Schools and councils will be able to decide for themselves the rules around major issues like mask-wearing and self-isolating under new Welsh Government plans.
Speaking at the Welsh Government press conference today, education minster Jeremy Miles said that “best practice” needed to be in place to make sure there was not a “disproportionate number of learners self-isolating”. Parents, teachers and students have been vocal in their dislike of rules which have seen thousands of children losing time in education because whole year groups are being sent home because a handful of Covid cases.
Mr Miles said there was a need to distinguish “between bubbles on the one hand and personal contact with cases on the other”.
“Clearly, as part of our discussions with partners, we need to be looking at the key challenges schools, colleges and universities currently face,” Mr Miles told the press conference.
“That includes looking at best practice across Wales to ensure that there are not a disproportionate number of learners self-isolating. While class or year ‘bubbles’ have played an important role over the last year, we need to ensure that settings distinguish between ‘bubbles’ on the one hand, and personal contact with cases on the other.”
Mr Miles added that there would be “discussions” on how schools can return to their usual session times, as opposed to having staggered start and finish times that are currently in place.
Speaking after recently taking over the education brief, Mr Miles said: “Our education sector have all played their part, and put in a tremendous amount of hard work, to create Covid-secure learning environments. Our learners, parents and carers have also supported these efforts, including lateral flow testing and isolating when unwell.
“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.”
The education minister added that this would include schools setting the rules around measures such as testing, the use of face coverings and social distancing. The framework will be shared with “partners” this week, to be further developed between now and the end of the summer term. It will apply to schools, colleges and universities and follows the approach already modelled in care homes.
Mr Miles stressed that this would not mean the end of all mitigating measures.
He said: “These changes do not mean a wholesale removal of mitigating measures, but are about our schools, colleges and universities being able to make decisions based on the balance of harms and minimising disruption to learning – all within the wider context of our successful vaccine programme and relatively low case numbers.”