DfE confirms September back-to-school plans

Limits on attendance will be lifted from September, and schools will be expected to deliver their “full curriculum”, the government has confirmed.

Routine Ofsted visits will also not resume until 2021 under plans for the full reopening of schools set out by Gavin Williamson today.

The Department for Education has also provided new guidance for schools in preparing for the autumn term.

According to the DfE, Covid-secure measures will “remain in place to reduce the risk of transmission”, with schools asked to keep children in “class or year group sized ‘bubbles’ and encourage older children to keep their distance from each other and staff where possible”.

However, teachers and other staff have been told they “can operate across different classes and year groups in order to facilitate the delivery of the school timetable”.

Where a positive case of the coronavirus is identified in a school, Public Health England local health protection teams will “advise on the appropriate action, which could include small groups of young people and staff being asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days”.

A mobile testing unit may also be sent to schools to test contacts of those who have tested positive.

Schools will also be expected to have plans in place to offer remote education to pupils who are self-isolating.

And as set out by Williamson earlier this week, mandatory attendance will be reintroduced. The DfE said it expects schools to “work with families to secure full attendance from the start of the new academic year”.

Ofsted will carry out visits to schools in the autumn term “to discuss how they are supporting the return to education for their pupils”, but routine inspections won’t resume until January.

Primary tests will also go ahead as planned next year, the DfE has confirmed. These include the phonics screening check, key stage 1 and key stage 2 SATs and year 4 times tables test. The statutory rollout of the reception baseline assessment has been delayed to 2021.

Williamson said: “We have already seen more than 1.5 million children and young people return, but we must make sure all pupils can go back to school in September, giving them the opportunity to thrive and fulfill their potential.

“I want to reassure parents and families that we are doing everything we can to make sure schools, nurseries, colleges and other providers are as safe as possible for children and staff, and will continue to work closely with the country’s best scientific and medical experts to ensure that is the case.”

Headteachers’ groups today warned that the scale of the challenge facing schools should not be underestimated.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT leadership union, said: “Whilst a model of larger group sizes is perhaps the only feasible way to get all pupils back to school on a full-time basis, no-one should underestimate the scale of the challenge school leaders will now face in making these plans work in practice, especially in secondary schools.

“Significant time will now need to be spent implementing the new measures government is asking schools to take.”

Geoff Barton, leader of ASCL, added: “It will be immediately apparent to anyone reading this guidance that it is enormously challenging to implement.

“The logistics of keeping apart many different ‘bubbles’ of children in a full school, including whole-year groups comprising hundreds of pupils, is mind boggling. School leaders will have to consider implementing staggered starts, finishes, and lunch times, alongside transport to and from school, on an epic scale.”