Coronavirus: Tests for pupils with symptoms, no PPE needed and classes of 15

Pupils eligible to return to school on June 1 will have “access” to coronavirus testing, the Department for Education has said.

The department has finally published additional information for schools, more than 24 hours after Boris Johnson announced the government’s intention to have some primary pupils return to school as early as June 1.

The new guidance also reveals that schools and colleges will be expected to provide “some face to face support” for year 10 and 12 pupils “from 1 June”.

On safety, the guidance states that personal protective equipment is still not deemed to be necessary for most education staff, and that primary classes should be split, with groups capped at 15 pupils.

The government also admits that primary pupils “cannot be expected to remain two metres apart from each other and staff” (further details on that here).

If there are any shortages of teachers, then teaching assistants can be allocated to lead a group

Testing for pupils with symptoms

In a statement released alongside the guidance, the DfE said that from June 1, “all children and young people eligible to return to their settings will have access to testing, if they display symptoms, as will any symptomatic member(s) of their household”.

The DfE said this would enable children and staff “to get back to school if they test negative, and if they test positive a test and trace approach can be taken”.

“Where a setting has a positive case, Public Health England will advise on the appropriate course of action, and the relevant group of people with whom the individual has mixed closely, should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 14 days.”

However, the guidance also states that the “majority” of education staff “will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of two metres from others”.

PPE is only needed in “very small” number of cases, the DfE said, including for children whose care routine already involves the use of PPE due to intimate care needs, or if a child becomes unwell with symptoms of coronavirus while in their setting and “needs direct personal care until they can return home”.

Keep children in small groups without mixing with others

The guidance also sets out a “range of protective measures to ensure education settings remain safe places”.

These include guidance on reducing the size of classes and keeping children in small groups without mixing with others.

For example, the guidance states that for primary schools classes “should normally be split in half, with no more than 15 pupils per small group and one teacher (and, if needed, a teaching assistant)”.

“If there are any shortages of teachers, then teaching assistants can be allocated to lead a group, working under the direction of a teacher.”

This marks the first step towards having all young people back where they belong – in nurseries, schools and colleges

The DfE’s guidance also gives advice on staggered break and lunchtimes and drop-offs and pick-ups. There is also guidance on increasing the frequency of cleaning, reducing the used of shared items and “utilising outdoor space”.

The prime minister announced yesterday evening that he hoped pupils in reception, year 1 and year 6 would be able to return to schools on June 1, which would have been the first Monday back after the May half term break for most areas.

‘Face to face’ support for years 10s from June 1

He also set out an “ambition” to allow secondary school pupils with exams next year “at least some time with their teachers before the holidays”, and detailed guidance on how this will work will be set out “shortly”.

Today’s guidance says this is expected from June 1 as well.  But it adds: “We do not expect these pupils to return to school or college on a full-time basis at this stage, and so we do not expect a full timetable to be offered as schools and colleges look to minimise the number of pupils in school or college each day.”

The government subsequently announced earlier today that it wants all primary school pupils to return to school for a month before the summer “if feasible”.

This evening, the DfE has confirmed that alternative provision settings will follow the same phased return as mainstream schools, and that special schools, special post-16 institutions and hospital schools will “work towards a phased return of more children and young people without a focus on specific year groups”.

Proposals are first step to ‘getting pupils back where they belong’

In its statement this evening, the education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I know how hard schools, colleges, early years settings and parents are working to make sure children and young people can continue to learn at home, and I cannot thank them enough for that.

“But nothing can replace being in the classroom, which is why I want to get children back to school as soon as it is safe to do so.”

He said the proposal “marks the first step towards having all young people back where they belong – in nurseries, schools and colleges – but we will continue to be led by the scientific evidence and will only take further steps when the time is right”.

The DfE has confirmed there will be no penalty for families who do not send their children back to school, but that families “will be strongly encouraged to take up these places – unless the child or a family member is shielding or the child is particularly vulnerable due to an underlying condition”.

The department has also clarified that middle schools are also being encouraged to welcome back children in year 6 to ensure “parity” for those in the year group.

The three documents set out actions for schools, guidance on implementing protective measures in schools and information for parents and carers.