The Department for Education has published its guidance for getting all pupils back in school in September.
The government says the balance of risk is now “overwhelmingly in favour of children returning to school”.
Here’s your trusty Schools Week summary of everything you need to know about the plans for safety.
(The guidance is here).
1. Year-group bubbles are confirmed
Given the “decrease in the prevalence of coronavirus (COVID-19) and the resumption of the full range of curriculum subjects”, the guidance says schools may need to increase their bubbles.
So, in key stage 4 and 5 – as predicted – this is “likely to need to be the size of a year group”. This will enable schools to “deliver the full range of curriculum subjects and students to receive specialist teaching”.
However it this is possible with “small groups, they are recommended”.
At primary and key stage 3, schools “may be able to implement smaller groups the size of a full class”. The government says these approaches are not “all-or-nothing” options, and will “still bring benefits “even if implemented partially”.
Also shared resources – such as books and games, which are not allowed under current rules – can now be used within bubbles, but they should be cleaned regularly. Stuff used across bubbles – such as sports, art and science equipment – should be cleaned “meticulously” between bubbles, or rotated to allow them to be left unused for 48 hours between bubbles.
2. Teachers can move freely between classes
The guidance says teachers and other staff can “operate across different classes and year groups in order to facilitate the delivery of the school timetable”, which is particularly important for secondary schools.
But staff should “try and keep their distance from pupils and other staff as much as they can, ideally 2 metres from other adults. Again, we recognise this is not likely to be possible with younger children and teachers in primary schools can still work across groups if that is needed to enable a full educational offer.”
While in the classroom, teachers should “ideally” maintain two metre distance from each other and children. “In particular, they should avoid close face to face contact and minimise time spent within 1 metre of anyone.”
Also, the guidance says that supply teachers and other temp staff can move between schools.
3. Children in the classroom
For children “old enough” they should “be supported to maintain distance and not touch staff and their peers where possible”. Schools should make “small adaptions” to the classroom to support distancing “where possible”.
“That should include seating pupils side by side and facing forwards, rather than face to face or side on, and might include moving unnecessary furniture out of classrooms to make more space.”
Groups should be kept apart, which means avoiding assemblies or collective worship with more than one group.
“While passing briefly in the corridor or playground is low risk, schools should avoid creating busy corridors, entrances and exits. Schools should also consider staggered break times and lunch times (and time for cleaning surfaces in the dining hall between groups).”
Use of staff rooms should also be minimised, but staff must still “have a break of reasonable length”. Schools should also have a “process” for removing face coverings when pupils and staff arrive at school.
4. Mobile testing units could be dispatched for outbreaks
If schools have two or more confirmed cases within 14 days, or an overall rise in sickness where coronavirus is suspected, then this may be an outbreak. Local health protection teams can advise what action is required – which may mean whole sites, year groups or bubbles are told to self-isolate.
A mobile testing unit may also be dispatched to test others at the school. Testing will focus first on the person’s class, following by year group and could be the whole school if necessary.
5. Government plans to channel ‘2012 Olympics’ spirit to tackle transport issues
This is widely thought of as being a big problem for the plans, as it doesn’t matter how well you keep pupils separated at school if they then spend half an hour mixing together on a bus home.
The plans are split into two: dedicated school transport and public transport.
For those on dedicated services, the approach should be aligned to the principles of in school: so consider how pupils are grouped together (so keeping the bubbles on buses, too), use hand sanitiser when getting on and off and organising queuing and distancing withing vehicles “where possible”.
In regards to public transport, the government is “evaluating” whether it’s necessary to provide additional school transport services and will set out the next steps “shortly”.
They say the 2012 London Olympics showed it’s possible to “make a real difference to travel patterns where there is a concerted effort to do so”.
Meanwhile, they say schools should stagger start times or encourage pupils to work or cycle to school (including “walking buses”).
6. Schools should be “clear” with parents about non-attendance fines
Fines or non-attendance will be reintroduced again. For families anxious about returning, schools should discuss the concerns and “provide reassurance of the measures they are putting in place to reduce the risk in school”.
But schools should “be clear with parents that pupils of compulsory school age must be in school unless a statutory reason applies”.
The majority of schools will be able to return as shielding advice has changed, but for those who can’t, schools are expected to “be able to immediately offer them access to remote education”.
7. Most staff are expected back in September
Most staff will also be expected back in school as, when the “full measures in this guidance the risks to all staff will be mitigated significantly”.
Those considered extremely clinically vulnerable are now advised they can return to work from 1 August, as long as they maintain social distancing.
The guidance says “school leaders should be flexible in how those members of staff are deployed to enable them to work remotely where possible”.
However those with administrative roles, are able to work from home.
As in the current guidance, teaching assistants are given the green light to “lead groups or cover lessons” as long as this is under the supervision of a qualified teacher. They can also be redeployed to carry out catch-up provision or targeted interventions.
However redeployments “should not be at the expense of supporting pupils with SEND”.
8. Staff going on holiday may have to work at home
Government requirements mean holidaymakers heading to certain countries have to quarantine for 14 days on their return.
Staff “will need to be available to work in school” from the start of the autumn term, and school leaders are encouraged to “discuss” this with staff before the summer term.
But the guidance states where it’s not possible to avoid a staff member quarantining, they could temporarily work from home.