Here's what to expect as schools reopen across Wales

Schools across Wales are reopening for the first time as part of Wales' phased return to education. Credit: PA Images

Schools across Wales are reopening for the first time for all age groups as part of Wales' phased return to education.

It comes after Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced that all age groups would be returning to school from the end of June, with at least three quarters of Wales’ state schools only returning for 3 weeks.

Schools have remained open in some areas to provide a safe space and education for the children of key workers in the country.

There were a number of changes that the Welsh Government revealed it would be making for the return of schools, including:

  • All age groups will return to school on June 29

  • The term will be extended until July 27 in some local authorities

  • There will be a phased approach, with year groups being split into groups with staggered starts, lessons and breaks

  • There will be no more than a third of pupils present at any one time

  • Smaller classes which will consist of online and classroom based teaching.

Speaking at a press conference on June 3, Kirsty Williams said, "We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September." Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Merthyr, Monmouthshire, Neath Port Talbot, Newport, Swansea, Torfaen, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham councils have all dropped the plan to extend term by an extra week. Its schools will open for staggered attendance by pupils on June 29 and close again on July 17.

Meanwhile, Anglesey County Council decided it would not be reopening schools following an outbreak at a food processing plant in Llangefni.

Just Conwy, Pembrokeshire and Powys councils have confirmed its schools will open for the four week period.

There will be much smaller classes and students will still be told to socially distance from other pupils. Credit: PA Images

There will be much smaller class sizes when pupils return and students will still be told to socially distance from other pupils. There are also expected to be staggered drop-off times for parents and for school transport.

With less students in classes, it is expected children will be confined in groups and to certain desks to allow for more intensive teaching. Schools have also been exploring the possibility of using temporary buildings or additional spaces nearby to provide different areas for learning.

One headteacher, Matthew Sims, head of Chepstow School, said classrooms and corridors have already been altered to comply with social distancing, whilst also saying they would need to evaluate the entire timetable to protect students.

"We'd have to stagger the entrance, our lessons, break times, lunchtimes and staffing," he said.

"Clearly, there's a big commitment from staff - we'd have to stagger their timetable."

Parents across Wales have been divided by the news, with some welcoming it and others deciding to keep their children at home until at least September.

Families who are concerned about sending their children back to school before September will not be fined. This also relates to staff who may be shielding during the pandemic.

There was a suggestion that schools wouldn’t actually be resuming until September, but Kirsty Williams said that would be ‘hugely detrimental’ to students in the long-run.

Ms Williams said: "That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people."

Kirsty Williams said keeping schools closed would be to the "detriment to the wellbeing of staff and pupils" Credit: PA

She said the return plan was the "best practical option" and met the five principles involved, she previously said would have to be met before a return could be considered.

Allowing pupils to return to the classroom was also the best way to meet the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged children, she added.

Ms Williams confirmed that parents will not be fined if they opt to keep their children at home for the remainder of the school year, saying: "We will respect parents' decisions."

The Welsh Government has insisted that it will not put staff at "unacceptable risk" of catching coronavirus after a survey by the UNISON union found that thousands of support workers said they were worried about returning to school too early. The decision to bring students back to schools for the last weeks of the term was heavily criticised by members of the teacher’s union NASUWT. Neil Butler, National Officer of the union for Wales, claimed there is "no educational purpose" behind the decision, adding: "These are not good enough reasons for risking lives."