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Changes to learning and teaching in schools.

First published:
14 July 2020
Last updated:

School operations from January 2022

On which dates will the planning days be held, and when will learners return to school?

All schools should use the first two days back immediately after the Christmas and new year break as their planning days. As term dates vary across Wales, these two days will not be the same for all schools.

Each local authority will confirm with schools which dates have been assigned as planning days. Local authorities will also inform schools due to take INSET days at the start of the spring term how these planning days will be allocated.

All learners will return to onsite provision by Monday 10 January at the latest (and many during the final days of the previous week).

How should schools use the two allocated planning days in January?

We know that the autumn term has been challenging for schools. The two planning days at the start of the spring term will enable schools to assess staffing capacity and put the necessary measures in place to support the return of all learners.

This will be an opportunity for schools to revisit their contingency plans, assess where additional measures are necessary using the local infection control framework and consider what arrangements might need to be in place for vulnerable learners and the children of critical workers during any periods of disruption.

It will also allow secondary school leaders to plan for learners to safely sit their January exams, and to revisit their contingency plans to ensure exam years are prioritised for onsite provision should there be a need to restrict in-person learning at any time.

The planning days are also an opportunity to ensure that you have robust plans in place to move to remote learning; this could be for individual classes/year groups or possibly for the whole school.

Schools should also use the planning days to consider the operation of other services on the school site, such as after school clubs run by external providers. Providers have a duty to take all reasonable measures to ensure that these activities take place in a way that minimises exposure to coronavirus, and schools may want to discuss with providers the measures that can be taken to enable this provision to take place on the school site.

Schools may want to use the second planning day to operationalise any changes they consider proportionate, and communicate these changes and the importance of testing before return to all staff, parents/carers and learners. Schools should continue to use the Local Infection Control Decision Framework to guide their operational arrangements.

What provision are schools expected to offer during these planning days?

We recognise these planning days may impact on the date that parents and carers were expecting their children to return to school in the new year. Where that is the case, on the second day, we would expect schools to consider what provision may need to be put in place for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. In the first instance, parents should explore all alternative options and only request such provision if it is necessary. Schools and local authorities should also have regard to the wider needs of their community and the impact of any decisions not to put in place such provision.

Will there be free school meal provision during these two planning days?

Yes, eFSM learners should receive free school meals. Local authorities can claim for this via the Local Government Hardship Fund.

Which members of staff are expected to attend the school site during the planning days?

Schools should decide which members of staff are required to be on the school site, and which members of staff can undertake their preparatory work remotely, during the planning days. We would not expect any school staff who were expecting to be paid for these days to be disadvantaged as a consequence of the planning days.

It will be important for schools to continue to be mindful of the core mitigation measures that remain in place during the planning days. Staff attending the school site on the planning days should take a lateral flow test before attending work and should wear a face covering where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Schools should minimise large numbers gathering in small areas, use large well-ventilated spaces, and encourage physical distancing where possible.

Any decisions made during the planning days that impact other bodies, such as providers of after school clubs, should be communicated swiftly.

Will there be any changes to the operational guidance for schools?

Schools should plan on the basis that the temporary measure introduced on 29 November 2021 to advise all staff and secondary-aged learners to use face coverings in communal areas and classrooms where physical distancing cannot be maintained will remain in place for the return in January; this will continue to be kept under review.

What we learn about the Omicron variant over coming weeks may require interventions for the higher risk levels as set out in our Local Decision Framework. As a precautionary approach, we advise schools to plan mitigations for the return based on the ‘very high’ risk level as set out in the Framework.

It will continue to be important that staff and learners continue regular Lateral Flow Testing in term time so we can find and isolate those who are potentially infectious to others without knowing. This will be particularly important, now and in the new term, while we gather evidence and build our understanding of the Omicron variant. Moving forward, our strong expectation is that all staff and learners of secondary age should test three times a week before entering school using LFTs (on Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and record their results.

Schools will be informed by their local authority if any changes are made to the guidance.

School operations

What measures are in place to ensure schools are safe for learners and staff?

Schools and settings working with their local authority must follow the reasonable measures guidance, which sets out requirements on employers to carry out risk assessments. For additional guidance, see the Health & Safety Executive’s website.

The Local Infection Control Decision Framework offers more flexibility to determine what is required to manage risks.

Can my child attend school if they have a cold?

If a child has mild cold-like symptoms, and no one in their household has any of the main COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus, they should continue to go to school, if fit to do so.

The three main symptoms of COVID-19 to be aware of are:

  • a new continuous cough
  • fever or high temperature
  • loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste

If your child develops one of these symptoms they should follow the self-isolation guidance and you should apply for a coronavirus test. The guidance for other members of the household is available.

We no longer recommend that children under 5 years of age take COVID-19 tests without symptoms. Where children under 5 do have symptoms we would not routinely recommend tests unless directed to do so by a doctor or if parents believe a test is absolutely necessary and in the best interests of the child.

Maintaining distancing is very difficult for younger children and those with learning difficulties, how can we expect to keep them from mixing with their peers and teaching staff?

Schools are expected to reduce close interactions between all individuals wherever possible. Schools should also encourage older learners to maintain distancing where possible.

All staff should adhere to the distancing measures as far as possible. However, we recognise that this may not always be possible, for example when working with younger learners.

Is there any support available for the education workforce?

Support is available for the education workforce through the Education Support Partnership (ESP), the charity dedicated to supporting the health and well-being of education staff.

ESP has been developing digital resources to provide further support to education staff during these very challenging times. These have been based on key themes of anxiety, grief and isolation. 

Confidential emotional support is also available via the ESP for all education staff 24/7. Call their counselling helpline on 08000 562561 or visit the ESP website. The ESP can also provide financial assistance through its grants service.

Where staff are providing individual or group support for pupils with special educational needs (SEN), can schools reconfigure the schedule of support to minimise close interactions between individuals?

The statutory duties and obligations of local authorities and schools relating to SEN remain unchanged and in force, including the duty to arrange provision as set out in a statement. This will remain the case when the implementation of the ALN Act begins, as children with statements are not transitioning to the ALN system in the first year of implementation.

In line with previous guidance we would encourage a practical and flexible approach to ensure individual needs are met. This should be considered as part of any risk assessment. For example, timetabling and scheduling one to one support over a longer cycle, in order to maintain overall levels of support whilst minimising close interactions between individuals may be appropriate.

Whilst schools are not advised to maintain contact groups from September onwards, we acknowledge that some schools may wish to tailor provision for some pupils with special educational needs as a result of specific health needs identified as part of the risk assessment process.

Schools should continue to consult parents and carers about specific support needs, and use their discretion flexibly in agreeing the way forward for specific learners.

What are the arrangements for free school meals?

The Welsh Government’s expectation is that school or local authority catering provision will revert to its pre-COVID arrangements, unless there are circumstances which might prevent this. Learners who are eligible for free school meals who are or transitionally protected should be provided with a free meal on each day they attend. Other learners will still be expected to pay for their meals.

Local authorities are able to claim for additional expenses incurred in providing free school meals for learners who are self-isolating via the Welsh Government’s Local Government Hardship Fund, up to a maximum of £3.90 per pupil per day. They will be expected to demonstrate that they have offset their claims against existing budgets.

The Welsh Government has also made funding available for free school meal provision during school holidays, up to the end of 2021 to 2022. Again, local authorities are able to claim from the Welsh Government’s Local Government Hardship Fund up to a maximum of £3.90 per pupil per day.

Can supervised childrens activities take place?

Yes. There is no limit on the number of children and young children that can attend these activities, but organisers should be mindful of the space available. Organisers have a duty to take all reasonable measures to ensure that these activities take place in a way that minimises exposure to coronavirus.

Can practical PE lessons take place?

Yes, schools have the flexibility to decide how physical education, sport and physical activity will be provided, working within the measures in place in the school. Outdoor activity should be prioritised wherever possible.

Can inter school sports fixtures take place?

Both indoor and outdoor regulated gatherings can now take place. This includes team sports fixtures.

If you are considering organising a sports fixture, please ensure these arrangements are addressed in the relevant risk assessments and that you take all reasonable measures to minimise risk of exposure to coronavirus.

You should also ensure you take note of any guidance published by the relevant National Governing Body for the sport in question.

I’m due to go on work experience soon as part of my school or college course, will that still go ahead?

This is a local decision for schools and colleges to make, supported by public health officials and local authorities, depending on the level of risk identified locally. Your school or college will be able to inform you whether your work experience can go ahead at that time.

Should schools and colleges be holding parents’ evenings and open evenings?

Local authorities, employers and schools must protect people from harm. This includes taking reasonable measures to protect staff, learners and others from COVID-19 within the setting.

It is a legal requirement that schools/settings should undertake a risk assessment, as set out in our guidance. This will enable consideration to be given to the additional risks and control measures to put in place if events such as parents evenings and open evenings are to be held.

I am a private tutor. Can I provide face-to-face lessons in my home or a student’s home?

Face-to-face tutoring is allowed to take place in your own home or someone else’s home.

We would expect a risk assessment to be undertaken and measures to protect those taking part to be put in place.

Tutors may also wish to consider distance learning options for students.

Who should I inform if I or my child has displayed symptoms of COVID-19? 

Children displaying symptoms of Covid-19 should remain at home, and parents are advised to arrange a test and ensure self-isolation guidance is adhered to. If the test comes back positive, the contact tracing system will commence for that case.

Children are not required to provide evidence of any negative test on return to school.

We no longer recommend that children under 5 years of age take COVID-19 tests without symptoms. Where children under 5 do have symptoms we would not routinely recommend tests unless directed to do so by a doctor or if parents believe a test is absolutely necessary and in the best interests of the child.

My child is under five years old and has symptoms, what do I do?

If your child has any of the main COVID-19 symptoms they should not attend school or childcare. They should only attend school or childcare when their symptoms have resolved. 

If your doctor advises it or you feel it is completely necessary for your child you can still book a PCR test.

Will teachers and other staff who need to self-isolate still be paid and able to work from home?

If teachers or other staff members are unable to go to work as they have to self-isolate, they should speak with their employer and agree reasonable arrangements for homeworking, if they are able to do so. Teachers and other staff unable to attend work will be paid as normal.

Are supply staff agencies obliged to provide LFT results for their staff?

It is important to highlight that the testing policy for schools in Wales should not be viewed as a ‘test to enable’ or ‘test to return’ to face-to-face learning - it is not a condition of returning to education or a requirement for anyone coming on to the school site. Testing is completely voluntary.

Are there learner-friendly resources available explaining how to use the LFTs?

Yes. These can be accessed via the Testing Offer Asset Banks.

Can schools hold events such as concerts and fairs?

Local authorities, employers and schools must protect people from harm. This includes taking reasonable measures to protect staff, learners and others from COVID-19 within the setting.

Any events, such as concerts, fairs and visits - should be risk assessed, with consideration given to additional risks and control measures to be put in place. Where appropriate, information on the relevant arrangements should be communicated to those attending or taking part in these events in advance.

What if I’m identified as a contact but have an exam?

If you are aged 5-17 or 18 and over and fully vaccinated, and have been identified as a contact to someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, you should take LFTs for 7 days. If your lateral flow test result is positive you should self-isolate as set out in the national guidance. If you develop symptoms you should book a PCR test as soon as possible. In either instance, if you think this may impact on your ability to sit your exam please contact your school or college to make the necessary arrangements. Schools and colleges will need to ensure rooms are well ventilated and there is adequate space between learners during any exam. 

Do I need to wear a face covering during my exam?

Given the very specific controls in place for exams, i.e. desks are forward-facing and talking is restricted, learners should be given the option of removing their face covering, once they are seated, for the duration of their exam. If it is reasonably practicable schools and colleges may wish to increase the spacing between desks from the minimum spacing of 1.25m. Schools and colleges should also consider reinforcing mitigations such as the use of hand sanitiser on entering the exam room, ensuring the room is well ventilated and advising learners to take a lateral flow test three times a week.  At the end of the exam learners should be reminded to wear their face covering before leaving the room.  

How should schools balance maintaining adequate ventilation with ensuring people are warm?

Providing adequate ventilation does not mean people have to work in an uncomfortably cold place. There are simple steps you can take to make sure classrooms are adequately ventilated without being too cold.

  • Partially opening windows and doors can still provide adequate ventilation.
  • Open higher-level windows to create fewer draughts.
  • If the area is cold, relax dress codes so people can wear extra layers and warmer clothing.
  • Set the heating to maintain a comfortable temperature even when windows and doors are open.
  • Consider providing additional sources of heating if required. Only use fan convector heaters if the area is well ventilated.

You can also regularly air the space in rooms that rely on natural ventilation, by opening windows and doors as fully as possible. For example, you can do this when pupils leave for a break. Even 10 minutes an hour can help reduce the risk from virus in the air, depending on the size of the room.

School contact tracing

My child has been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID, can they attend school or childcare?

Yes, your child can still attend school or childcare. However we now ask that all children aged 5 to 17 years old (as well as vaccinated adults) identified as a close contact of a positive case to take lateral flow tests (LFTs) every day for 7 days if they are identified as a contact of a positive COVID-19 case. This is known as ‘Daily Contact Testing’. Tests should be taken before they arrive at school each day.

These individuals do not need to self-isolate for that day unless they have a positive lateral flow test or develop symptoms. If they have a positive lateral flow test they should self-isolate as set out in the national guidance. If they develop symptoms they should book a PCR test as soon as possible.

Will TTP contact/interview children?

For learners who are aged under 16, TTP will interview them with a proxy (a parent or legal guardian). 

What information will TTP gather to identify contacts?

In discussion with the child (and their parent or legal guardian) TTP will gather information from positive cases on their activity and the locations they have visited, including social settings, sports and after school clubs and transport during their infectious period and who they may have been in contact with. They will be asked to provide the contact details, if they know them, of any of the individuals who have been identified as close contacts. TTP will then get in touch with these close contacts and provide appropriate instructions or advice. TTP may need to contact the school for some contact details. This is the same approach that contact tracers manage for the rest of society and they have developed expertise in supporting people to identify their close contacts.

How will contact tracing work for primary school age children and those with learning difficulties?

Individual assessment of all contacts will not be possible with younger children who will be less able to reliably report who they have been in contact with. Therefore the focus of contact tracing for children in primary schools will be on close friendship groups and any community contacts that the parent or guardian is aware of.

Individual assessment of all contacts may also be difficult with children who have learning difficulties. The focus of contact tracing will be on close friendship groups and any community contacts that the parent or guardian is aware of.

If an education setting is identified by the child/proxy as a location of exposure then TTP will contact the settings to advise that targeted warn and inform letters be sent to update parents and staff on the situation and what they need to do.

What is the contact tracing process for individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable?

Guidance for individuals including children, who are clinically extremely vulnerable to developing serious illness if they are exposed to coronavirus because they have a particular serious underlying health condition is available.

For children and young people who require additional support – such as children with a statement of special educational needs or who have additional learning needs or disabilities – schools and settings should continue to work with the local authority as well as with parents to decide how best to continue supporting these children to stay healthy.

What is the role of the school within the contact tracing process?

Schools are asked to support TTP teams by having core information available including staff, children and visitor’s contact details, attendance records and any knowledge of the learner’s immediate friendship group. It is TTP’s role to identify which individuals meet the definition of a close contact and who, if anyone, would be required to self-isolate. Contacts from a school will only be traced by TTP where the positive case identifies the individual as being a close contact. This is likely to be a small number of individuals who would be most at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the nature of the contact. However the school may be advised to take a ‘warn and inform’ approach to update parents/carers and staff on the situation and what they need to do, based on TTP advice.

What advice does warn and inform cover?

The warn and inform approach reinforces key messages about the risk to others from COVID-19 and what can be done to minimise this risk, e.g. by remaining vigilant for new symptoms, having a low threshold for seeking a test even with mild symptoms, and avoiding contact with vulnerable family and friends in the short-term (such as elderly relatives or those who are higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection).

Teaching and learning

What are the longer-term plans to help deal with the attainment and learning gap due to the pandemic and to help learners catch up?

On 16 June, we published our renew and reform plan, setting out how we will target £150 million additional investment in the 2021 to 2022 financial year to support learners and practitioners as we manage our recovery from coronavirus.

The Renew and Reform plan brings together and builds on the successful interventions and initiatives deployed over the last year, including retaining and supporting more than 1,800 full-time equivalent staff recruited under the Recruit, Recover, and Raise Standards programme.

This plan confirms our commitment to learner and practitioner well-being and mental health; supporting learners to make the progress they need; and addressing the educational impacts of inequality which have been highlighted by the pandemic. Strengthening the foundations of learning as we move forward to the next steps in our national mission.

This plan sets out the framework and the funding available to enable us to work together with our partners and stakeholders to support learners and practitioners. 

We are working closely with partners to build on this plan as we move forward to the next phase of renewal and reform.

Face coverings

What are the changes to guidance on use of face coverings in schools?

From 29 November 2021, our guidance regarding the use of face coverings has changed temporarily as a precautionary step while we learn more about the Omicron variant of concern. These changes apply to all settings.

Face coverings should be worn by staff and visitors in all indoor areas of all settings, including classrooms, where physical distance cannot be maintained. Face coverings also should be worn by secondary aged learners in all indoor areas, including classrooms, where physical distance cannot be maintained.

Face coverings continue to be recommended to be worn by secondary aged learners on school transport.

There will be some learners and staff who are exempt from wearing face coverings, we do not expect this to change that position as the wellbeing of individuals is critical to any considerations around whether staff or learners should wear face coverings. The National Deaf Children’s Society has considered the impact of face masks on deaf children.

Vaccinations

Where can I find information on vaccinations?

In Wales, we are working to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority schedule.

The JCVI is the expert body which advises all four UK governments, and the priority schedule of vaccination we are working to is the same as the schedule for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Further information and updates on our vaccination strategy are available.

Regular testing

Where do I get my lateral flow tests from?

Learners or staff can use any tests they may have at home already. If not they can order online, collect from their pharmacy or a local collection site.

During term-time, if you attend or work at a school, college or nursery you can get rapid tests through your school, college or nursery.

During the school holidays, if you would like to continue regularly testing you should continue to do so. You can get tests from the channels described in how to get lateral flow test.

How often do I need to take a LFT?

All staff and secondary aged learners are advised to take a LFT three times a week and report the results.

Where do I report my result?

It’s important to record your test result as soon as you can, whether it’s positive, negative or void. You can report your results on gov.uk or by calling 119. It means new outbreaks are identified and we understand how the tests are being used.

All staff participating in the testing scheme should report any results by selecting ‘it’s for an education provider’ unless not listed. This includes childcare settings and childminders. For peripatetic staff and other staff supporting childcare and education, please follow the same self-test journey and begin typing your local authority in the text box, selecting either peripatetic staff or transport. If neither is appropriate, please select ‘It’s not listed’ when asked ‘Tell us about the work’.

Testing as a close contact or household contact

Someone in my household has coronavirus symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus. What should I do?

If someone in your household has coronavirus symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus, you should follow the latest guidance.

All over 18s who are fully vaccinated (having received two full doses of an approved vaccine) and children aged 5 to 17 are now asked to take lateral flow tests (LFTs) every day for 7 days if they are identified as a contact of a positive COVID-19 case. This is known as ‘Daily Contact Testing’.

We recommend those undertaking Daily Contact Testing take their test before they arrive at school each day. These individuals do not need to self-isolate for that day unless they have a positive lateral flow test or develop symptoms. If the LFT result is positive, they should self-isolate as set out in the national guidance. If they develop symptoms, they should book a PCR test as soon as possible.  

Unvaccinated adults identified as a contact of a positive COVID-19 case must isolate for 10 days.

Our position on children under 5 years old remains unchanged - they are not required to self-isolate or test as contacts.

I have previously tested positive for COVID-19. Do I still need to test as a contact?

We do not recommend that people use PCR tests if they have been confirmed positive via a PCR test in the last 90 days.

Those aged 5 to 17 and fully vaccinated adults should still use the LFT for 7 days from when a household member has tested positive, even if they have previously had COVID in the last 90 days.

Why are children under 5 not advised to test?

Children under 5 often find the testing process invasive and distressing and this can make getting a sample very difficult and distressing for parents and carers. Also children under 5 do not spread COVID in the same way as an adult or in the same way that people consider young children to spread cold and flu. Young children have small bodies, small lungs and small breath capacity which means even if they are infected with the virus they cannot spread it to others in the same way as an older young person or adult would.

When should household contacts start 7 days of LFT testing?

The 7 days of LFT testing should start from the day the household member tested positive (via PCR or LFT).

Am I required to self-isolate if I am identified as a close contact of someone with coronavirus if I work with vulnerable learners?

All staff working in education settings who work in close proximity to learners with increased clinical risks, can undertake return to work testing. Criteria for staff to return will be set out in a checklist risk assessment tool which will be circulated to settings directly.

Testing will consist of one PCR test followed by daily lateral flow tests until 7 days has passed since the individual was informed of their contact with the confirmed case or 7 days from when a household member was confirmed positive.