Schools and colleges in Wales to move to online learning until January 18
Schools and colleges across Wales will move to online learning until January 18, the country’s education minister has said.
Kirsty Williams said the Welsh Government would use the next two weeks to work with local authorities and education settings to “best plan for the rest of the term”.
The government had previously arranged for schools to have flexibility over the first two weeks of the spring term, allowing them to choose when students would return to in-person learning.
In a statement, Ms Williams said the decision to move to online learning only until January 18 had been taken in consultation with the Welsh Local Government Association and Colegau Cymru.
It followed the four chief medical officers agreeing that the UK was at the “highest level of risk” in terms of coronavirus, she confirmed.
“This is the best way to ensure that parents, staff and learners can be confident in the return to face to face learning, based on the latest evidence and information,” Ms Williams said.
“Schools and colleges will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as for learners who need to complete essential exams or assessments.”
Special schools and pupil referral units should also remain open if possible, she said.
Previously, some schools in Wales had been preparing to resume face-to-face learning as early as Wednesday, but education unions called for a rethink of the plan.
Unions highlighted safety concerns in light of the new Covid-19 variant, spreading across Wales, which is said to be 70% more transmissible.
“We had initially given schools flexibility in the first two weeks of term to decide when to reopen based on local circumstances,” Ms Williams said.
“But it is now clear that a national approach of online learning for the first fortnight of term is the best way forward.
“We know that schools and colleges have been safe and secure environments throughout the pandemic.
“However, we also know that education settings being open can contribute to wider social mixing outside the school and college environment.”
Ms Williams said the government was “confident” that schools and colleges had online learning provisions in place for until January 18.
Universities in Wales are due to begin a staggered start to term and students should not return for face-to-face learning unless notified that they can do so, she added.
“Wales remains in the highest level of restrictions. Everyone must stay at home,” Ms Williams said.
Earlier on Monday, health minister Vaughan Gething told a press conference that closing schools was a “last resort”, with any changes based on new evidence about the variant and its impact.
He rejected the suggestion of moving teachers into a higher priority group for vaccination, saying that doing so for those in the profession or others such as police officers or taxi drivers would impact those “at real risk of harm”.