We all know schools are reopening from March 8, but there’s a lot more parents need to know about how kids are going to get back to class.
From Covid tests for pupils and staff, to the mandatory wearing of face masks for older children, we’ve put together the important stuff for mums, dads and carers.
As the announcement only came on Monday, some of the finer details are still being ironed out, but this is what we know so far.
When are children going back?
March 8 is the date announced by the Prime Minister and it’s likely primary schools will welcome all children back on that date. However, in secondary schools and colleges, students will return ‘from’ that date and settings have the discretion to decide how to stagger pupils back over that week.
The dates will largely depend on their ability to test all pupils and staff for Covid before they return to class.
Schools have the ‘flexibility to consider how best to deliver testing’ – and have today been told they can start testing earlier than March 8 ‘if they would like to do so’ – but they’ve been told to prioritise key worker and vulnerable children and year groups 10 to 13 first.
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Will my child be tested for Covid?
At secondary school and college, the answer is yes, but parents and carers have to give permission. “Testing is voluntary but strongly encouraged,” the government says.
Schools and colleges will be required to test all pupils before they return to class, so it’s likely return dates will be based around when those first tests take place.
Those refusing tests will start back ‘in line with’ their school’s phased return arrangements.
During the first fortnight back, students will be required to do a further two tests three to five days apart. These will be done by pupils in school and overseen by adults. After that pupils will be given test kits to do at home, but schools have been told to keep some sort of testing space free for those who may struggle to do them at home, perhaps without adult supervision.
Teachers and staff at all schools will also be tested in the same way.
Primary pupils will not be tested in school. The government has said that all families with schoolchildren, or members of support and childcare bubbles, will be encouraged to get tested regularly, but the logistics of how that will work as yet remain unclear.
The Department for Education says updates on this will be published shortly.
What is a lateral flow test?
Lateral flow tests are rapid tests that provide results within 30 minutes, without the need for any lab analysis.
Scientists are divided on how accurate they are, but with as many as one in three people with Covid showing no symptoms, the government says they detect ‘the vast majority’ of cases and the idea is that they’ll pick up on many of the positive cases that would otherwise be missed.
The test involves taking a sample from the back of the throat near the tonsils and from the nose, using a swab.
Schools and colleges are reminded to ‘make it clear that a negative test result does not remove the risk of transmission’.
“In some cases, someone who has tested negative may still have the undetected disease and be infectious,” says the government guidance. “It is therefore essential that everyone continues to follow good hygiene and observe social distancing measures regardless of whether they have been tested.”
What if my child tests positive?
If pupils test negative from day one then they can resume face-to-face classes.
With a positive test, they will need to self isolate for the next 10 days and will learn remotely until they can return to class, unless of course they become too unwell to work.
As with lockdown, schools are legally obliged to provide remote learning to anyone self isolating.
Once a child has tested positive – or is waiting on test results after showing symptoms – other members of their household need to isolate too.
If they develop symptoms during that isolation period, they must restart the 10-day isolation period from the day symptoms started.
Anyone testing positive with a lateral flow test done at home needs to book a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result.
These are the tests that can be booked online at your nearest test centre and are sent off for lab analysis.
How will the testing work in schools?
Following a test in school, a pupil will have to wait half an hour for the result before knowing if they can go to class.
If the test is positive, DfE guidance says that while awaiting collection ‘they should be moved, if possible, to a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door, depending on the age and needs of the pupil, with appropriate adult supervision if required’.
If it’s not possible to isolate then, they should be moved ‘to an area which is at least two metres away from other people’.
The pupil should not use public transport to get home and schools are told to following advice on safe transport arrangements to ensure they get home safely.
Returning to school after a positive test
Once a pupil’s isolation period is complete, they are free to return to class and do not need any evidence of a negative test result.
If they continue to have a residual cough or anosmia (loss of sense of smell), they should still be able to return, as this can ‘can last for several weeks once the infection has gone’.
“If they still have a high temperature after 10 days or are otherwise unwell, you should advise them to stay at home and seek medical advice,” schools are told.
What do you think about the back to school plans so far? Are you happy for your child to be tested if it means getting back to the classroom? Let us know in the comments here, or share your views on our Manchester Family Facebook page.
What if my child is a close contact of a positive case?
The original plan was to use lateral flow tests to avoid pupils having to isolate.
Anyone deemed to be a close contact of a positive case would have been able to avoid isolation by agreeing to take a test daily for seven days.
However, that idea was paused amid concerns over the effectiveness of the tests.
The new guidance confirms that schools must once again send home anyone who has been in close contact with a positive case, ‘advising them to self-isolate immediately and for the next 10 full days counting from the day after contact with the individual who tested positive’.
Will by child need to wear a mask?
In primary schools children do not need to wear masks.
Some primaries had already required parents and carers to wear masks when dropping off and collecting children, so we could find more schools doing the same.
The government has confirmed that initially, secondary, college and university students will need to wear masks in class, ‘unless two-metre social distancing can be maintained’. Previously most had only required students to wear them in corridors and other communal areas.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the policy will be reviewed over Easter, but has not ruled out that it could be in place until June 21, the final date in the plan to ease lockdown.
In Early Years and primary schools, face coverings are now also recommended for staff and adult visitors ‘in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible, for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas’.
Where mask wearing ‘would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example in PE lessons’, the Department for Education has confirmed they won’t need to be worn.
There are also exemptions for those who rely on ‘visual signals for communication, or communicate with or provide support to such individuals’.
The guidance says: “Transparent face coverings, which may assist communication with someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate, can also be worn. There is currently very limited evidence regarding the effectiveness or safety of transparent face coverings, but they may be effective in reducing the spread of coronavirus.”
Will my child be in a bubble again?
Once again schools are asked to ‘do everything possible to minimise contacts and mixing’, and keeping groups in bubbles and maintaining a distance between individuals will help achieve this.
Both measures will help, says the guidance, but it acknowledges that it will differ in schools depending on pupils’ ability to distance, the layout of the building and the ‘feasibility of keeping distinct groups separate while offering a broad curriculum’.
It adds: “Whatever the size of the group, they should be kept apart from other groups where possible. Encourage pupils to keep their distance within groups. Try to limit interaction, sharing of rooms and social spaces between groups as much as possible.”
While schools are encouraged to keep pupils ‘in their class groups for most of the classroom time’ they are still allowed to mix in wider groups for things such as wraparound care, on school transport and for specialist teaching.
What can my child take to school?
Most schools were already limiting the amount of equipment children could take in and the same applies this time.
DfE guidance says that ‘bags are allowed’ but most schools have their own policy on this – with some saying no bag at all and others restricting it to smaller book bags.
It says pupils should restrict what they take in to essentials including lunch boxes, hats and coats, books, stationery and mobile phones.
Do I have to send my child to school?
Attendance will be ‘mandatory’ and parents risk fines if they refuse to send their children in.
Under current laws, a council can give each parent a fine of £60, which rises to £120 each if the fine is not paid within 21 days.
There are some exceptions for when pupils cannot attend due to coronavirus and the government has made it clear that ‘no parent will be penalised for following official public health advice for their child not to attend a given session’ and a child’s non-attendance in those circumstances would ‘not count as an absence’.
DfE guidance also says that schools should ‘bear in mind the potential concerns of pupils, parents and households who may be reluctant or anxious about attending school and put the right support in place to address this’.
Breakfast clubs and afterschool clubs can run as usual.
The government guidance says: “Wraparound childcare will be open to parents who need to access it to work, attend education or seek medical care, and to vulnerable children.”
Start and finish times
Most schools introduced staggered start and finish times before Christmas to help keep bubbles apart and they’re being encouraged to do the same now.
However, this should not reduce the amount of overall teaching time so suggestions for schools include condensing break times or starting and finishing later so the length of day is the same.
As part of the guidance on start and finish times, schools are urged to remind parents not to gather at the school entrance or go onto the site without an appointment.
Will the school day eventually be longer and are holidays changing?
Nothing has yet been announced, but the government is ‘considering’ a number of options to help children catch-up on education.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb and the new education recovery commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, have both said they are ‘open to all ideas’ to help counter the impact of the pandemic on education.
Pledging another £400 million as part of the government’s education recovery plan on Wednesday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said summer schools will be put on in secondary schools for pupils ‘who need it the most’, such as incoming Year 7 pupils, while one-to-one and small group tutoring schemes will be expanded.
Defending the level of funding being given to schools, he told BBC Breakfast: “What it does do is it gives schools the extra resource to be able to give extra pay for teachers to do overtime, support staff to do overtime, to help them assist with children to do that extra learning, that extra bit of education, that extra support that goes the extra mile and helps children to be able to bounce back from this pandemic.”
What about those who are CEV?
Children are ‘gradually being removed’ from the shielding list, says the DfE, but anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) is told to ‘ shield and stay at home as much as possible until further notice’.
The guidance states: “They are advised not to attend school while shielding advice applies nationally.”
Any pupil or student who is shielding should be provided with remote learning.
When it comes to returning to school, those who have spent time shielding are among those expected to be anxious about it and schools are told to discuss any such concerns with parents and ‘provide reassurance’ on the measures they are putting in place to reduce any risks.
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Have teachers and staff been vaccinated?
Despite widespread campaigning for teachers and school staff to be prioritised for vaccinations, it has’t yet happened.
The NEU and NASUWT teacher unions are among those calling for it to happen urgently.
A decision from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on who will be next in line for the vaccine is expected soon, but it’s looking increasingly likely that it will move through the age ranges rather than specifying any professions.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ““They set out the priority groups one to nine, which includes those who are clinically most vulnerable and their carers, and includes the over-50s, going down the age range.
“They are currently considering, after that, what might be the best order in terms of clinical priority.
“There isn’t strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid than any other group, but I’ll leave it for the JCVI to set out what they think is the best order in which to do this that minimises the number of deaths.”