Plaid Cymru has accused the Welsh Government of taking too long to change its face covering guidance for schools and colleges.
Staff and pupils in secondary schools and colleges will now be expected to wear face coverings in all areas outside the classroom and on school transport, and Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Education Sian Gwenllian MS believes this move is “overdue”.
Plaid has also demanded that the Welsh Government step up with more safety measures such as mass testing and proper ventilation.
The new guidance was published in the wake of the news that Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire councils have decided to close 12 schools in the counties over concerns about the spread of Covid-19.
The move also follows the publication of SAGE evidence and a recent TAG report.
Ms Gwenllian said: “This guidance is overdue and I have long been calling for the compulsory wearing of face coverings in schools. We also need to look at the bigger picture and incorporate further safety measures in schools such as mass testing schemes and proper ventilation.
“The Welsh Government must go further to keep schools safe, and in turn keeping the wider community safe.”
The guidance now states that face coverings should be worn:
- In all areas outside the classroom by staff and learners in secondary schools and colleges
- On dedicated school and college transport for learners in year 7 and up
- By visitors to all schools and colleges, including parents and carers dropping off and picking up children
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “It is vital that young people, parents, adults and the workforce feel confident that all measures are being taken to ensure the educational environments are as safe as possible.
“We have been clear that we will keep every policy under review and will continue to follow scientific advice. The policy we are announcing today does just that.
“The new guidance is simple to follow, easier to administer and ensures that there is a consistent policy across Wales. We have already announced funding of £2.3m to support the purchasing of face coverings in secondary schools and colleges.
“Social distancing and washing hands remain the most important measures that everyone in Wales must continue to take. Wearing face coverings can complement these measures, ensuring we are doing everything we can to keep ourselves and others safe.
“Everyone in Wales has an important part to play in helping to prevent the spread of coronavirus and keep each other safe. This includes staying out of each other’s homes, except in very limited circumstances, limiting how many different people we meet, maintaining social distancing and washing hands regularly”.
“We will be working with schools and colleges to help reinforce the messages to pupils, parents and staff on the importance of taking responsibility to help save lives and protect our NHS”.
The Welsh Government’s policy for face coverings in classrooms remains the same.
In classrooms where contact groups exist and other control measures are in place, the marginal benefit that may be gained by the use of face coverings has to be balanced with the likely negative impact on the learning experience, including hearing and social communication, they said.
They added that prevention should be the primary aim of all control measures and experience to date suggests that prevention measures have been well understood and widely implemented across our schools and colleges.