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Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language: Return to Schools and Colleges

Jeremy Miles

Following the First Minister’s announcement that Wales will be moving to Alert Level 0 on 28 January, I want to provide an update on operational arrangements in schools.

As a government, we are absolutely clear that, for wellbeing and learning, it is vital that children and young people are in school. I am signalling today that, if the evidence supports it, we will confirm at the next three-week review point on 10 February that schools should return to making local decisions on mitigations in line with the Local Infection Control Decision Framework by the beginning of the new half term on 28 February. Face coverings will remain in schools for the time being, just as they are required in most public places, at alert level 0.

In preparation, schools should work with their local authorities and public health advisors to determine the measures they may need to put in place, based on their local circumstances.

A small proportion of schools have made use of the disapplication of the Changing of School Session Times (Wales) Regulations 2009 put in place for the return of learners at the start of this term providing flexibility for schools to temporarily change their school session times. These arrangements have been particularly useful to Special Schools, so will be extended until the half-term break, after which all schools will be required to revert to their normal timetable.

To manage and improve ventilation in classrooms, CO2 monitors have been provided for every classroom in Wales, and £95m has been provided to support maintenance work such as such as repairing windows or replacing air filters in air handling units where schools face challenges. Advice from our Technical Advisory Group on the importance of ventilation and on the use of air cleaning devices in specific circumstances will be published in the coming days, offering guidance to local authorities on the use of the devices in the small number of cases where they are needed.

Our focus remains to maximise learning and minimise disruption. I wish to reiterate to learners, schools and colleges that exams and assessments this year will go ahead, unless the public health situation makes it impossible for them to physically run – which we do not envisage. The intention to adjust grade boundaries to reflect disruption has already been set out.  Adaptations to exam content have been put in place as well as prior notification of areas of examination. , so that assessments are as fair as possible, and which will enable teachers to focus their time on the key areas for learning. Working collaboratively with Qualifications Wales, we are working with colleges to ensure learners undertaking vocational qualifications are also able to access appropriate adaptations this year. I encourage all learners in exam years to talk to their schools and colleges about what additional support and flexibility might be available this year, to help them progress with confidence.

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