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.”