Schools in Wales have started to reopen for the first time since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Wales is the first country in the United Kingdom to reopen its primary and secondary schools for all pupils since they closed in March.
Schools will remain open for between three or four weeks, with the Welsh Government saying it will provide pupils, staff and parents time to prepare for a “new normal” when the new academic year begins in September.
However, schools on Anglesey remain closed following a Covid-19 outbreak at the 2 Sisters chicken processing plant, while five schools in Blaenau Gwent were unable to reopen following issues with their water supply.
Good luck to pupils going back to school this week.— Mark Drakeford (@fmwales) June 29, 2020
And a heartfelt thank you to the staff whoâve made this possible.
I know it wonât be school as normal, but I hope you enjoy this time to check in and catch up with teachers and friends. https://t.co/paXdKJFgwO
On Monday, education minister Kirsty Williams praised school leaders and staff for the “huge amount of work and planning” to welcome back students with social distancing measures and a restriction on class sizes in place.
She said: “For our head teachers, our classroom teachers and the support staff, a massive thank you to you.
“I know that a huge amount of work and planning has gone into making today and the weeks ahead successful.”
First Minister Mark Drakeford said on Twitter: “I know it won’t be school as normal, but I hope you enjoy this time to check in and catch up with teachers and friends.”
At Llanishen Fach Primary School in Cardiff, head teacher Sarah Coombes said the return had gone “like clockwork” and said children were delighted to be back with their friends and teachers.
The school has also erected an “outdoor village” of tents in its playground to allow pupils to have classes outdoors.
It's gone like clockwork, apart from we lost one tent overnight. It flew away as it was very windySarah Coombes, Llanishen Fach Primary School
Mrs Coombes told the PA news agency: “Lots of children haven’t been out for a long time, so being able to enjoy the whole of your classroom experience outdoors we just felt was perfect.
“It’s gone like clockwork, apart from we lost one tent overnight. It flew away as it was very windy.
“But the kids have been so happy. They’ve just carried on as if there’s no difference at all. They’ve been superb.”
She said out of 520 pupils, only about 70 children were not expected back over the first week, though the school has now been informed by parents that more of those will now return at some stage.
Mrs Coombes said the Welsh Government’s school return plan, dubbed “check in, catch up and prepare”, was “vital” for her pupils and teachers.
She said: “This time has given us the opportunity to practise new routines, new methods, new procedures. It’s taken a long time to be sorted, including routes around the school to make sure all the children are 100% safe in all that they do.
“We’re really lucky in Wales that we’ve had this opportunity to practise ready for September. We’ll be constantly checking and reviewing to make sure it is the best it can be for children.”
In West Wales, Pembrokeshire County Council said its workers had undertaken a “mammoth effort” to prepare schools in the local authority, which included delivering 14,000 hygiene and social distancing signs, 1,500 litres of hand sanitiser, and 1,270 paper towel holders.
It said “tens of thousands of PPE items” have been distributed, an extra 556 hand driers and 86 water dispensers have been fitted in school buildings, while workers have also helped remove school furniture to make space for social distancing.
Council leader David Simpson said: “The amount of work that has been going on behind the scenes to ensure we can welcome pupils back to schools warmly and safely is remarkable.”
Councillor Guy Woodham, cabinet member for education, said: “Things will look different, things will be different within our schools but we are preparing for the new normal for our learners, with the safety of pupils and staff at the heart of everything we have been doing.”