Schools in Wales will soon be able to decide on their own coronavirus rules – including facemasks and self-isolation, the country’s education minister has said.
Jeremy Miles said there was a need for a “more localised approach rather than a blanket approach”, with interventions based on the prevalence of the virus in particular communities.
A “national framework” will be published by the Welsh Government to guide education settings in easing or escalating rules depending on a low, medium, or high risk of harm to learners and staff when they return in September.
All Welsh schools, colleges and universities currently follow set national guidance, despite the number of Covid-19 cases in the country varying between regions.
Places in like Flintshire and Denbighshire in North Wales have the highest seven-day rate – with more than 100 cases per 100,000 people, while others like Newport and Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales are at 20 and 16 cases respectively.
Mr Miles warned that things “would not be back to normal by September”, but that the government would look to “gradually ease the extraordinary measures we’ve had to put in place” thanks to the vaccination programme.
The proposed changes would not mean “wholesale removal of mitigating measure”, he said, but were about making 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.”
Mr Miles also said work would be done to distinguish between the need to self isolate when pupils have had personal contact with Covid-19 cases compared to when others in their classroom or year “bubble” have.
He said doing so would “ensure that we do not have a disproportionate number of learners self-isolating”.
But the headteachers union NAHT Cymru said it was concerned at “several aspects” of the Welsh government’s plans, including a “plan to do away with class bubbles” but retain a requirement for schools to identify close contacts of pupils
The union’s director Laura Doel said: “For self-isolation purposes, schools would be expected to provide intelligence to the contact tracers at Public Health Wales.
“This would include knowing who they were near in school as well as when being dropped-off and picked up.
“Welsh government needs to be realistic about what is actually possible here.”
Meanwhile, the Welsh Conservatives said the government was looking to “pass the buck and responsibility for decision-making” on to the education sector.
Shadow education minister Laura Anne Jones said: “The immediate priority should be the return of normality to the classroom, with an end to whole year groups being sent home, and ensuring young people receive the sort of constructive learning environment they need.
“We can’t afford for whole communities to be left behind thanks to a postcode lottery in education provision, and Labour ministers need to show leadership on this issue, and not pass the buck and responsibility for decision-making on to staff and schools that are already under enormous pressure.”