Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday night the country would move to plan B – which includes instructions to work from home and face masks in more settings.
The Department for Education has released updated guidance for schools this morning, so here’s what you need to know …
1. Attendance remains mandatory
DfE says school attendance remains “mandatory” and all the usual rules continue to apply as attending education is a “national priority”.
Schools are able to grant leaves of absence for pupils in exceptional circumstances.
2. No change on face masks
DfE said they do not recommend pupils and staff wear face coverings in classrooms, unless it is advised by local public health directors as part of the contingency framework.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said last night that he had a “number of reports” from MPs that mask wearing in the classroom can “impede or hinder the communication”.
Temporary measures for face coverings in communal areas for all staff and secondary pupils will remain in place.
This was brought in last week when cases of omicron were detected in England.
3. Don’t move teaching online
Teaching should not be moved online as a result of the new work from home guidance, headteachers have been told.
DfE expects all schools to continue to provide face-to-face learning, and staff should continue to attend work.
Therapists and wider children’s service professionals should also continue to be invited into schools.
4. Heads can consider if some staff work from home
Office workers should work from home if the can from Monday.
While staff are expected to attend school, the guidance adds leaders “will need to consider whether it is possible for specific staff undertaking certain roles to work from home, while minimising disruption to face-to-face education and care”.
Those considered to be vulnerable, clinical extremely vulnerable (CEV) and high or higher-risk are not being advised to shield again.
Children considered CEV should attend school. But in some circumstances, a child may have received advice from their specialist or clinician on “additional precautions” to take, and should continue to follow that advice.
5. ‘Strongly’ encourage testing now
DfE “strongly” encourages all those involved in education to continue regular lateral flow testing and reporting results. Staff should also encourage pupils in year 7 and above to carry on testing, too.
Schools are also “strongly” encouraged to ask parents and other visitors to take LFTs before entering the site.
6. Move to daily testing for close Omicron contacts (but we don’t know when)
Currently, anybody identified as a close contact of a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant will be required to self-isolate and book a PCR test.
However, the government plans to introduce daily contact testing “as soon as possible” as an alternative for Omicron close contacts who are fully vaccinated, or under the age of 18 years and six months.
But the update does not say when this will be introduced.
7. Inspections cancelled next week
Ofsted inspections will be suspended next week so schools can use the last week of term to consider Omicron variant contingency measures for January.
This covers schools, early years and colleges. Inspections will only go ahead if there are safeguarding concerns.
Ofsted has already confirmed that secondary schools will not be inspected, unless there are urgent concerns, during the first week of schools’ return in January. This is so that onsite pupil testing in secondaries can take place.
The email adds: “Ofsted inspections will continue to play an important role in providing independent assurance as schools and colleges continue to respond to the pandemic.”
Ofsted visits for local authority SEND services and joint targeted area inspections will continue.
8. Revisit outbreak plans for Omicron
DfE says while we continue to learn more about the impacts of the Omicron variant, all schools should revisit their existing outbreak plans to ensure they are “well prepared for any future changes”.
Schools should also continue to prepare for testing in secondary schools in January as it will help reduce transmission after a “period of mixing over the holidays”.
Exams and formal assessments for vocational and technical qualifications timetabled for January are going ahead.
9. Boris says nativities should still go ahead
Johnson was asked at the Plan B press conference yesterday evening whether nativity plays and Christmas parties should be cancelled.
He said: “In my view they should not be. They should follow the guidance of course, but we’re not saying, we don’t want kids to be taken out of school before the end of term, not that there’s very long to go now, we don’t want nativity plays to be cancelled.”
DfE guidance remains unchanged that schools can host such events if they want to, but should “improve air flow in the areas gatherings are taking place”.
However local public health directors can advise schools do not hold gatherings to reduce transmission.
10. Summer exams still going ahead
This year, DfE and Ofqual have a separate plan B of teacher assessed grades if exams need to be cancelled because of the pandemic.
However, the department said last night’s announcement does not change the current exams plan and they intend for them to take place next year.