The Department for Education has published guidance for secondary schools about the return of pupils next month.

It comes after the prime minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed the government was pushing back the date it expects secondaries to start to provide face-to-face support for year 10 and 12 pupils, from June 1 to June 15.

Here’s what we learned from the guidance.


1. Only welcome back 25% of pupils at a time

The guidance states that schools “are able to have a quarter of the year 10 and year 12 cohort (for schools with sixth forms) in school at any one time”.

This includes vulnerable children and children of critical workers in those year groups “who are still encouraged to attend full-time”.

However, the 25 per cent is “in addition” to vulnerable pupils and key worker children in other year groups ages who are already allowed to attend.

The DfE has also set out a “clear expectation that remote education will continue to be the predominant form of education delivery for these year groups and that this should be of high quality”.


2. Schools have ‘flexibility’

The DfE has told secondary schools they have “flexibility to implement face-to-face support for year 10 and year 12 pupils in the way that best suits their circumstances”.

The guidance acknowledges there may be issues around staff availability and workload, and says it is “up to schools to decide how they want to use face-to-face support in the best interests of their pupils”.

“There may be some pupils who would particularly benefit from more face-to-face support, such as disadvantaged pupils or pupils who have not been engaging in remote education,” the guidance goes on to say.

“These pupils may attend more frequently than others as long as schools ensure that only a quarter of the year 10 and 12 cohort are in school at any one time. This should be alongside full-time attendance of vulnerable children and children of critical workers in all year groups.”

Schools also have flexibility to determine “how best to provide full-time provision for vulnerable children and children of critical workers in year 10 and year 12, alongside the support for others in those year groups”.

“Vulnerable children and children of critical workers in other year groups should be accommodated as currently or if currently in a hub then schools should explore how to bring them back to their normal school, subject to risk assessments.”


3. If you’re going to use rotas, avoid split days

Unlike primary schools, secondary schools have not been told by the government to avoid the use of rota systems to keep pupil numbers low.

However, the guidance states that secondary schools “should avoid split day rotas within the same day and ensure that only a quarter of children are ever in the school on any one day”.

Morning and afternoon rotas “should not be applied”, the document states.

If rotas are used, vulnerable children and children of critical workers in all year groups “should still be encouraged to attend full-time and appropriate risk assessments should consider how this could be managed”.

Previous guidance for primary schools states they should not use rotas, and the new secondary document states that this is because “they do not provide the consistency of education and care required for the youngest children, who also require more support with remote education”.


4. Minimise the use of public transport

According to the guidance, schools should ensure that the use of public transport for school travel is “minimised as far as possible”.

“Where it is totally necessary, this should not be during peak times. Schools should introduce staggered start and end times as appropriate to help achieve this,” the guidance states.

Pupils “should be encouraged to walk or cycle where possible”, the guidance says, and schools should “carefully consider” how many pupils will be travelling at the same time, how they are likely to travel and “the likelihood of pupils mixing with each other and coming into contact with other people on the journey to and from school”.


5. Approach will be ‘kept under review’

The guidance states that “we cannot return more pupils to secondary school at this time”, but that this position “will be kept under review, and further advice will be provided as and when needed”.

It also reveals that one of the “key reasons” for limiting secondary numbers is “because we know older pupils generally travel further to school and are more likely to use public transport to travel to and from school”.

“The latest government advice is to avoid public transport as far as possible and to walk or cycle instead to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. Numbers of secondary pupils must also be limited because we know older pupils are more likely to have a wider group of social contacts outside of school.”