The Government has issued guidance on pupils returning to the classroom from Monday 8 March.
It follows the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday 22 February about how lockdown restrictions will start to be eased in a phased manner. The opening to schools to all pupils is the first in a series of restrictions being lifted as part of the Government’s ‘road map’ to recovery.
The Prime Minister also announced that all adults and students in Year 7 and above are advised to wear face coverings in all indoor settings, including classrooms, as an additional precautionary measure.
Cllr Margaret Harvey, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said “Our schools have done an amazing job throughout this pandemic, ensuring a child’s learning can continue at home. They have supported families to access technology and learning resources as well as creating a broad range of engaging learning activities. Their commitment and dedication to our children and young people’s education is commendable.
“I know that children have missed seeing their friends and the social interactions with others, which I also know can have an impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
“This is the first step in the easing of lockdown restrictions, so we all need to ensure we follow the rules and don’t undo all of our good work. Remember to follow the staggered drop off and pick up times at school, wear a face covering in the playground, don’t congregate with others in the playground and maintain social distancing.”
The full guidance about schools opening to all pupils can be on the Government’s website.
Primary school children, secondary school pupils and college students as well as university students on practical courses who need access to specialist facilities and equipment will all return from Monday 8 March.
Note – a phased approach for secondary school pupils will apply during week commencing 8 March. This is in order to facilitate COVID tests at each school location. All secondary school and college students will be invited to take three COVID-19 tests as they return to the classroom at existing school testing facilities.
Details about when pupils will return will be communicated directly by the secondary school.
After an initial programme of three tests in school or college, students will be provided with two rapid tests to use each week at home.
The Government will review, by the end of the Easter holidays, the options for timing of the return of remaining students. Students and providers will be given a week’s notice ahead of any further return.
Twice weekly testing will continue to be available for all on campus.
Special schools, special post-16 providers, and alternative provision have remained open to vulnerable children and young people, including those with Educational Health Care Plans, and to the children of critical workers.
Because of this, many settings have continued to offer face to face provision for the vast majority, if not all, of their pupils and students.
From 8 March, all students in all year groups should be attending in line with the wider return to face-to-face teaching.
Wraparound childcare will be open to parents who need to access it to work, attend education or seek medical care, and to vulnerable children. Early years and nursery provision have remained open to all throughout the lockdown.
The Government has and continues to take the safety of all education staff and pupils extremely seriously, and the guidance for all education settings has been based on the best medical advice.
Public Health England continues to advise that the existing range of safety measures in place in education settings remains appropriate.
Existing protective measures have been strengthened and staff and students in secondary schools and colleges are advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained as a temporary extra measure, as the twice weekly at home testing regime is set up.
What’s changed since schools were closed to most pupils in January that makes you think March is the right time to reopen them?
Schools closed to most pupils during the third lockdown to help reduce overall social contacts across the country whilst the NHS experienced significant pressure, not because schools were considered a high-risk setting to staff or pupils.
Missing out on classroom-based education has severe impacts for children and young people, with clear evidence that further time out of schools and colleges is detrimental for cognitive and academic development, learning, health and wellbeing.
Evidence from the Public Health England-led Schools Infection Study continues to show that infection rates in schools mirror infection rates in the wider community, suggesting schools are not the main driver of infections.
The Schools Infection Study (SIS) by PHE, ONS and LSHTM also showed that COVID-19 infection rates in schools among staff and pupils mirrored infection rates in the wider community.
PHE’s Surveillance in Schools study (sKIDS) suggests that transmission in primary schools is extremely low and outbreaks are rare.
Warwick University recently published research on school transmission rates in schools which found there is no clear evidence of schools being a ‘significant driver’ of infections. Warwick University research also suggests that cases in schools amongst teachers and students seemed to reflect and follow those in the community, rather than preceding them, suggesting it is cases in the community driving infections in schools, rather than vice versa.
The testing in secondary schools and colleges, alongside strengthened safety measures, should reassure families and education staff that extra measures are in place alongside the existing bubble system, enhanced hygiene and COVID-19-secure precautions.
School attendance will be mandatory for all pupils from 8 March. The usual rules on school attendance apply.
Remember, there will be a phased return for secondary school pupils during week commencing 8 March to facilitate COVID testing at the school.
The Government has committed to helping children and young people recover learning lost as a result of the pandemic and further measures are due to be announced later this week.
The Government is working in collaboration with the education sector to develop specific initiatives for summer schools and a Covid Premium to support catch up; and to develop a long-term plan to make sure children and young people have the chance to make up their learning over the course of this Parliament.
Testing is voluntary but strongly encouraged. If consent is provided, pupils will be asked to self-swab at the on-site and after 30 minutes they should be informed of their results.
As many as one in three people who contract the virus show no symptoms (they are asymptomatic), so could be spreading the disease unknowingly. Asymptomatic testing will help to identify positive cases more quickly and break the chains of transmission.
Lateral Flow Tests produce results much faster than PCR tests. Testing staff and pupils twice per week, 3-4 days apart starting on Sunday evenings, will also increase confidence that positive cases are being identified quickly. Those who test positive will then self-isolate, helping to reduce transmission of the virus.
Extra testing is going to find more positive cases and close contacts, resulting in increased absences from school. How will this be managed?
It is important that positive cases and their close contacts isolate to break the chains of transmission. Testing regularly will help keep everyone safe. Students will be able to participate in remote learning from home until they can return to the classroom.
Remote learning will continue if pupils need to self isolate.
The self-isolation period is 10 days (from the onset of symptoms or the date of the test is no symptoms are displayed).
What about testing for early years staff and staff and students in wider FE settings (not colleges)?
The asymptomatic testing programme in education currently covers all staff at school-based nurseries and maintained nursery schools.
The Government is now expanding home testing kits to staff in all private, voluntary and independent nurseries, who will start to receive deliveries of Lateral Flow Device (LFD) home testing kits to offer to all their staff for twice weekly testing from next month.
This is a significant development that will help to identify positive cases more quickly and break the chains of transmissions. Childminders continue to have access to community testing facilities for asymptomatic testing.
Home testing will be available for Independent Training Providers and Adult Community Learning Providers by the end of March.