Falling infection rates in Wales mean more year groups will be returning to the classroom before the Easter holidays, education minister Kirsty Williams has announced.
Pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9 will have time back in school before the break because Welsh Government has said there is more headroom to allow it.
It is not likely that they will be in full time though and Ms Williams says the aim is to give learners in those age groups the chance to “check in with teachers” with a “focus on support for wellbeing” to prepare them for a full return after the Easter holidays on April 12.
The planned return of younger secondary pupils would be in addition to all primary pupils, who are expected to return from 15 March, along with learners in years 10 and 12, those in exam years and students doing similar qualifications in colleges.
Younger primary pupils have been able to return to their classrooms since Monday, February 22.
The plans will be subject to the regular three-week review of coronavirus regulations by the Welsh Government on Friday 12 March.
Ms Williams said: “Opening up education is a top priority for us at the Welsh Government and I am pleased to share some positive news on that front today.
“This is the second week for our youngest pupils to be back in school and I have seen first-hand what a difference this is already making – thank you once again to everyone who is making this possible.
“We have already announced that from the 15th of March – if the scientific advice still says it is safe to do so – all remaining primary school children will start to return to school, along those in exam years and students doing similar qualifications in colleges and work-based learning. There will also be flexibility for those in years 10 and 12.
“I have also shared my intention to get all learners back to schools, colleges and training providers after the Easter break.
“Today, I am able to confirm our intentions to go even further, even earlier, and give schools the opportunity to welcome back learners in years 7, 8 and 9 before the Easter break.
“This would be to give learners the opportunity to check-in with teachers, with a focus on support for wellbeing, and readiness for a full return to school after Easter.
“I want to make clear now that this will not be a full return to school for years 7, 8 and 9 before Easter.
“The focus before Easter will be on learners who are undertaking qualifications, especially those in Years 11 and 13, and those studying practical vocational qualifications.”
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Full guidance for how schools can prepare for the return to children will be published at 9am on Wednesday.
Ms Williams added: “We will also be organising more virtual sessions for heads, which I know you have found useful, and I will share details on social media.
“I would like to thank all of you once again for following the rules, driving down the transmission of the virus, and for giving us even more headroom to get learners back to our schools and colleges.
“Together we will keep Wales safe and together, we will keep Wales learning.”
All school in England are expected to re-open for all years on Monday (March 8), in Northern Ireland the youngest children return on Monday, with the exam year children on March 22 and the rest of children after Easter, and in Scotland ll secondary school pupils return part-time from 15 March.