SCHOOLS, colleges and universities will have greater flexibility in their coronavirus restrictions from September, Wales’ education minister has said.
Jeremy Miles, speaking at a press conference on Monday, outlined his plans for the return of education following the upcoming summer holidays.
As well as the scrapping of classroom bubbles, the minister also announced plans to allow localised restrictions – rather than a blanket nationwide approach – depending on local coronavirus rates.
The more localised approach will see Wales-wide guidance brought in, with areas categorised in terms of level of risk – low, moderate, high, and very high.
“As the number of people who are fully vaccinated will continue to rise, providing growing defences against the virus, we now need to look at what education will look like after the summer, albeit with the same cautious approach that has got us to this point,” said the minister.
“While we will not simply be back to normal by September, we will look to gradually ease the extraordinary measures we’ve had to put in place.
“Our guiding principle has to be a move towards education being enabled to operate as normally as possible in the autumn.
“Currently all education settings follow national guidance, however as we move through the pandemic there will be a need to move to a more localised approach rather than a blanket approach.
“To enable this, we will publish a national framework for each education sector which will support them to escalate and de-escalate interventions based on risk.
“The framework will set out a range of safety measures depending on the risk category based on low, moderate, high, and very high risk categories.
“The frameworks will allow escalation or de-escalation of measures – such as testing, the use of face coverings, and social distancing. It will apply to schools, colleges and universities.”
When asked who will be responsible for deciding what levels of risk schools in an area have, Mr Miles said there would be “more than one source of information”, but the local incident management team would have “a fundamental role” in this.
“There will be a role for public health advice, for the chief medical officer’s advice, and for the local incident management team as well to feed into the risk assessment and to identify the level of risk based on transmission in the local community,” he said.
“But what we are talking about here is a national framework which is being applied in local circumstances, so the framework will give a level of clarity about what interventions are available to a school to consider based on those individual risk categories.”
Mr Miles said the Welsh Government was sharing the draft frameworks with the education sector, pupils and parents this week for it to be developed ahead of the autumn term.
The minister also outlined plans to return to a set timetable, rather than staggered start and finish times, while also stressing a cautious step-by-step approach should be followed.
“We want to discuss how settings can return to the usual session times as opposed to having staggered start and finish times as currently in place,” he said.
“By the end of September all school staff will have been offered a vaccine, and so I think that does provide a level of comfort, but I think what’s also been clear is that we need to be able to take these things a step at a time.”