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Lockdown rule changes expected

·         Hopes that non-essential retail can open from next Monday

·         Already confirmed: Primary school children back in school after the weekend

FIRST Minister Mark Drakeford has indicated that he is hoping to announce a plan for easing lockdown beyond Easter and into mid-April when he announces on Friday what they have decided.

He is also expected to give the green light for shops and hairdressers to open on Monday, and confirm that all primary school children and older pupils in exam years will return to the classroom. You can see here the Welsh Government’s reason shops will be reopening before all children are back in school.

Speaking to the media he said: “We are still working as a cabinet – discussing what we will announce on Friday. We want to lift restrictions where we can do so, but to do so in a careful way, one step at a time, keeping an eye as always on our main priority: getting children back for face-to-face teaching.”

Mr Drakeford also said he wants to give a timetable for “the next three weeks and more than that too” in Friday’s Welsh Government briefing. He said this would cover “what we intend doing over Easter and into the middle of April”.

“More than that I think is impossible to say definitely,” he added.

“I want to give more assurance (for Easter and beyond) to people and businesses on Friday. We’re still working on the details.”
All primary aged children in Wales can return to their classrooms from Monday (Mar 16).

It follows an announcement by Education Minister Kirsty Williams yesterday, in which she said all primary school children will return to school next week, with the youngest already having been back for a fortnight.

Some secondary pupils – those in the examinations years 11 and 13 – will also return to their classrooms next Monday.

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“This is very welcome news for many pupils and their families,” said Cllr Guy Woodham, Cabinet Member for Education and Lifelong Learning. “Schools are working hard for their return and very much looking forward to being able to welcome them back and resume face-to-face teaching.

“Once again, I want to reassure everyone that a great deal of work is taking place to minimise risk of transmission of coronavirus in our schools.”

Secondary schools are also making arrangements for learners in other year groups to check in and catch up. These arrangements will be flexible and determined by individual schools, as they are all of different sizes. Details will be found on school websites as soon as dates are confirmed.

As more children in Wales return to school for onsite learning on Monday 15 March, NSPCC Cymru/Wales has spokespeople available to offer advice on how children can be best supported and the long-term support that will be required to help them recover from the last 12 months.

In a statement the charity said: “The school environment is important for education, safeguarding and children’s wellbeing. Although the return to face-to-face learning and being able to see friends again will be a move welcomed by many children and their families, it won’t be the same for everyone. Some will feel nervous about the pandemic or worried about how well they have kept up with school work, and others will be dealing with poor mental health, the impact of strained family relationships, abuse, neglect, or bereavement.

“Children’s resilience over the last year needs to be recognised, but additional support will need to be available for those that need it in the short, medium and long term. It’s why we’ve outlined what we think is needed by the next Welsh Government to ensure children are protected, and supported to recover and reconnect. This includes support to speak out, mental health support and improved online safety.”

Vivienne Laing, Policy & Public Affairs Manager for NSPCC Wales said: “The school environment is important for education, safeguarding and children’s wellbeing, but the transition back to face-to-face learning won’t be easy for everyone.

“Whole communities need to be ready to support a generation of young people who have faced increased risks of abuse at home and online.

“Schools must be equipped to recognise and respond sensitively to children who have had traumatic experiences in lockdown – and adequate funding must be available to ensure that pupils get the support they need, whichever school in Wales they go to.”