Teachers can move freely between classes and most staff expected back – DfE’s safety plans for September

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.



Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Bob Roberts

    Relabelling bleach as “non-toxic” would not prevent it from harming you if you drink it. Similarly issuing guidance that it is now “safe” for children to mix freely within large groups, without social distancing does not mean that transmission of COVID in the community will actually cease. The government is just relabelling harmful things as “safe” for their own convenience – there is no supporting evidence that suddenly school is safe again.

  2. A. Singh

    “Those considered extremely clinically vulnerable are now advised they can return to work from 1 August, as long as they maintain social distancing.”
    Would any one of these politicians send a member of their family who has lung cancer, severe asthma or homozygous sickle cell (predominantly BME or Mediterranean family origins) into a full primary or secondary school where surfaces will be touched by different groups of children at every lesson change? Or do they expect schools to employ armies of cleaners to follow each bubble with bleach, mops and wipes? And whose liability is it, if they become ill with COVID-19?

    • K. Clarke

      You hit on a point that I am trying to find the answer to, ‘Will ‘bubbles’ be able to move between rooms and use specialist rooms such as a Design Technology workshop or Science lab?’ The article states that teachers and staff can move between bubbles but doesn’t speak of bubbles moving between premises, or did I miss something?

  3. Steve Allen

    Obviously schools are safe places otherwise key workers children wouldn’t have been allowed to be accommodated over the lockdown period. The prevalence of the ‘killer’ virus knows better than to bring the end of life to a young person , the data informs us so. The bigger question as to why schools were closed certainly requires closer scrutiny as does the cessation of examinations which is bound to raise its head as you can’t apparently appeal teacher assessment or school ranking (apparently no transparency here as it may bring the subsequent integrity of Ofqual into question) with a judicial review sometime during 2021 ; alongside those of why the government endorsed the return of positively tested cases from care homes at hospital back to the care home. There’s plenty of fun times ahead of us.

    I agree that it looks like the government are making it up as they go along.

    I find it an effrontery that the data collected is manipulated in the way it has been in order to satisfy a political agenda. As for comparing data from other countries let’s just not go there.

    To end with please don’t forget that it’s in the interests of the hospital to report as many cases of Covid-19 as possible as there is a pot of money that the government has made available for the hospital to make a claim from – this lucrative fee is a really good way of getting more money to already cash strapped institutions but don’t worry that the testing kits aren’t that reliable , they are merely a screening devise. Not even modern medicine can even keep track of the virus so what chance have software and fingers crossed got.

    I think by this time next year Covid-20 will be creating the same amount of hysteria but the dangerous precedents that have been enacted this year will need to be buried deep unless our leaders have something up their sleeves to suppress a common sense approach.

    There is always hope.

  4. Jenny Warren

    Stipulating that face masks may not be worn is incredibly dangerous. The lunacy is highlighted by the fact they’re making a huge deal about needing to wear them while travelling to and from school. Why do our government refuse to learn from others?

    Is the ban even legally enforceable?

  5. Elizabeth Morley

    I am very concerned about going back to work in September. I have brittle asthma and have had four hospital admittances between November and the beginning of March, two of which were under the care of ITU in a HDU and Coronary Critical Care Wards. I regulary take course of oral steroids. Will I be expected to go back to school? The number of covid cases are still very high. I live in London and work in an autistic secondary school where the pupils have little or no spacial awareness.

  6. Joanna Chan

    Why the UK school minister not look into putting face covering for all kids like those in Hong Kong, Taiwai or South Korea? Most Asian countries resumes school learning now. It is safer for kids and teachers with face covering.
    Covid will continue to make disturbances and further possible school closures will be more harmful to children’s education.

  7. Michele Platts

    I think the Government have been insensitive towards schools and their staff, throughout this pandemic.
    It’s been the most stressful situation that has ever occurred during my working life. While the rest of the world was furloughed, we were risking not only our lives but the precious lives are our own families. I do not feel privileged that I have contributed to providing childcare- I feel let down, like a second rate citizen. This lasting memory shall never be forgotten.

  8. Dawn Douglas

    Surely to God there must be a law about children returning to school because it’s far from safe! Are the government and teachers going to guarantee that its 100% safe to return?
    My Daughters are frightened to send their children back. What if one of them gets very sick and dies? Who’s responsible then? If theres no risk involved that’s fair enough but we all know it’s very risky! Plus the children could get the virus and bring it back to parents and grandparents!! Its absolutely ludicrous. I’m worried about my grandchildrens health and do not think fines should be given. What is going on in this country!!!! Rubbish leaders and too soon reopening.

    • 100% agree with you Dawn. I was starting to think ‘am I the only one that thinks this is madness to be going back to school?. I really dont want to let my school down and I feel really bad because I’m thinking of telling them that I refuse to attend school and I would rather let go of the job than to do so. It’s utterly rediciolous to be going back to school when we’re still in the hundred thousands of cases! I cant believe this.

  9. Eileen

    I am very worried about this and did not send my Year 5 back in July (she was allowed because the school had room) and this was when social distancing was in place with only a few kids in a bubble, but I honestly cannot believe that there will be classes of 30 with no social distancing! They keep saying it is safe, but the Government just want to get people back to work and to threaten us with fines if we do not send them back is disgusting! Surely life is more important that education at this moment in time, plus my Daughter could bring it home to us and this is so upsetting because we have stuck to all the rules as we have been so scared and to be threatened like this and to risk one or all of us losing our lives to it from no fault of our own is very upsetting! Why can’t the government say that if it is possible to keep them home i.e stay at home parents or if they can work from home then this would also reduce the class sizes and risks because they would then be able to social distance. I just cannot believe they will not be social distancing with 30 other households, then if the kids in the class have siblings, then mix with them when they go home, the risk gets bigger! I am not sleeping and will be too scared for my Daughter’s life and our own and would be too scared to go near her and want us all to wear masks in our own house which should be our safe place. What would this do for her mental health! Rant over