FACE coverings will remain mandatory in schools for the spring term, the Welsh Government have announced.

The announcement was made today by education minister Jeremy Miles, who also said that remote learning should be "kept to a minimum".

Mr Miles, who said that the use of face coverings was "guidance" rather than law at this stage, said schools and colleges could also implement further measures

These, he said, could include:

  • the use of one-way systems
  • consistent seating plans where practicable
  • using suitable outdoor spaces
  • the use of contact groups where practicable
  • not holding large group gatherings such as assemblies

Schools will also now have the option to operate staggered start and finish times as an additional mitigation "should their risk assessment support this".

"In addition, we are announcing today further funding of over £100m to support schools and colleges," Mr Miles said.

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This funding package includes:

  • £50m to be provided via local authorities through the Sustainable Communities for Learning programme. This funding will help schools carry out capital repair and improvement work, with a focus on health and safety measures, such as improving ventilation;
  • £45m of revenue funding to help support school budgets, assisting schools as they continue to deal with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and to prepare for the requirements of the new curriculum; and
  • An additional £8m to be provided to further education colleges, to ensure learning can continue safely and ensure the most disadvantaged learners are not further impacted by the pandemic.

"Our top priority remains to maximise in-person learning and minimise disruption to learners," Mr Miles said.

"Case numbers are increasing, and there are high levels of community transmission.
"This, alongside staff absences due to other illness, will continue to impact education provision over coming weeks.

"We will continue to monitor the data carefully as learners return to school."

Mr Miles said that the Welsh Government were anticipating "periods of disruption" with face-to-face learning during the next few weeks.

However, he said: "Any periods of remote learning should be kept to a minimum."

Colleges are to continue working with a blended learning approach.

"I have approved an additional £1m to support colleges with staff recruitment and to help attract practitioners to work in our colleges," Mr Miles said.

A number of changes have been made to regular testing, contact tracing and self-isolation arrangements over recent weeks which will help support learning in schools and colleges.

These changes are:

  • All staff and secondary age learners and above are now strongly advised to use (and to report the results of) Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) three times a week
  • Children and young people aged 5-17 and fully vaccinated adults are now asked to take LFTs every day for seven days if they are identified as a contact of a positive COVID-19 case
  • Those who test positive must self-isolate for seven days. On day six of isolation, they should take a lateral flow test and another test 24 hours later. If both results are negative, it is likely they are not infectious.
  • Schools and colleges are able to order and distribute one pack of seven LFTs to each member of staff and secondary aged learner and above on a weekly basis

Although these revised arrangements may require greater use of LFTs by some individuals, Mr Miles said the changes "further reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus with the aim of keeping Covid out of our schools and colleges and minimising disruption to learning".

In addition, Mr Miles said that performance measures, school categorisation, Estyn inspections and ALN implementation will all be delayed or rescheduled in the first year.

"Finally, we have made it clear to organisations that we expect them to be flexible and responsive to the challenges facing schools, seeking out opportunities to create space and ease pressure whilst continuing to support our shared commitment to improvement," Mr Miles said.

"We are fortunate in Wales to have an education workforce of such professionalism and dedication and I want to thank them in advance for all they will do over the coming weeks."