England’s schools have officially been told the raft of changes they’ll have to make when they reopen to all children in September.
A string of measures that were designed to stop the spread of the virus have been axed after they made it impossible to have everyone in at once.
Unions had pleaded for extra money to open up classrooms in public buildings and have “blended” learning from home.
But instead the government is telling schools to use exactly the same space they had before the pandemic.
No money will be given for extra classrooms and schools are banned from running “rotas”. Pupils are expected in five days a week and there will be fines for absence.
To squeeze everyone in, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will scrap the 15-pupil size limit on class “bubbles” – who stay together to stop the virus spreading further.
Bubbles will now be an entire 30-pupil class or even an entire year group.
Despite the massive increase, the rule that children must automatically isolate if one member of their bubble tests positive has been scrapped.
Instead, a whole class or year group may have to stay home if an ‘outbreak’ is detected in a school – but this will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
While staff are told to keep two metres apart from pupils where possible, the guidance accepts that in many cases that won’t be possible between the pupils themselves.
Instead, teachers will be told to keep the windows open, quarantine footballs for 48 hours between use, ban big school wind bands and choirs, and send any sick pupils home quickly.
Despite this, shielding children are being advised to come back in – as are pregnant or vulnerable staff where there isn’t another option.
The guidance accepts opening schools is a “balance of risk” – but says “for the vast majority of children, the benefits of being back in school far outweigh the very low risk from coronavirus”.
Exams in 2021 will go ahead but schools won’t have to return to the full curriculum until summer 2021 as they focus on the areas where pupils most need to catch up.
Year 11 pupils will consider dropping some of their GCSE subjects if it means they can preserve their grades in core subjects like English and maths.
Here’s a round up of some of the key changes to advice to schools announced today.
Children won’t automatically have to isolate if someone else in their class tests positive
The 15-pupil ‘bubble’ limit will be scrapped – allowing schools to create ‘bubbles’ of a whole class or a whole year.
‘Bubbles’ were introduced as an anti-infection measure.
They meant groups within the school were kept separate from each other – and if one member of a bubble tested positive, the whole bubble had to go into isolation for two weeks.
Bubbles will now be allowed to be much larger – and won’t have to go into isolation if one member tests positive.
Instead a ‘rapid risk assessment’ will be carried out to determine who has been in ‘close contact’ with a child who tests positive – and tell them to self-isolate for two weeks.
But if there’s an ‘outbreak’ it could shut the whole year group or school down
Schools may have “an outbreak” if they have two or more confirmed cases of coronavirus within a fortnight.
Government guidance says the whole site or year group may have to self-isolate at home.
But it adds whole-school closures “will not generally be necessary” if schools implement the recommended controls.
If there is an outbreak in a school, a mobile unit can be dispatched to test others who have been in contact with the person who has tested positive.
Testing will focus on the person’s class, followed by their year group, then the whole school if necessary, the guidance says.
Schools are having to keep ‘records’ of close contact – yes, really
Because isolation is no longer automatic, schools are being told to note down close contacts to trace infection.
The guidance says: “We recommend schools keep a record of pupils and staff in each group, and any close contact that takes places between children and staff in different groups.”
It adds: “This should be a proportionate recording process.
“Schools do not need to ask pupils to record everyone they have spent time with each day or ask staff to keep definitive records in a way that is overly burdensome.”
Children will be expected to attend in person, full time – without rotas
Some hoped the government would re-open schools on a ‘rota’ basis, to cut the number of children in school at a given time and make social distancing easier.
But from September, that’s all out of the window. Children will be expected to attend, in person, five days a week.
They say schools will be made ‘Covid secure’ by:
- grouping children together
- avoiding contact between groups
- arranging classrooms with forward facing desks
- staff maintaining distance from pupils and other staff as much as possible
Schools will be sent home testing kits to give to parents
By September, all schools will be provided with a small number of home testing kits directly.
They can then give these to parents or carers collecting a child who has developed symptoms at school.
Or to staff who have developed symptoms at school, where they think providing one will significantly increase the likelihood of them getting tested.
Advice will be provided alongside these kits.
Shielding children will be told to come back to school
As shielding advice changes for adults on August 1, it will also change for children.
As such, any pupils who remain on the shielded patient list can also return to school, as can those who have family members who are shielding.
But if there’s a local outbreak, and the government reintroduces some level of shielding – they’ll be allowed to stay home temporarily.
There won’t be any special rules for children from BAME backgrounds.
Despite evidence that coronavirus poses a greater risk to people from BAME backgrounds, there will be no relaxation of rules for children based on ethnicity.
Or children with other known aggravating factors, for that matter – including obesity and diabetes.
Instead, when it comes to at-risk kids, the guidance simply says schools should tell parents to stop worrying and send their kids in.
“We recommend schools discuss their concerns and provide reassurance of the measures they are putting in place to reduce the risk in school.”
All children have to go to school – or face fines
The advice is very clear in this respect, stating simply that all pupils “must attend school.”
It adds: “If parents of pupils with significant risk factors are concerned, we recommend schools discuss their concerns and provide reassurance of the measures they are putting in place to reduce the risk in school.
“Schools should be clear with parents that pupils of compulsory school age must be in school unless a statutory reason applies (for example, the pupil has been granted a leave of absence, is unable to attend because of sickness, is absent for a necessary religious observance etc).”
Schools and councils will bring back “the availability to issue sanctions, including fixed penalty notices”.
The government doesn’t think schools need to make adaptations or open new buildings. Just open a window
Picking a fight with teachers, unions and many parents – the government says it doesn’t think schools will need to make any significant adaptations to reopen to all students.
Nor does the government think taking over additional buildings – like church halls and community centres, as has been suggested – will be necessary.
Guidance says bluntly: “Schools should use their existing resources to make arrangements to welcome all children back.
“There are no plans at present to reimburse additional costs incurred as part of that process.”
Instead, the advice suggests improving ventilation in classrooms – including by opening windows.
And it says while schools should avoid clogging up in corridors, “passing briefly in the corridor or playground is low risk”.
It adds: “Different groups don’t need to be allocated their own toilet blocks, but toilets will need to be cleaned regularly and pupils must be encouraged to clean their hands thoroughly after using the toilet.”
The full curriculum may not return until next summer
Schools are asked to “teach an ambitious and broad curriculum in all subjects” but will have to focus on covering the “most important” gaps.
The guidance admits: “Substantial modification to the curriculum may be needed at the start of the year.
“Teaching time should be prioritised to address significant gaps in pupils’ knowledge with the aim of returning to the school’s normal curriculum content by no later than summer term 2021.”
Year 11 pupils may drop some GCSE subjects
The guidance says: “In exceptional circumstances, it may be in the best interests of a year 11 pupil to discontinue an examined subject.”
This may be if the school decides “they would achieve significantly better in their remaining subjects as a result” – especially in English or maths.School trips will be back on
While overnight visits will be discouraged, day trips will be allowed.
The guidance also suggests schools should “make use of outdoor spaces in the local area to support delivery of the curriculum.”
School choirs, hymns in assembly and brass bands are out
There’s an increased risk of infection from singing, chanting and playing blown instruments.
While the advice doesn’t ban singing and wind instrument lessons, it does say they should happen outside if possible.
And it says: “Singing, wind and brass playing should not take place in larger groups such as school choirs and ensembles, or school assemblies.”
Footballs will go into 48 hours’ quarantine
Resources that are shared between classes or bubbles, such as sports, art and science equipment, should be “cleaned frequently and meticulously” between use.
There’s an alternative if this isn’t possible – they can be ” rotated to allow them to be left unused and out of reach for a period of 48 hours”.
That increases to 72 hours when the material is plastic.
Assemblies remain banned – and break and start times are to be staggered
“Groups should be kept apart, meaning that schools should avoid large gatherings such as assemblies or collective worship”, the guidance says.
“Schools should also consider staggered break times and lunch times (and time for cleaning surfaces in the dining hall between groups).”
“Schools should work with partners to consider staggered start times to enable more journeys to take place outside of peak hours.”
Pupils are being told to walk or cycle
Schools should encourage parents, staff and pupils to walk or cycle to school if at all possible.
Driving may be an option for some.
For those who have to take dedicated school buses, they will follow the same social distancing rules and mask-wearing as public transport.
Pupils will be told to only bring the essentials
“It is still recommended that pupils limit the amount of equipment they bring into school each day to essentials”, the guidance says.
These essentials may include lunch boxes, hats, coats, books, stationery and mobile phones. Bags are allowed.
Ofsted inspections resume in full in January
“During the autumn term, inspectors will visit a sample of schools to discuss how they are managing the return to education of all their pupils,” it says.
“It is intended that routine Ofsted and ISI inspections will restart from January 2021, with the exact timing being kept under review.”
Canteens remain open
“We expect that kitchens will be fully open from the start of the autumn term and normal legal requirements will apply about provision of food to all pupils who want it, including for those eligible for benefits-related free school meals or universal infant free school meals.
“School kitchens can continue to operate, but must comply with the guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19).”