All state school pupils in Wales are set to return to classrooms on 1 September and will be taught within “contact groups” of around 30 children, with only limited social distancing.
The scientific group advising the Welsh government has recommended that schools reopen in the autumn with “100% of pupils physically present” – as long as Covid-19 continues to steadily decline in the community.
An extra £29m is to be made available to recruit the equivalent of 600 teachers and 300 teaching assistants.
Speaking at the Welsh government’s briefing on Thursday, the education minister, Kirsty Williams, said it would be “disingenuous to say fully opening schools is a zero-risk proposition” but argued the “balance of risks” allowed a return to full-time schooling in September.
She said: “We all know the devastation Covid-19 has caused, especially to our young people. Our priority must be to deliver maximum learning with minimal disruption for our young people.
The minister announced that:
Schools will return to full capacity, with only limited social distancing within contact groups.
A contact group should consist of around 30 children. Some direct or indirect mixing between children in different contact groups will also be unavoidable, such as on transport, receiving specialist teaching or due to staffing constraints.
Social distancing for adults should remain in line with regulations and guidance.
Williams said all schools that can accommodate all pupils from the start of the term – 1 September – should do so.
There will be a period of flexibility, in recognition that schools may want to focus on priority year groups, such as those new to secondary schools, those sitting exams next summer or those in reception classes.
But the minister said she wanted to see all children back by 14 September. She added that parents and carers would not face a fine for not sending their child to school in Wales.
On the additional funding, Williams said: “We will target extra support at Years 11, 12 and 13, as well as disadvantaged and vulnerable learners of all ages.
“The support package, provided at a school level, could include extra coaching support, personalised learning programmes and additional time and resources for exam year pupils.
Schools re-opened in Wales at the end of June for all pupils – but only for a limited time for most.
The Wales TUC general secretary, Shavanah Taj, said: “Our schools workforce have been working tirelessly so that children could return to the classroom safely this term for ‘keeping in touch’ days. This announcement will mean that they can finish the term with some certainty about the new school year.”