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Covid: Blaenau Gwent to close all schools early for Christmas

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image captionDespite social-distancing measures many pupils have been sent home from school across Wales due to positive cases

A council with the highest Covid-19 infection rates in Wales is to close all its schools more than a week early for Christmas.

Blaenau Gwent said remote learning was in the "best interests of the well-being of pupils and their families".

Currently, more than 900 pupils in the county borough are self-isolating.

The decision comes despite a pledge from the Welsh Government and council leaders across Wales to keep schools open until term ends on 18 December.

Schools in Blaenau Gwent will, however, hold their final lessons next Wednesday, 9 December with what the authority says is the unanimous support of head teachers.

The Independent-led council said remote learning could continue until the end of term, reducing the potential for pupils needing to self-isolate over the holidays.

'Absolutely right decision'

Eighteen schools are currently affected by Covid-19 cases among pupils and staff in Blaenau Gwent, which currently has a seven-day infection rate of 502.4 people per 100,000.

Councillor Joanne Collins, executive member for education, said: "We are in no doubt that this is absolutely the right decision for learners and their families, giving them the best opportunity to not be facing this Christmas in self-isolation."

Families with children entitled to free school meals will be given direct payments for this period.

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Meanwhile the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) - the umbrella body representing councils - said they had agreed a common approach "to ensure a consistent-as-possible level of provision across Wales in ongoing challenging circumstances".

They said in-person teaching and learning "will continue until the end of term", only moving to remote learning "where it is proportionate to the prevalence and impact of the virus within the locality".

A WLGA spokesperson said Blaenau Gwent's decision was "in line with the agreed position".

Last week, First Minister Mark Drakeford rejected a call from teaching union UCAC to end term a week early for all schools in Wales.

Referring to the earlier Covid-related closure of schools from March to the end of June, he said it was "more important for our children not to miss out further on the education planned for them".

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