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Kirsty Williams, Welsh Education Minister

'Critical' that children return to schools, says Education Minister

The Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams has said she is 'incredibly proud' of how everyone has responded to the Coronavirus pandemic and has thanked the 'education family' as they prepare for welcoming students back to the classroom this week.

Speaking during the Welsh Government press conference on Tuesday, Ms Williams said it is 'critical' that children return to schools and she sought to reassure parents that it is safe for them to do so.

Ms Williams said that the risks of children not going back to school outweighed the risks of them returning. Despite this, the Welsh Government has said that parents will not be fined if they fail to send their children back to school in the immediate future.

Students in Wales had an opportunity to 'check-in' to schools for a short period ahead of the summer break, though, for most, the return to school over the coming days will mark their first time in the classroom for any prolonged period for months - with schools closed to most pupils back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asked about potential changes to exams in the new academic year, Ms Williams said that discussions were ongoing on the issue. She said that the Government's intention remained that examinations would be held, but discussions are currently looking at whether they could be moved to a different point in the year in order to maximise available teaching time.

If exams are moved, they will likely have a knock-on effect on results days and other key progression dates for students and these impacts are currently being considered. 

Ms Williams added that exam board WJEC has already been working on amendments to course specifications to make assessments more manageable for students and staff.

Asked by The Speaker about universities, Ms Williams said that the sector was working hard to ensure safety for students and staff. 

The National Union of Students Wales recently called on the Welsh Government to ensure that students and staff are tested regularly, with fears spreading over recent days that a lack of organised testing when students return to campuses could considerably increase the Coronavirus infection rate in the country. 

Speaking on Tuesday, Kirsty Williams also said that the Welsh Government is to provide an additional £29 million to schools, with the funding to support students at key stages in their education and to help them catch up on lost learning time.

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