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Call for steps to protect staff and pupils as schools in Wales to begin reopening later this month

05 Feb 2021 3 minutes Read
Education Minister Kirsty Williams. Photo by the Welsh Government

There have been calls for more to be done to protect staff and pupils in Wales before schools begin to reopen after the half-term holiday later this month.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams is expected to announce today that the foundation phase of primary schools – those up to the age of seven – will return from 22 February.

However, Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Education, Siân Gwenllian MS, has said that the Welsh Government had to learn lessons about how to open schools safely.

She suggested giving teachers priority within each group on the vaccination list, school-wide testing, and a rota system where a proportion of the class is on-site and the rest off-site.

“Only when infection rates have dropped in the community, do schools re-open. This approach, while simple, is far too limited,” she said.

“Parents, learners and staff need reassurance that the school environment is safe, and there are certainly things that can be done to give them confidence, such as more extensive use of ventilation, school workers moved to the top of their vaccine priority group, and schools must be given all options to enable adequate social distancing in classrooms.

“With a year of hindsight, it pains me to think how much more face to face education our children and young people could have had, if Welsh Government had used all the tools in their gift earlier.”

‘Urgency’

Yesterday Health Minister Vaughan Gething told Times Radio that the “first priority” for the Welsh Government is to start a return to face-to-face teaching in some schools.

“We’ve got to go in small steps and schools are the first priority and hopefully, straight after the half-term break, we’ll be able to see our youngest children return to face-to-face learning in primary schools,” he said.

The Covid case rate in Wales is currently the lowest of the UK nations, standing at 126 per 100,000 people over seven days. England’s rate is around 269 per 100,000.

Earlier this week the Scottish government said that children in the first three years of primary school will return to classrooms from 22 February.

However, the government in England has said its schools would not reopen before March.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “To people who understandably want to go faster – I share that anxiety and urgency. That is why we fought to keep schools open.

“What we don’t want to do now that we are making progress with the vaccine rollout and we have got a timetable for the way ahead, we don’t want to be forced into reverse.

“We think this is the prudent and cautious approach. I think it is much better to stick to that.”

 

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