DfE ‘rewriting history’ over claims schools have never had to keep pupils 2-metres apart

The Department for Education has denied it’s “rewriting history” after publishing a blog today claiming schools have never had to keep pupils two metres apart.

The blog stated that primary schools do not need to keep children two metres apart from each other while in their “bubbles”, adding “this has been the cause throughout the outbreak”.

However, school leaders have criticised this as “rewriting history”. Current guidance for primary planning advises heads “if you can keep older children within those small groups two metres away from each other, you should do so”.

Furthermore, a DfE blog published earlier this month also said “where schools can welcome more pupils back and maintain social distancing, we encourage them to do so”.

School governor Mike Cameron said the blog was an “attempt to rewrite history”.

He added: “The DfE obviously subscribe to Orwell’s oft quoted dictum ‘who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’.

“They may well control the guidance pages and their blog. Unfortunately, for them, they always forget about the Wayback Machine.”

The DfE denied the accusations, saying the guidance has never been schools must follow the two-metre rule, but should if they can.

The blog was published as an attempt to clear up confusion about the wider reopening of schools being predicated on the two-metre social distancing rule being dropped.

The blog looked at “why school pupils do not need to be kept apart in the classroom”.

It stated: “Within their groups, primary schools do not need to keep children 2 metres apart from each other – this has been the case throughout the outbreak.

“We recognise that this is not possible, particularly with younger children, and by limiting groups to 15 children and employing other measures to make sure these groups do not mix, the need for physical distancing is reduced.”

A DfE spokesperson also stated: “Primary pupils do not and have not needed to be kept apart in the classroom, and we are encouraging primary heads to use the capacity they have and the flexibility we have given them to bring more groups of children back into school, if they can work within the protective measures.”

But leaders feel this isn’t an accurate reflection on previous advice issued by the department.

The DfE’s ‘Planning guide for primary schools’ guidance, published in May and last updated June 15, states primary children cannot be expected to remain 2 metres apart from each other and staff.

But it adds: “It is still important to reduce contact between people as much as possible, so children, young people and staff where possible, should only mix in a small, consistent group and that small group should stay away from other people and groups.

“If you can keep older children within those small groups 2 metres away from each other, you should do so. While in general groups should be kept apart, brief, transitory contact, such as passing in a corridor, is low risk.”

An earlier blog post by the DfE also states: “We know that the best place for children is in school where they can be with their friends and have the support of their teachers and that’s why where schools can welcome more pupils back and maintain social distancing, we encourage them to do.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “Given the lack of clarity and the conflicting messages contained within the protective measures guidance, it is disingenuous to suggest that the position has ever been as definitive as is now being claimed.”

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  1. Janet Downs

    This is unacceptable. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone at the DfE dismisses the above as ‘fake news’, an attempt by the ‘enemies of promise’ to discredit the department and scupper the re-opening of schools.

  2. Katie Westwick

    In fairness, I support the DfE on this one, which is unusual for me! I remember being astounded – upon reading the guidance for June 1st wider opening – to see that we weren’t required to keep 2m apart within our ‘bubble’. It was one of the things that I found upsetting and confusing – that schools guidance was so different to general public guidance at that time.

  3. Helen Fraser

    How about obscuring what early years providers can do by continually referencing another of the many and frequently updated guidance documents, only to be referred back to the general FAQ’s for the public, which then make reference to the law, which means one has to scour the actual legislation ( 2 separate acts) and pick apart the language till it becomes clear what actually is allowed! Aaargh!

  4. Miss Lindsay a Edwards

    The issue that we face is that without the 2 m rule, staff would not feel safe. We have had to bring back to work our clinically vulnerable staff In order to open for 80 key worker children. We have them in small, year group bubbles, mostly with their class teacher, but if we were to suddenly open to wider numbers, our clinically vulnerable staff would not agree to work, nor be required to, as social distancing measures wouldn’t be in place. Then we would have to close again as we’d not have enough staff to open for even key workers.

  5. Always a source of concern to me that schools and businesses are literally locking the door, after the horse has bolted.
    Bubbles, social distancing simply doesn’t work. You will know this if you have ever been to a supermarket in the last 3 months.
    Trained in Quality Systems, Health and Safety in the RAF, I have always preferred a 2 step solution.
    1 . Professional cleansing with an antiviral fogging agent.
    2. Thermal screening system to prevent those with elevated temperatures from entering.

  6. H baker

    The guidance was guidance. Not statutory or legislation so they are right in saying that students never ‘had to’. I admit the guidance was wishy washy, however it does say where you can keep students 2 meters apart you should do so. That equally means that if you can’t then you will not be expected to do so

  7. Robert M

    If 2m social distancing wasn’t a requirement in schools, why was Boris Johnson on the news at a primary school with his arms stretched out with the children to remain 2m apart? Why was nothing said about all the schools that were shown on the news preparing to welcome back children by setting up desks 2m apart? Surely the DFE should have made some comment the to avoid schools wasting time, or maybe no one at the DFE has the time to watch the news. Hopefully schools will get the new guidance on whole school returns in September before the end of term, to allow schools to prepare for it. Or will it be a case of send out the guidance on the last day so that schools don’t have time to sort anything.

  8. Jacqueline Willis

    You will note that Covid-19 is not actually a Highly Contagious Infectious Disease (HCID) as reported on Gov. UK’s own website in March 2020, front page, so why is it going to tell you to keep your children apart! Well it could, as they did keep most people in their homes for 3 months. Ignorance is bliss! Let the children play, hopefully they can forget their 3 month’s trauma and continue to be normal children and live a purpose driven fulfilled life!

  9. Sue Gray

    Why, when the rest of society is told to continue to socially-distance, as a way to prevent the spread of infection, is it different in schools? Has the virus been somehow trained to behave differently within school buildings?
    This thing has not gone away. It’s just been slowed down by the very same social distancing that doesn’t seem to be required for those of us in education.
    I’m all for letting the children play, but I’d also like to live to see my own grandchildren play too!