our careful approach, then clearly we would want to consider that.”
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Chris Jones said: “We share the same ambition as colleagues in England which is to prioritise children getting back to school, and I suppose we’ve been able to make the first change this week ahead of England, but we do still recognise that we are in a fairly critical position here.
“If we relaxed restrictions too quickly, we face a very substantial risk of a big increase in cases and hospitalisations and deaths, so I think a cautious approach is the approach that we’ve been advising ministers in Wales.
“We know that opening schools will increase the R value. We know that that will also depend, to some extent, on the presence of the new variant.
“I think a cautious approach where we introduce the lowest risk children back to school first, [and] evaluate the impact of that – that will teach us a great deal. Then we’ll be able to work with ministers to progress more rapidly, but we do have to very cautious here as we still have a vulnerable population and a significant risk of cases increasing.”