ALL primary school children in Wales will return to their classrooms from March 15 if conditions allow, the education minister has said.

Kirsty Williams said the Welsh Government would also like to see students in years 11 and 13, as well as those doing similar qualifications in colleges, return to face-to-face teaching from that date.

Children aged between three and seven began returning to classrooms in Wales on Monday, while some vocational learners were back at colleges.

At the Welsh Government press conference, she said: “Where possible, we also want to give some flexibility around other learners, such as Year 12 and those in Year 10 who may also have been entered into qualifications this summer.

“Unfortunately, for those learners in secondary settings or colleges, this won’t necessarily be a return to full-time on-site learning."

Ms Williams said the situation for other students would be confirmed before the Easter holidays.

“But I can tell you now that my preference is to get all learners back in school after the break,” she added.

Not all foundation phase schoolchildren will be returning to the classroom on Monday due to higher coronavirus infection levels in parts of the country.

In Wrexham, where cases have recently been markedly higher than other parts of Wales, schoolchildren will not return to school until Friday at the earliest.

At the press conference, Ms Williams also confirmed coronavirus testing will be rolled out to Years 11 and 13 to help with the return of older pupils from 15 March as well as twice weekly testing of teachers.

Wales’ Education Minister has said the scientific advice supports a phased approach to children returning to school, as taken by the Welsh Government.

When asked about schools reopening in England on March 8 and compared to Wales, Kirsty Williams said: “I haven’t received any new evidence or advice that supports a different approach to the one that we’re taking here in Wales.

“Our phased and very careful approach is in line with the public health advice that I have received, and in fact, it’s also consistent with UK-wide advice.

“If there is different information and new information available, which contradicts our careful approach, then clearly we would want to consider that.”

When asked about getting older children back into schools, Ms Williams said they will be guided by the evidence but some measures may include having a rota basis and reducing class and bubble sizes.

Dr Chris Jones, deputy chief medical officer for Wales, said the country was in a “critical position” and there could be a substantial increase in cases, people in hospital and deaths if restrictions were relaxed too quickly.

He said: “I think a cautious approach where we introduce the lowest risk children back to school first, evaluate the impact of that, that will teach us a great deal.”

The incidence rate of coronavirus in Wales has fallen from around 630 cases per 100,000 people in December to around 80 cases per 100,000 people – a reduction of more than 80%, the country’s deputy chief medical officer has said.

Wrexham has specifically seen a huge drop from 300 to below 100.

Dr Chris Jones told the press conference in Cardiff: “This is really encouraging, particularly given the presence of the new, more transmissible variants, and is the result of everyone’s efforts and sacrifices over the last several weeks.”

The number of Covid-related patients in hospitals across Wales remains high, at around 1,800, but has “stabilised and started to fall”.

Dr Jones said that SAGE estimates that the R number for Wales is between 0.6 and 0.9, which gives “some headroom for cautious relaxation of restrictions”, he added.