Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language
I would like to update members on our ongoing work to minimise disruption to education and ensure all settings remain as safe as possible.
I would like to repeat my heartfelt thanks to the education community for their continued hard work in supporting our young people through this challenging time.
School attendance has risen for the second week in a row. An average of 87.4% of all pupils were in attendance in school over the week of 4 October to 8 October. This is at a time when community transmission remains very high.
While I am pleased that attendance continues to rise, alongside the analysis of data which we undertake on an ongoing basis, it is important that we have the best possible understanding of what is happening on the ground. I have therefore asked my officials to undertake a comprehensive review of attendance patterns, to inform development of future policy interventions in this space. As well as analysing and interpreting data sources on current attendance/non-attendance rates in Welsh schools. This work will involve working with education stakeholders to collect intelligence on the emerging situation and what measures/interventions are needed to better re-engage learners. Attendance guidance for schools was also published this week to reflect the current context.
Infection rates in 10 – 19 year olds appear to be levelling off, as seen by the latest Public Health Wales Education weekly statistics. This is in line with Welsh Government modelling. However, it is important we remain cautious and we will need to wait a couple of weeks before confirming a trend.
Very few healthy children and young people with Covid-19 infection go on to have a severe disease. However, we know that the vaccine programme can play a key role in reducing the spread of the disease, and also help to reduce the need for children to have time off school. I am therefore pleased to confirm that:
- 85% of the over 16 population are fully vaccinated.
- Nearly 74% of 16 – 17 year olds have been vaccinated.
- More than 22% of 12 – 15 year olds have now received a vaccine. We are on track to offer one dose to all 12 – 15 year olds by 1 November.
- 93% of the education workforce are vaccinated.
Public Health Wales have developed information for children and parents on the vaccine. I would urge families to discuss over half term if they are undecided. I was appalled by reports of harassment at a vaccination centre last weekend. While vaccines are being administered away from school settings in most cases, we have sent guidance to schools to support them on how to deal with anti-vaccine harassment and hoax information should they be targeted.
We have published this week additional advice to support children and young people with higher clinical risk and clinically extremely vulnerable adults in education settings. This has been co-produced with stakeholders following calls for additional information. I would like to thank them for constructive engagement in developing this guidance to support schools.
I am aware there are concerns about accessing supply cover due to staff illness, or awaiting PCR tests for example. I am aware, from the framework agencies, that the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are taking longer than expected. My officials have written to the DBS to discuss this urgently. I can also confirm that we are continuing to provide funding via the Hardship Fund to support supply cover for teachers and teaching assistants who are off sick with Covid-19, or are required to self-isolate, this will continue while rates remain high.
Deliveries of CO2 monitors started this week. This is the first of three deliveries which will see 30,000 monitors provided to local authorities, colleges and universities to distribute across classrooms, seminar rooms and lecture halls. The rollout of the ‘traffic light monitors’ should be complete by mid-November. Guidance on how to use the new CO2 monitors has been developed with key partners and issued to local authorities, colleges and universities.
Finally, we are providing £3.31 million to improve ventilation in schools, colleges and universities to create safer learning environments for pupils, students and staff. This investment for ventilation improvements, along with the rollout of CO2 monitors, will help improve and provide reassurance of air quality in schools as we move into the colder months. The funding had originally been provisionally earmarked for Ozone machines for educational settings. A Technical Advisory Group (TAG) review informed by a rapid evidence summary from the Wales Covid-19 Evidence Centre, published today concludes that other measures – such as improvements to ventilation - are more effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19.
Our approaches are informed both by the latest evidence, which we keep under review and by discussions with our partners in all parts of the education system.
I look forward to talking to all our head teachers in Wales later today about how we can plan for the future so that we can support all our learners to progress and thrive and I will be meeting with learners also, to hear directly from them their views and experiences of schools and colleges at present and in the months ahead.