LEARNERS returned to schools across Pembrokeshire today (Monday) following a mammoth effort behind the scenes to prepare.

In an effort to 'check-in, catch-up and prepare' ready for the next academic year children have returned to school on a part-time basis, with classes no bigger than eight and schools running at a maximum capacity of a third of all pupils.

Some schools in the county are running shorter school days and closing one day a week to allow a significant deep clean.

Classrooms have been adapted to allow pupils to keep a social distance and lunchtimes and playtimes significantly altered so that Welsh Government guidelines can be followed.

Pembrokeshire County Council has taken the decision to support a four-week return after canvassing local schools, the last day of term in the county will be Friday, July 24.

However, the decision will be kept under review by the council as it awaits confirmation from Welsh Government on the dates of the second week of October half-term.

It will also be subject to review in case of an increase in the R number; the average number of secondary infections produced by one infected person.

Preparations for a return to school during the coronavirus pandemic have included the distribution of fourteen thousand signs, 1,500 litres of hand sanitiser and 1,270 paper towel holders by Pembrokeshire County Council.

Other work that has taken place to ensure that pupils are welcomed back in as safe a manner as possible include routine health and safety checks at schools and testing water supplies.

Fourteen thousand bi-lingual signs of 70 different designs – such as handwashing messages, canteen specific signs, floor stickers marking social distancing etc – have been distributed to schools.

The signs have been designed by PCC's graphic team and printed by the council's signs unit.

The work the length and breadth of Pembrokeshire has included sourcing, delivering and installing 1227 wall mounted sanitizer and soap units; 1279 wall-mounted paper towel dispensers; 2046 floor mounted litter bins; 530 table top sanitiser units and 1,500 litres of hand sanitiser.

The teams have also decommissioned 556 hand driers and 86 water dispensers and assisted schools to remove furniture to make space for social distancing.

Thirty-one storage containers have been delivered to schools to enable them to store school furniture and equipment.

Tens of thousands of PPE items have been distributed to schools, including the 13 hub schools that have operated for the children of key workers throughout the lockdown period.

Welsh Government guidelines advise that in general PPE is not required when undertaking routine educational activities in classroom or school settings, but there may be a need for it if staff are involved in washing, toileting, or first aid with pupils.

The effort to prepare schools has been hailed by the council leader, Cllr David Simpson.

He 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.

"Staff from across the council have worked together and extremely closely with our schools to ensure that everything schools need, they get.

"Things will look different in some ways when pupils return with measures like social distancing in place but I hope that the huge efforts of everyone over the last few weeks helps bring a level of reassurance that everything that can be done is being done to make schools as safe as they possibly can be for our learners."

Cllr Guy Woodham, the cabinet member for education and lifelong learning, added: "The teamwork to prepare schools to welcome back our learners has been fantastic to see.

"The dedication from the staff in schools and the many council departments involved in this huge effort has been incredibly heartening.

"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."