Wales: return to settings in September 2021

Latest COVID updates

By Urtha Felda, Senior Professional Officer Cymru/Uwch Swyddog Proffesional Cymru

First Minister Wales: announcement for schools return, September 2021

The new Local Covid-19 Infection Control Decision Framework for schools is effective from September 1st to be implemented by September 20th at the latest.

This sets a new approach with specific control measures to be implemented according to the stated current risk level.  The risk level will be determined nationally and will only be different if there is a local cluster requiring a local response.  At our current alert level 0 the emphasis is on schools operating as normally as possible.

The essential measures in operation for infection control, for  all schools/settings must address each of the measures:

  • Instilling robust hand and respiratory hygiene in learners and staff members.
  • Ensuring appropriate ventilation measures and cleaning regimes on school premises.
  • Active engagement with TTP strategy.
  • Introducing and maintaining physical distance.
  • Making the most of spaces available including outdoor spaces.

Schools will no longer be required to wear face masks, maintain bubbles or staggered start and finish times.  Ventilation is a key measure of control and to support this  the Welsh Government has made funding of £5.9m available to install CO2 monitors for school and educational settings.  This will provide over 30,000 CO2 sensors.

The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, said:

“I’m pleased learners can return to classrooms and lecture theatres this autumn with fewer restrictions in place than there have been for several months.

“This investment in CO2 monitors will help improve air quality, while the disinfecting machines will enable classrooms to return to normal use quicker. This supports our common goal of ensuring learners can continue learning together with their teachers and friends.

“But we must keep our guard up against Covid-19. These measures will complement, rather than replace our current advice – which includes ensuring hygiene is maintained and washing hands thoroughly and more often than usual." 

Please see Voice Community Website for FAQs and more specific information for schools and early years settings.

Further information (Welsh Government, August 2021)

Fresh start to new term with investment to help improve air quality in schools, colleges and universities:

Local COVID-19 Infection Control Decision Frameworks for schools and colleges from autumn 2021

With schools, colleges and universities due to re-open following the summer holidays, parents, guardians and learners in Wales are being asked to take some steps to help keep COVID-19 risk down and learners learning.

COVID control measures in schools and settings Wales August 2021

Local COVID-19 Infection Control decision framework for Schools from Autumn 2021

This framework sets out arrangements for the delivery of learning in schools.  The focus is on a tailored intervention to reflect local risks.

This framework take place from 1 September 2021, the approach should be adopted as soon as possible after return to school but by 20th September 2021 when previous operational guidance will cease to operate.

The First Minister has declared Wales to be at alert level 0, and this means that schools should operate as normally as possible.

The measures still in place are baseline measures of:

  • Risk assessments.
  • Improved hygiene and ventilation.
  • Preventing attendance by individuals with symptoms of COVID 19.

At alert level 0 there will be flexibility for employers to determine what is required to manage the risks at a local level.  As part of this schools will need to 4ensur 6tht regular COVID-19 risks assessments continue to be undertaken.

This framework outlines a hierarchy of Risk Controls, and this underpins the risk assessment.

The risk level will be determined nationally by the Welsh Government using the National Risk Rating table in the framework.  This will apply across Wales unless local circumstances suggest a different risk level should be implemented.  If in the case of a cluster arising in a Local Authority, then the Local Authority, local Public health and local schools will discuss and agree together the appropriate risk level, identifying the relevant risk management process to implement.

The risk levels are low, moderate, high, very high.  The table Schools Intervention Framework identifies the specific actions to be implemented for each risk level in the categories of a) reducing close interaction, b) physical distancing, c) LFD testing, d) use of face coverings by secondary aged learners. E) use of face coverings by staff and visitors.

The Framework is found here: https://gov.wales/local-covid-19-infection-control-decision-framework-schools-autumn-2021-html

The current alert level 0 guidance is described in the Frequently Asked Questions below.

Frequently Asked Questions:  Operational Guidance for Schools and Settings from 1 September 2021

What does essential measures mean?

These are a set of measures for infection control, all schools/settings must address each of the measures:

  • Instilling robust hand and respiratory hygiene in learners and staff members.
  • Ensuring appropriate ventilation measures and cleaning regimes on school premises.
  • Active engagement with TTP strategy.
  • Introducing and maintaining physical distance.
  • Making the most of spaces available including outdoor spaces.

What risk assessment should be in place?

It is a legal requirement that schools/settings should revisit and update their risk assessments.  The full guidance can be found here.

What is the system of controls?

Having assessed their risks the schools/settings must work through the below system of controls adopting the measures that address the risks identified:

Prevention:

  • Ensure that everyone understands that anyone who has any of the cardinal symptoms of C19 – new persistent cough, fever, loss of taste/smell should immediately isolate and arrange for a PCR test.
  • Schools should enable staff and learners to self-isolate if they have tested positive.
  • Schools should also enable people to isolate if they live in a household where someone has tested positive or who has the symptoms.
  • NB people who are fully vaccinated or under 18 are not required to self-isolate as a contact and can att4end the school/setting.

What does appropriate cleaning regime mean?

The cleaning regimes need to be appropriate and in-line with any other communicable disease.  But there is o longer a need for schools to set aside specific days for deep cleaning.

If there is a cluster associated with one class for e.g., then schools/setting should undertake a deep clean of the immediate area to reduce transmission risk.

What does physical distance mean?

Using groups or bubbles played an important part at the start of the pandemic but have also resulted in a disproportionate number of pupils having to self-isolate who have had no direct contact with the index case.

As other activities have been re-introduced pupils are part of many different groups.  These contact groups do not play a role in schools/settings from the Autumn term.  There is now a stronger focus on contact tracing.  TTP will lead on identifying the contacts of staff and learners who have tested positive. 

But it may also be necessary to re-introduce contact groups as a short-term measure.  This would be part of a joint decision-making process at the local level with public health and local authority.

Older children should be supported to maintain distance wherever possible, consider using any additional space available to maximise the distance between learners, and between staff and others.  School and setting should reduce close interactions by adhering to physical distancing whenever possible.

What does  maintain distance mean in the classroom?

  • Staff in secondary school should maintain distance from their learners, staying at the front of the class, and away from colleagues where possible.
  • Adults should maintain a 2-metre distance from each other and children.
  • This is not always possible especially where younger children are concerned, but adults should try to maintain this where possible.
  • This distancing may not be possible where learners have complex needs or need close contact car.  It will then be necessary to undertake additional mitigation measures and identify these via a risk assessment.
  • Secondary students should be encouraged to maintain social distance from each other wherever possible.
  • Schools should consider seating learners side by side and move unnecessary furniture out of the classroom.
  • Movement around the school site should be kept ti a minimum.  Schools/settings may wish to continue with one-way systems.

What is the position on use of face coverings for health purposes?

Welsh Government is no longer recommending the routine use of face coverings in the classroom for staff or learners.  Schools may decide to encourage their use in communal areas where more  socialising take place.

As part of risk assessments schools and settings will decide if the use of face covering is appropriate for staff and learners based on their own circumstances.

Face coverings should continue to be work by leaners in secondary schools and settings when travelling on dedicated school transport.  This along with recommendations in the public arena.

If anyone wishes to wear a face covering for personal reasons,  then this should be permitted.

Visitors to the school setting should use a face covering including parents/carers when dropping off or picking up learners/.

What is the position for supply and other temporary staff?

Supply teachers, peripatetic and other temporary staff can move between schools.  They should maintain physical distance.

Schools should:

  • Consider how to manage other visitors to the site e.g., contractors.
  • Ensure that site guidance on physical distancing and hygiene is explained to visitors on arrival.

What is the duty to provide ventilation?

Those in control of premises, local authorities in the case of maintained schools and settings have a legal duty to provide adequate ventilation.

Schools and settings should be maximising the fresh air in a space by means of:

  • Natural ventilation – windows can be opened fully before and after learners and staff are using the space. Opening internal doors will increase the throughput of air
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Or a combination of both.

Asymptomatic testing offers for schools and settings?

  • Tests are available to all staff working in schools/settings
  • Test kits are also available for learners in Years 7 upwards, all FE college learners, and learners on work-based apprenticeships.
  • Testing is voluntary, but all eligible are strongly encouraged to participate to reduce the risk of asymptomatic transmission.
  • Anyone who tests positive using a Lateral Flow Test must not attend a school setting.  They and those who live with them must self-isolate.

What support is available for clinically vulnerable staff?

Staff who are identified as clinically vulnerable should talk to their employers about how they will be supported at work and completing the necessary risk assessment to guide them.

What support is available for staff who are pregnant?

Staff should work at home if possible.  If home working is not possible then staff and their employees should follow the advice stated here.

Early years advice:

The evidence shows the youngest learners to be the least at-risk group.  We need to continue with a child  centred approach which means a high-quality delivery of the Foundation Phase education will continue, keeping [personal wellbeing and social development at the centre of the philosophy of the Foundation Phase with a focus on play-based learning.

Nursery education advice:

Non-maintained schools are advised to follow the operational guidance of childcare settings.

Using resources in early years:

in addition to the previous guidance about cleaning, having different sets of equipment and resources for different groups of children in nursery, if possible will also help minimised transmissions.  This would reduce the amount of cleaning needed to be undertaken during a changeover period with the focus being on fixed furniture and larger equipment.

Optimising space for early years:

The time learners spent=d outside should be optimised.  This has important physical, mental, and educational benefits ad helps combat transmission of Covid 19.

When inside practitioners should utilise all available space including areas set aside for older learner.

Managing physical distancing in childcare settings?

There is strong recognition  that physical distancing is harder to maintain with younger children.  Settings should implement the guidance in https://gov.wales/guidance-childcare-and-playwork-coronavirus

  • Consistent contact groups re no longer required, but widespread mixing of staff and children is a risk factor for viral spread and should be minimised.
  • Settings should consider one-way systems where possible to minimize contact, also consider emergency evacuation procedures.
  • Settings need to maintain records of attendance for staff and children for contact =terracing purposes.
  • If settings are using agency staff this should e on a weekly basis not daily.

Cleaning  equipment?

  • Outside playground  should be more thoroughly cleaned.  This would also apply to resources used inside and outside by wrap around care providers.
  • It is recommended that learners take in less equipment and limit this to essentials, such as lunch boxes and outside clothing wear.
  • Unnecessary sharing should be avoided.
  • Classroom based resources such as books and games can be used and share but these should be cleaned regularly, and if shared between classes should be cleaned frequently.
  • Materials such as play dough and sand present difficulties.  It may be safest to avoid the use of these materials during the pandemic whilst increased preventative measures are in place.  If settings chose to use these materials, then a risk assessment should be completed, and an increased hand washing implemented both before and after play.
  • Water play can take place if steps are taken to avoid multiple children sharing water – follow advice to change water frequently.
  • Sand, water, or play dough activity should not take place if there is a positive case in the school or setting.

 

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