All schools in Wales will be closed by at least Friday for an extended Easter holiday due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Welsh Government has announced.
There has been no announcement about closing schools in England, but the Scottish Government later announced that they too would be closing schools from Friday.
The Easter Holidays in Wales were supposed to begin on the 6th of April and last until the 17th.
“We are in an unprecedented period, one that is changing hour-by-hour, and governments around the world are having to make quick decisions,” Education Minister Kirsty Williams said.
“Firstly, I would like to extend my gratitude to all those working in our education and childcare settings for the critical work you have been undertaking, under incredible pressure to support our children and young people. You have been at the front-line in supporting wider efforts to prepare for the challenges we are all now facing and I am incredibly grateful and proud.
“Today, I can announce we are bringing forward the Easter break for schools in Wales. Schools across Wales will close for statutory provision of education at the latest on 20 March 2020.
“I have been clear up to now that the continuity of education and the wellbeing of our learners has been at the heart of my decision making. This will always be the case.”
Suzy Davies AM, the Shadow Education Minister, said that she was worried about whether the schools would be able to reopen after the Easter Holidays.
“The Minister’s decision to bring forward the Easter holidays to give some schools clarity about whether they should close or not,” she said.
“I’d like to thank all staff and pupils and their families for their patience during this unprecedented period of uncertainty.
“What is worrying is the question of whether schools can re-open after the holidays for business as usual. It looks unlikely.
“Schools will continue to offer educational and social support to some children, and this is to be welcomed.
“Even so, I am worried about when we will hear about how external exams will be dealt with, and the willingness and opportunity for home learning for those pupils who are asked to take that route.
“I hope that conversations about university entry requirements will produce fruit soon. I also hope that we get urgent clarity on student finance now that some universities have closed and aren’t offering supervised study.”
Plaid Cymru called on the Education Minister to scrap, postpone or adapt exams in response to the announcement.
“The announcement that schools will now close for statutory provision is to be welcomed but we urgently need further clarity and clear guidelines from the Education Minister on the short term role of our schools going forward,” Shadow Minister for Education Sian Gwenllian AM said.
“Schools will still have a vital role to play in providing care for the children of key public sector workers, such as NHS staff, and vulnerable children reliant on free school meals.
“It’s also time to scrap, postpone or adapt GCSE and A Level exams – with the aim of holding them later on in the autumn or coming to other arrangements, to ease the burden and pressure on schools who are already struggling to stay open due to the Coronavirus pandemic. A whole range of options could be looked at including using predicted grades as a basis for University entrance or adapting GCSE courses.
“Students should also be adequately supported with consideration giving to their mental health well-being in light of the changes to examinations.
“Teachers and key school staff need to know how grateful we are for the crucial work they are doing as they operate on the frontline of the fight against Coronavirus by caring for our children.
“There’s been an unacceptable lack of leadership from Welsh Government when it comes to providing clear guidance to our schools and teachers to date. We welcome the preparedness now to lead and not follow.”
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said that schools would have a new purpose in order to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
“They will help support those most in need, including people involved in the immediate response to the coronavirus outbreak,” she said.
“I am working with my colleagues in the Cabinet, with government officials and our partners in local government to develop and finalise these plans.
“The key areas we are looking at are supporting and safeguarding the vulnerable and ensuring continuity of learning. We are looking in detail at how we can support and safeguard all those who benefit from free school meals and children with additional learning needs. I will make sure you are kept up-to-date.
“While this will apply to schools, childcare settings are expected to remain open until we have definitive advice from the Chief Medical Officer and from Public Health Wales that any closures are required. Parents can, and should, speak with their usual childcare providers if they need care over the Easter holidays
“I have discussed my intentions with the Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, Andrew Morgan, who reflects the views of local authorities. Some school staff will likely have an important role to play in this. We are working closely with our key stakeholders to look at what this will look like for both education and childcare settings, including Flying Start. This position will, of course, evolve over the coming days and will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
“One of the critical decisions that we will seek to clarify with urgency is that of the forthcoming examinations. I am also working with Qualifications Wales and the WJEC about this year’s exam series. In line with all education ministers across the UK, I will be making a further announcement shortly.
“From the outset, the decisions being taken have been focused on public health advice, and it is right that these science-based recommendations are front and centre of the decisions being made.
“The announcement I am making today will help ensure an orderly closure for schools so that they have the time to prepare. However, I am conscious that the SAGE Committee and COBR meet this afternoon, and I will, of course, be listening closely to see if advice changes and any further urgent decisions about school closures are needed.
“Today’s decision will help ensure an orderly closure, so schools have time to prepare ahead of the early break.
“My main message for everyone is to stay safe and stay well. We will work together and we will face this outbreak together.
“I will, of course, continue to keep you updated.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs this afternoon that ministers will take decisions on England’s schools within hours
Boris told PMQs in the Commons: “The House should expect decisions to be taken imminently on schools.”
Downing Street suggested there could be a skeleton service where the kids of key workers such as NHS staff will continue to be taught to allow their parents to carry on working.