Children’s Commissioner statement on restrictions in schools

30 June 2021

Prof Sally Holland said:

“The restrictions faced by children and young people in schools and colleges are now firmly out of sync with the relative freedoms being granted to the adult population. As one example, adults in Wales can sit in a pub with friends from six households, without wearing a face covering, while most of our secondary pupils are required to wear face coverings all day, every day, whilst seated, despite known impacts on their learning.

“We continue to see the ongoing impact of mass self-isolation requirements for young people in many schools and areas of Wales. Despite the heroic efforts of schools across the country to support and educate their pupils, all children and young people have missed two full terms of face-to-face education even before any self-isolation periods are taken into account. Isolation experiences compound this disadvantage and a fresh approach is urgently required.

“On face coverings, these are continuing to impact on young people’s learning and educational experience. The rules are out of kilter with requirements for groups of adults in social settings, and are causing anxiety for some current year 6 pupils as they try to imagine school life for them in September in a secondary setting. This is despite limited evidence of the effectiveness of this as a control measure, and evidence that indicates that schools are not the driving force or catalyst behind community transmission. I think the time has now come to remove this policy.

“Schools need to have the freedom to do what they do best; teaching and learning, support for learners and their well-being, and helping children and young people develop their wider life skills.

“I am aware that the Welsh Government has announced plans to bring in a fresh approach in September, which I welcome, but I have asked the Minister to provide the details of this before the summer break to provide reassurance and clarity for children, young people and school and college staff.

“I have asked the Welsh Government to:

  • Remove the recommendation for face coverings to be worn in classrooms from the first day of the next term at the latest but preferably with immediate effect;
  • End mass-isolation requirements and replace them with a more targeted approach that does not place significant burden on school and college leaders, as is being currently trialled in England; and
  • Ensure the revised guidance, which should be published this term, allows schools and colleges to have the freedom to do what they do best: teaching, learning and supporting learners.”