Face coverings will not be routinely recommended in classrooms across Wales from September, the Welsh Government has announced.
Currently, guidelines state that face coverings should be worn anywhere on the school estate – including in the classroom – by secondary school pupils if social distancing cannot be maintained.
Education minister Jeremy Miles announced the change in a letter to headteachers in Wales on Friday.
Mr Miles said he had written to “provide more clarity” on how schools and colleges could continue to operate safely when they return in September.
He detailed three main changes that were being proposed to “bring some normality back to education”.
The first is that face coverings will no longer be routinely recommended in classrooms.
Contact groups will also not be required for school pupils or full-time learners in colleges.
Instead, Wales’ Test, Trace, Protect programme will identify close contacts of students who test positive for Covid-19.
Normal session times will also resume, Mr Miles confirmed.
“By the end of September all adults in Wales will have been offered both vaccinations, providing greater protection for our education workforce,” he said.
“A growing body of evidence also shows that children and young people are more at harm from missing school than from Covid.”
The Welsh Government published guidance on Friday on the key changes to schools from September. Guidance for further education is expected to be published next week.
Mr Miles said the local Covid-19 infection control decision framework would also be made available at the start of the autumn term to enable schools to “embed new systems during the weeks that follow”.
“The framework will enable schools and colleges to tailor some of the interventions to reflect the level of risk identified locally,” he added.
“They will be supported by public health officials and local authorities to ensure measures are appropriate to their circumstances.”
The minister added that further updates would be issued during the summer holidays if there were any “significant developments”.
Laura Anne Jones, shadow education minister for the Welsh Conservatives, said it was important for schools and colleges to return to “some sort of normality” as soon as possible.
“The removal of masks, bubbles and staggered starts is a welcomed part of the statement, and I am pleased that the minister now recognises the need for these decisions to be made by Welsh Government, which is the right thing to do,” she said.
“However, I remain concerned that the Welsh Labour Government’s much-maligned Covid-19 infection control decision framework will not be ready until the start of the autumn term.
“Schools need more clarity about their level of responsibility as soon as possible and this important detail must be expedited by Labour ministers.”