The Welsh Government's rules for school and college students are "firmly out of sync" with the recent freedoms restored to the adult population, according to the nation's Children's Commissioner.

Sally Holland has called on the government to remove its policy of requiring whole groups of learners to self-isolate if a pupil is linked to a positive coronavirus case, as well as lifting rules on mask-wearing in classrooms.

Earlier this week, the education minister announced a shift to more "localised" responses to the pandemic, in which schools would be allowed to set and lift their own restrictions, depending on the local coronavirus situation. Those plans, set to come into effect for the autumn term, are currently being drawn up.

But Holland says schools and learners deserve to have "reassurance and clarity" now.

She has called on the Welsh Government to:

• Remove the recommendation for face coverings to be worn in classrooms, preferably with immediate effect but otherwise from the first day of the next term, at the latest.

• End mass-isolation requirements and replace them with "a more targeted approach that does not place significant burden on school and college leaders, as is being currently trialled in England".

• Ensure that the new guidance, which should be published this term, allows schools and colleges to "have the freedom to do what they do best: teaching, learning and supporting learners".

"The restrictions faced by children and young people in schools and colleges are now firmly out of sync with the relative freedoms being granted to the adult population," the commissioner said. "As one example, adults in Wales can sit in a pub with friends from six households, without wearing a face covering, while most of our secondary pupils are required to wear face coverings all day, every day, whilst seated, despite known impacts on their learning."

She said the policy of mass isolation served to "compound" students' disadvantages during two full terms of disrupted education, and "a fresh approach is urgently required".

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Schools' mask rules are "out of kilter" with guidelines for adults and "are causing anxiety" for some pupils, Holland added. 

"This is despite limited evidence of the effectiveness of [mask-wearing] as a control measure, and evidence that indicates that schools are not the driving force or catalyst behind community transmission," she said. "I think the time has now come to remove this policy."

Responding to the Commissioner's claims, a Welsh Government spokesman said: “Earlier this week, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language announced plans to enable schools to relax some covid measures, including face coverings, if that reflects the level of risk identified locally. Schools will be supported by public health officials to ensure measures are appropriate to each school’s own circumstances.

“Discussions have already began with schools and other partners on plans to enable schools to escalate and de-escalate Covid measures, to ensure we all have the confidence in this new way of working.”

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