Welsh Government has revealed the first details about how children will start to return to school in Bridgend County Borough.
From Monday 29 June, a series of sessions called ‘Check In, Catch Up – Prepare for Summer and September’ will take place at every school.
The sessions are intended to prepare pupils for a phased return to normal lessons in September, and will be carried out with full social distancing and well-being procedures in place.
Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks, and the phased approach will mean that around a third of all pupils are expected to be present at any one session.
The smaller groups will enable social distancing to take place while providing secure, dedicated time with teachers and classmates, including online and personalised classroom experiences designed to get children and teachers ready for the new term in September.
The summer term will be extended by a week to end on 27 July, and the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks instead of one.
Cllr Charles Smith, Cabinet Member for Education and Regeneration, said: “While pupils are expected to attend school when the sessions begin on 29 June, Welsh Government has also made it clear that they understand there will be ongoing concerns about the pandemic, so families will not be fined if they do not send their children to school this term.
“Children and teachers who are shielding or are more at risk will not be expected to attend on 29 June. This includes pregnant workers as well as pupils and teachers who live with relatives who are shielding.
“The council and its partners, including head teachers and school governors, will spend the next few weeks putting preparations in place and making necessary arrangements for transport, cleaning regimes, emergency childcare hubs, free school meals and more, so look out for further details soon.”
Announcing the plans, Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “My announcement today gives schools three and a half weeks to continue preparing for the next phase. We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September.
“29 June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand. I can also announce that teachers will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.
“The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.
“This is and has been a worrying period for us all. I know that many will feel apprehensive. We have not rushed this work and this decision. The three and a half week period before the next phase also gives us time to keep watch on developments elsewhere, and provides further check-points to review evidence and the roll-out of testing.
“This is the best practical option that meets my five principles which underpin my decision making. I am also convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
“Working together, we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for summer and September.”
Welsh Government guidance on further and higher education institutions is expected to be published next week with information on facility management and logistical arrangements for buildings, resources, cleaning regimes, transport and more.
Guidance for childcare providers will also be published in the next week which will support them in increasing the numbers of children in attendance alongside schools.