Welsh secondary schools and colleges to move online from Monday as cases rise

10 December 2020, 16:43 | Updated: 10 December 2020, 19:13

File photo: All Welsh secondary schools and colleges will move to online learning from Monday.
File photo: All Welsh secondary schools and colleges will move to online learning from Monday. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

All Welsh secondary schools and colleges will move to online learning from Monday 14 December, as part of a "national effort to reduce transmission of coronavirus".

Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams confirmed the move today, describing as part of a "national effort to reduce transmission of coronavirus".

It is understood that primary schools will remain open for in-person learning.

While half of schools in Wales have had zero coronavirus cases since September, the Welsh government said education settings "can contribute to wider social mixing outside the school and college environment".

The decision to move secondary school lessons online in Wales comes as English Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced immediate testing would be rolled out for 11 to 18-year-olds in London, Essex and Kent.

"We want to keep schools open because that is both right for education and for public health," Mr Hancock told a press conference on Thursday.

“We need to do everything we can to stop the spread amongst school age children right now."

He added: "We need to take targeted action immediately... we have decided to put in place an immediate plan to test all secondary school children in the seven worst affected boroughs of London, in parts of Essex that border London and in parts of Kent."

Read more: London 'has highest Covid rate in England' as concern grows over Tier 3 risk

Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams said children should be at home and not treat the move online as an early Christmas holiday.
Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams said children should be at home and not treat the move online as an early Christmas holiday. Picture: Welsh Government

Announcing the measures in Wales, Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “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.

“I can therefore confirm that a move to online learning should be implemented for secondary school pupils and college students from Monday next week.

“We recognise, as we did during the firebreak, that it is more difficult for primary and special school age children to undertake self-directed learning.

Read more: New Welsh coronavirus rules: Are hotels open and what are the new alcohol restrictions?

“That is why we are encouraging primary and special schools to continue to stay open.

Ms Williams added: “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.”

Read more: Brexit-supporting Ineos boss to build new 4x4s in France instead of Wales

Reacting to the Welsh announcement, a Department for Education spokesperson said: “Keeping schools open remains a national priority because, as the Chief Medical Officer has consistently said, not being in school damages children’s learning, development and mental health.

“The right approach to reducing the number of cases is following the protective measures in place, including secondary students wearing face coverings when travelling to and from school and in communal areas, and accessing testing where appropriate.”

The Welsh decision comes as the country faces a rising number of coronavirus cases, with hospitality businesses already banned from selling alcohol and forced to close at 6pm.

A second firebreak lockdown is not being ruled out by the Welsh government, as public health bosses warn it may be the only way to prevent a 'catastrophe' for the NHS at Christmas.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething told reporters on Monday that "everything is on the table" as officials try to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients.

Wales now has its highest ever number of Covid-19-related patients in hospitals with 1,800 in total, just four weeks after the end of the country's 17-day firebreak.

Latest data shows rates of Covid-19 are currently 370 per 100,000 people, with cases doubling every 11.7 days.