Welsh Government announces £103m new funding to help make schools and colleges Covid-secure

Children wearing facemasks during a lesson at Hounslow Kingsley Academy in West London, as pupils in England return to school for the first time in two months as part of the first stage of lockdown easing. Picture date: Monday March 8, 2021.  Kirsty O'Connor/PA
Pupils are returning to classrooms in Wales this month amid what are being described as "very high-risk levels". Credit: PA Images

Schools and colleges in Wales are set to receive £103m of funding as pupils return for the new term.

Pupils are returning to classrooms this month during what are being described as "very high-risk levels".

The Welsh Government said the money is intended to help improve health and safety measures, boost school budgets and support disadvantaged college students.

The Education Minister Jeremy Miles said the funding will also be used to support decarbonisation, as part of the goal of making Wales a net-zero nation.

It comes after teaching unions called for urgent action to be taken to protect schools from Omicron.

Secondary school pupils are required to wear face coverings in all indoor areas where physical distance cannot be maintained. Credit: PA Images

Jeremy Miles said: "I know schools and colleges have faced a very difficult time and everyone across the workforce has worked incredibly hard to meet the challenges of the pandemic.

"This funding will further support our schools and colleges to keep settings as Covid-secure as possible.

"While we want to support the sector in recovering from the pandemic, we also have to make sure we continue to plan for the future, and help all education settings across Wales fulfil our collective goals of making Wales a net-zero nation.

"The funding announced today will help us to ensure sustainability across the sector – be that the environmental sustainability achieved through decarbonisation, or sustainability in provision."

Jeremy Miles said the funding will also help schools reduce their carbon footprint. Credit: Welsh Government

Education union leaders have warned of a "stressful time" ahead, with the potential of existing teacher absences becoming even more "challenging" in the weeks ahead.

Some schools have reported that around one in five staff members could be missing at the start of term.

Schools are being asked to plan for how they will operate with staff absences of up to 50%, as cases of Omicron surge.

They have also been given two planning days at the start of term to prepare for possible remote working.

Schools are one of the many public sectors challenged with staff shortages as a result of Covid. Credit: PA Images

The announcement in Wales comes as Boris Johnson faces scrutiny over his hope to "ride out" the wave of Omicron without further restrictions in England, despite the NHS coming under significant strain.

The Prime Minister will argue to his Cabinet on Wednesday they should stick by the Plan B measures as he accepted parts of the health service will feel "temporarily overwhelmed".

Public services across the UK are under unprecedented pressure as staff absences continue to surge.

With Omicron now the dominant variant in Wales and case rates at an all-time high, the number of people isolating is depleting the workforce across the country.

Care homes have reported up to 75% of staff currently off work, despite the Welsh Government cutting the isolation period from 10 to seven days last week.