The Coronavirus Act 2020 gives the Welsh Ministers powers relating to containing, preventing and managing the spread of coronavirus in schools, other education institutions and childcare settings in Wales. This includes powers to make notices temporarily removing or relaxing statutory provisions.
Schools are now back to operating with all learners in attendance. Since the start of the autumn term, some schools have found it helpful to stagger arrival, departure and break times and have therefore made temporary changes to the start and finish times of the school day. This has allowed schools to limit learners’ contact groups and maintain social distancing at the school gates, supporting the advice contained within the operational guidance for schools and settings.
The Changing of School Session Times (Wales) Regulations 2009 set out the procedure some school governing bodies and local authorities must follow to make such changes. This includes consulting producing a statement, holding a meeting with parents and considering any written determination. They also provide that such changes can only occur at the beginning of a term or a beginning of a school year (depending on the proposal).
This ninth notice temporarily disapplies regulations 3 and 4 of the Changing of School Session Times (Wales) Regulations 2009, to enable changes to school session times without the need for consultation or giving notice. This temporary disapplication only applies to changes to session times made due to the incidence of coronavirus and any changes made whilst the notice has effect will not be permanent.
This notice is effective for 30 days from 1 April and will be reviewed on a monthly basis.
Actions for schools and local authorities
School governing bodies and local authorities should continue to assess how best to structure start, finish and break times and should plan their school session times based on the latest advice provided by the Welsh Government.
In her statement, Flexible return to education on 3 March, the Minister for Education made clear that the use of staggered start and finish times should be maximised.
Changes to the start and end times of the school day, as well as lunch breaks, are permitted without the need for prior consultation or giving notice, for the purposes of safely operating schools during the coronavirus pandemic only. Teaching and learning time should not be reduced as a result of making changes to session times, nor should break times be reduced to an extent that may adversely affect learners’ well-being.
Changes to start and finish times can be disruptive for parents. In addition, shortened break times may detrimentally affect learners, particularly if time to eat, play and relax. is limited. Schools and local authorities should ensure they carefully consider the impact on learners and parents when making such changes. Consideration should also be given to the impact that any changes may have on arrangements for dedicated school transport.
Long-term changes to school session times not related to the coronavirus pandemic must follow the procedures for consultation and notice periods set out in the Changing of School Session Times (Wales) Regulations 2009. Schools should not make arrangements for changes for longer than the period the notice is in force, nor arrangements that cannot be reverted at short notice.