EDUCATION staff have criticised the Welsh Government announcement that face coverings and contact groups or bubbles will not be necessary in schools from September.

UNISON says school employees cannot understand why face coverings will not be required in classrooms given Wednesday’s Welsh Government announcement that they are to remain mandatory in indoor public places and on public transport.

The trade union says Welsh government has ignored the concerns raised by education unions in regular meetings and survey evidence they have presented to ministers.

It has released polling data it shared with government showing Welsh school staff - across nursery, primary, secondary and special schools - believe face coverings are an important safety measure.

They surveyed 1250 teaching assistants, administrators, caterers, cleaners, lunchtime supervisors, maintenance workers and technicians:

  • 61 per cent said that they felt safer wearing face coverings in work
  • 57 per cent felt that wearing them in secondary school settings is an important safety measure
  • 48 per cent would be worried if face coverings were removed

UNISON has raised with Welsh government its concerns that the number of pupils having to self-isolate is increasing daily as more children test positive.

The trade union says, if schools are left to make their own decisions and adapt accordingly, there will be so many variations across Wales that it will be impossible to properly understand and monitor what is happening.

Rosie Lewis, UNISON lead officer for schools, said: “Welsh government's plan to end bubbles and amend other mitigations such as mandatory wearing of face coverings in the classrooms in schools is a gamble and could lead to more disruption.

“It is far too early to know what the situation will be in September. Schools will need time to adapt at the start of the new term to whatever the landscape looks like then.

“UNISON will continue to urge the government to strengthen safety measures in schools.”

UNISON polled 1250 of its school support staff members between 19 May and 24 May:

  • 60.9 per cent said that they felt safer wearing face coverings in work
  • 56.8 per cent felt that wearing them in secondary school settings is an important safety measure
  • 20.4 per cent would be very worried if face coverings were removed with a further
  • 27.1 per cent indicating they would be quite worried if they were removed

If Wales moves to Alert Level Zero on August 7, all premises would be able to open and most – but not all – restrictions will be removed and replaced with the ongoing requirement for all organisations and businesses to carry out Covid risk assessments. These will determine what reasonable measures are needed to be put in place to keep workers and customers and visitors safe.

There will also be no legal limits on the number of people who can meet others indoors, including in private homes.

Face coverings will continue to be required by law in most indoor public places and on public transport at alert level zero from August 7, with the exception of hospitality settings.

But masks and class bubbles will scrapped from classrooms across Wales in the new school year, the education minister has suggested.

Minister Jeremy Miles has written to all headteachers and principals across the country to provide more clarity on how schools and colleges can continue to operate safely when they return in September.

Three main changes are being proposed to bring some normality back to education ahead of the new autumn term:

  • Face coverings will no longer be routinely recommended in classrooms
  • Contact groups will no longer be required for school pupils or full-time learners in colleges. Instead, the TTP system will be used in order to identify close contacts of learners who have tested positive
  • Normal session times will resume

The Welsh Government claim that the success of their world-leading vaccine programme gives cause to be optimistic about the future.

As restrictions are eased across wider society, so too should educational settings see a similar pattern.

Mr Miles said: “By the end of September all adults in Wales will have been offered both vaccinations, providing greater protection for our education workforce.

“A growing body of evidence also shows that children and young people are more at harm from missing school than from covid.

“Lots of young people I have spoken to have said that they don’t believe the current system is proportionate. They just want to be treated the same as everyone else – and that sounds fair to me.”

The Government will publish its ‘Local Covid-19 Infection Control Decision Framework’ at the start of the autumn term so that schools have time to embed new systems during the weeks that follow.

The framework will enable schools and colleges to tailor some of the interventions to reflect the level of risk identified locally.

Mr Miles added: “Before you embark on a well-earned break this summer, I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for all your hard work and effort over the last academic year.

“I hope the break will offer you, and your staff, a chance to look back over the last year with immense pride. You have shown immeasurable determination and resilience in supporting learning and keeping education settings as COVID-secure as possible.”

In Wednesday's covid briefing, First Minister Mark Drakeford said he could see circumstances such as busy corridors where pupils may still need to wear face masks in schools.