Watch the full interview with Kirsty Williams, Wales' Education Minister
Secondary schools and colleges will close across Wales from December 14, the education minister has announced.
Kirsty Williams said the decision was part of a "national effort to reduce transmission of coronavirus", despite ministers only this week standing firm on the decision not to close schools early.
It comes following the latest scientific advice which suggests people should self-isolate for 10 days ahead of the Christmas period where up to three households are allowed to mix indoors.
There were mounting calls from opposition parties and unions for schools to close early, warning that decisions on term dates should "not compromise safety", but Kirsty Williams said the decision was made to bring the R number down, not to allow people to self isolate before Christmas.
Some local authorities had decided to close its schools early, but Ms Williams said this "clear, national direction" would "take the pressure off" schools, parents and carers.
Teaching will now instead take place online until the end of term on Friday 18 December.
Ms Williams said schools are still "safe and secure environments" but recognised that schools being open can "contribute to wider social mixing outside the school and college environment."
The latest data shows that rates of Covid-19 have further increased across Wales and have now exceeded 370 out of 100,000 people with a test positivity of 17%.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “Every day, we are seeing more and more people admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms.
“The virus is putting our health service under significant and sustained pressure and it is important we all make a contribution to reduce its transmission."
Opposition parties were quick to criticise the change of position on the issue.
"Just a few days’ ago, the First Minister was categorical that schools should remain open. It’s clear the Welsh Labour Government has lost control" Andrew RT Davies of the Welsh Conservatives said. Sian Gwenllian from Plaid Cymru said the government should provide "on-site provision" for younger learners and children of key workers. "Each pupil should go home for Christmas with a suitable device for online learning. Accessing education through X boxes & mobile phones is not good enough."
The move also received criticism from Wales' Children's Commissioner, Sally Holland. Ms Holland said it is "not the right decision" and has called for the scientific advice behind it to be released.
She said: "Whilst accepting the severity of the public health emergency and the responsibilities all of us have to keep each other safe, this decision compounds the disruption to our children’s education over the last few months."
On the decision to close schools, Ms Williams urged people to be aware that this is "not an early Christmas holiday" and children should remain at home during this time.
“Having spoken to local education leaders, I am confident that schools and colleges have online learning provision in place.
“This will also be important in ensuring that students are at home during this time, learning and staying safe.
“Critically, and this is very important, children should be at home.
“This is not an early Christmas holiday, please do everything you can to minimise your contact with others.”
“The education family in Wales has pulled together so many times this year to make a real difference to the course of this virus and ultimately to save lives and I know we can do the same again.
“Together we will keep Wales safe.”