School leaders have said they are “disappointed” with Wales’ education minister, accusing him of passing the buck on deciding whether to keep schools open onto headteachers.

Jeremy Miles announced today that the start of the spring term would be delayed to give schools two “planning days” ahead of pupils returning from the Christmas break, encouraging them to have “robust plans in place to move to remote learning.”

Mr Miles said that the priority is to have children in the classroom, with rules on face coverings continuing, testing and staggered start and finish times announced.

The National Wales: Minister for Education and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles has announced that schools in Wales have been told to prepare for a return to remote learning after the Christmas holidaysMinister for Education and Welsh Language Jeremy Miles has announced that schools in Wales have been told to prepare for a return to remote learning after the Christmas holidays

But Eithne Hughes, director of the Association of School and College Leaders Cymru, said she was “disappointed” that the Welsh Government was continuing with “the same flimsy” Covid measures - which she described as being “wholly inadequate” through the autumn term.

“The education minister’s letter to schools has thrown leaders across Wales into confusion and effectively handed them the responsibility for deciding what they should do to keep their learners and staff safe,” she said.

“Essentially, they are being asked to prepare for all contingencies in a couple of planning days at the start of next term. This simply isn’t good enough and leaders need absolute clarity and clear guidance from the Welsh Government on what they need to do.

“Schools continue to experience atrocious levels of absence among both students and staff and the UK’s chief medical officer warned that the Omicron variant is moving at a phenomenal rate and poses a very serious threat.

“Schools will be relieved by the decision that learners should continue to wear face coverings both in the classroom and communal areas and that they can operate staggered start and finish times to the school day, but will get precious little comfort from the other measures announced by the government.

“The assertion that learners should continue lateral flow testing three times a week both before they return to school in January and each week during term time will have little effect unless the government intends to reinforce the importance of this happening with a public health campaign.

“The latest grim attendance statistics show ​that many schools and colleges are already in a period of significant disruption, with not one year group in Wales achieving 90 per cent attendance.

“They will be hugely concerned by the amount of learning that students have missed amid the lockdowns and considerable disruption during both the summer and autumn terms.”

Also responding to the announcement, South Wales East MS Laura Anne Jones - the Welsh Conservative’s shadow education minister - said it was “essential” to do everything possible to keep schools open.

“The youngest in our society have sacrificed so much during the pandemic to protect others at a huge cost to their own life chances,” she said.

“Therefore, it is essential we do everything we can to ensure schools are kept open at their normal capacity.

“Education is not expendable, especially for vulnerable children where their time away from home is their only respite from abuse.

“There are legitimate concerns over workforce availability if a significant wave hits the country, and that’s why the priority and energy of government must be directed at rolling out the booster jab programme as quickly as possible.”

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