All schools in Wales will begin to reopen on 29 June with teachers given priority access to Covid-19 antibody tests, the country’s education minister has announced.
Kirsty Williams said on Wednesday a phased approach will be used to allow for staggered starts, lessons and breaks, with a third of pupils in school at most in attendance at any time.
A four-week term ending on 27 July would give pupils, staff and parents time to prepare for a “new normal” when the next academic year begins in September, she added.
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Announcing the partial re-opening, Ms Williams said that by the end of June the coronavirus track and trace system will have been operational for one month and teachers will be a “priority group” in an antibody-testing scheme.
She said: “The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment of the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.”
Ms Williams said the return plan was the “best practical option” and met the five principles she previously said would have to be met before a return could be considered. She also said allowing pupils to return to the classroom was the best way to meet the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
It comes after primary schools in England started started a phased reopening on 1 June with pupils in nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6 among the first to return since Boris Johnson announced the mandatory closures of schools in March due to the pandemic.
The decision from the government followed a stark warning from a group of experts – mirroring the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) – that it would not be safe to open schools in early June.
In a report, the independent Sage said the move would risk a “new surge of cases of Covid-19 in some communities”, adding that robust testing systems are not in place.
“Additionally, public adherence to social distancing is influenced by trust in the government and its messaging. This trust is increasingly strained,” they said.
“We therefore believe that by going ahead with a general school reopening from 1 June, the government is not following the advice of its Sage group.”
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