Mounting calls for schools in Wales to close early ahead of Christmas

Most schools are closing on December 17 or 18 but there are several who have decided to shut one week earlier. Credit: ITV Wales

There are mounting calls for schools to close early ahead of Christmas despite Welsh Government reaffirming their position this week that term should not end prematurely.

Both Plaid Cymru and several teachers' unions said advice from scientific advisors on self-isolating before meeting loved ones over Christmas means schools should shut early.

The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) suggested families with children should consider ''isolating" at home for 10 days before seeing elderly relatives.

It is currently up to local authorities and schools themselves as to whether they break-up for Christmas ahead of schedule.

On Monday, Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said there was no rationale for closing schools early and this would cause harm to pupils' wellbeing.

Wales' Chief Medical Officer also emphasised that the official advice was not for parents to take their children out of school early but he did also encourage people to isolate or limit mixing in the ten days leading up to Christmas.

Welsh school students have already faced disruption and changes to their education, with next year's GCSE exams cancelled. Credit: ITV Wales

Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Education, Sian Gwenllian MS, said the latest advice from TAG "has shone a light on the risk associated with schools remaining open, and must be taken seriously."

The party believes to do this, "Welsh Government should allow schools to close next week and encourage those who can to keep children home".

Ms Gwenllian added that a "skeleton staff" should then be kept in place to look after children who still need to attend school.

Teacher's union NAHT Cymru have written to Kirsty Williams, urging the education minister to reconsider the official position. In the letter, they write that the final week of teaching could instead take place online from home or through blended learning.

They go on to write: "No direction from the government on this issue risks large numbers of families making their own decision to take children out of school and once again will result in a mixed economy across Wales, with LAs making their own decisions based on local circumstances."

Another union, NASUWT, echoed this call and warned that decisions on term dates should "not compromise safety".

Neil Butler, NASUWT National Official Wales, said many of their members are reporting parents taking their children out of school early anyway - in light of the advice from TAG.

Mr Butler said: "Distance learning could be the solution to maintaining education provision whilst reducing the risk of virus transmission in the run up to Christmas.

"Failing the Welsh Government’s leadership on this we are asking Local Authorities to step up to the plate."

Vaughan Gething emphasised that taking children out of school earlier than planned can cause harm to the mental health of students. Credit: ITV Wales

Health minister Vaughan Gething was asked on Monday at a press briefing if Welsh Government were considering changing their stance and enforcing early closure.

Mr Gething said some schools have taken their own decision to close, partly in response to positive Covid-19 cases, but he added: "There isn't a significant public health rationale for closing primary schools in particular."

"You have to take into account the fact that the evidence as yet doesn't show that schools cause significant harm, which we can reduce and avoid by closing all of them.

"What we do know though is that closing schools causes real and significant harm to children and young people and their prospects. That's for both vulnerable children, where schools is often a safe space for them... and it's also got a direct impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children.

Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council have announced that schools in their area will be closing early for Christmas. Secondary schools in Wrexham will also close from Monday 14.

Some individual schools in different local authorities have also taken the decision to shut prematurely.

Schools would need the last day of face-to-face teaching to happen on Monday 14 for students to have time for 10 days of isolation before Christmas. Schools would then need to break up on Friday 11 to ensure ten days before December 23 - when mixing with your Christmas bubble can begin.