Some primary school pupils will return in Wales after half term, the Education Minister has said.

Education minister Kirsty Williams told today's Welsh Government briefing that children in the foundation stage of their schooling – which covers three-to-seven-year-olds – would return to school from February 22.

Some students on vocational courses, including apprentices, will also be given the chance to return, she added.

And teachers will be offered twice weekly Covid testing to help keep them safe.

The first week back will be on a "flexible" basis, the National Education Union Cymru added.

“We have been clear that our children’s education is a priority throughout this pandemic,” she said.

“Sadly, we are not yet in a position to be able to see a full return to school for every learner.

“However, thanks to people following our national guidance, there is sufficient headroom for us to bring back some of our learners in a phased, flexible and progressive way.

“After half term, from February 22, our foundation phase learners will start to return to school during that week.

“Children of critical workers and vulnerable learners, as well as those taking exams or assessments and learners in special schools, will continue to be able to attend as they have done throughout the pandemic.”

She continued: “We have prioritised our youngest learners because of the favourable evidence on transmission in younger children, and also because we know they find it difficult to learn remotely.

“Small numbers of vocational learners, including apprentices, will also be able to return to colleges.

“Again, this is because of difficulties with remote learning, as they will need to access training or workplace environments in order to undertake their practical qualifications.”

Ms Williams also said that additional financial support for schools to help make them Covid-safe.

She added: "Following productive discussions with our union colleagues and local authority and further education partners, we are introducing a number of additional measures to provide staff with an added level of assurance for their safe return to face-to-face teaching.

“This includes the introduction of twice-weekly testing for staff members as well as increased financial support for new face coverings.

“We are providing an additional £5 million to support schools, colleges and local authorities to invest further in items they need to keep their premises safe.”

The response from teachers

NEU Cymru’s Senior Wales Officer Gareth Lloyd said: “NEU Cymru notes that the Education Minister has taken the sensible approach, allowing for flexibility for the week following half-term.  We very much understand that any return to school or college is based on the assumption that the science continues to move in the right direction.

“We believe this flexibility is critical, as education professionals will need time after half-term to help implement any mitigations needed – such as small bubble sizes. The extra £5 million to help support schools, colleges, and local authorities to make education safe to return, is welcome.

"We have been clear, we believe that at least 3 planning days should be used after half term, with no learners in school, to give time for educators to help make the necessary plans for a safe return. We are pleased that the Education Minister recognised the continued hard work and dedication of the education workforce during these uncertain and anxious times.

“Our members want a wider return in a safe working environment, and we are expecting discussions next week with Welsh Government to ensure robust mitigation measures are put in place. Supply teachers are keen to support schools which will help reduce class sizes and avoid educators having to cross different ‘bubbles’.

“We believe that everyone in education – staff and learners alike – are keen for a fuller return to the classroom. We shared our Wales Education Recovery Plan with the Minister this week and want to work constructively to help ensure that the phased return after half-term supports the learning and wellbeing of everyone in education.”