As children begin the autumn term, schools are adopting measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
How will the return to classes work in England and what happens if there is an outbreak?
What measures should schools be following?
All schools and colleges are expected to reopen.
Schools have gone to ”enormous effort” over the summer to make themselves safe, says schools minister Nick Gibb.
Measures include the introduction of hand sanitiser stations, one-way systems and staggered break times.
Some rules must be followed in all schools, all the time:
- keep pupils with Covid-19 symptoms, or with family members with symptoms, away from school
- more frequent hand-washing
- good hygiene around the use of tissues for sneezes and coughs
- enhanced cleaning procedures
Social distancing should be maintained wherever possible.
What happens if there’s a coronavirus outbreak?
A school is said to have a coronavirus outbreak if there are two or more confirmed cases within 14 days, or a there is a rise in the number of children off with suspected Covid-19.
If this happens, the school must work with local health protection teams.
In some cases, a larger number of pupils – for instance, a year group – may have to self-isolate at home as a precaution.
Closing a school will ”not generally be necessary”, the government says.
If pupils can’t come in, schools are expected to have a home-working plan ready to go.
Teachers’ unions have suggested schools need more support. NASUWT said schools need resources to cope with any disruption, including support for remote learning and cover for staff self-isolating.
What about schools in local lockdown areas?
If there is a change in the number of coronavirus cases in an area, schools will use a four-stage tier system of extra measures.
Tier 1: Schools fully open to all pupils, face coverings required in corridors and communal areas for staff and students Year 7 and above
Tier 2: A rota system – ideally two weeks on, two weeks off – will be used by secondary schools and colleges for most pupils, and primary schools stay open
Tier 3 and 4: ”Wider groups of pupils” go back to remote learning at home, while vulnerable and key worker children continue to go to school
These measures will be applied as ”an absolute last resort,” the government says. Areas where local lockdowns are currently in operation, are in tier 1.
Will children have to wear face coverings?
Aside from local lockdown areas, head teachers in any secondary school in England will have the “flexibility” to introduce masks.
In Wales, it will be up to local councils and schools to decide.
Do I have to send my child back?
Children must return for the autumn term, unless they – or a close contact – develop symptoms or test positive for coronavirus.
Head teachers can follow up pupils’ absences and issue sanctions, including possible fines.
Shielding has been paused, but at times some children may shield for longer because of higher local rates of coronavirus.
How will the school day work?
Schools are expected to teach a broad and balanced curriculum but the school day may look different to previous years.
They are being asked to:
- stagger start and finish times
- minimise the number of contacts each pupil has by putting classes or year groups into “bubbles”
- avoid assemblies or collective worship with more than one group
- avoid contact sport and unnecessary sharing of objects between pupils
What about getting to school?
Walking or cycling will be encouraged. Parents should not gather in groups at school gates, or go on site without an appointment.
Dedicated school transport services will be asked to:
- move children in “bubbles”
- provide hand sanitiser
- apply social distancing where possible
- ask children over 11 to wear face coverings
Schools will also need a process for staff and pupils to remove face coverings safely on arrival.
If possible, breakfast and after-school clubs should resume, with children staying within their year groups or bubbles if possible, and if not, in “small, consistent groups”.