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back to school

Back to school – what should schools expect in September?

28th July 2020

At the beginning of this month, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that all students will be back to school in September. The return to school is vital for student’s education and also their wellbeing.

Time taken out of school can be detrimental for student’s cognitive and academic development. School is a vital part of contact for public health and safeguarding services that are critical to the wellbeing of children. As discussed in a previous blog, this is even more relevant for vulnerable children who are going under the radar.

The government have released guidance to support schools with the return phase back to school. At Impero, we have condensed this and provided you with the key headlines to review.

Section 1 – Back to school public health advice to minimise coronavirus risks

Schools must comply with health and safety law, which requires them to assess risks and put in place proportionate control measures. Schools should thoroughly review their health and safety risk assessments and draw up plans for the autumn term that address the risks. Plans could include robust hand and respiratory hygiene, enhanced cleaning arrangement, active engagement with NHS Test and Trace and reducing contact where possible through distancing.

How can contact be reduced?

  • Grouping children together
  • Avoiding contact between groups
  • Arranging classrooms with forward facing desks
  • Staff maintaining distance from pupils and other staff as much as possible

Advice around grouping children

Government guidance suggests that maintaining distinct groups or ‘bubbles’ that do not mix makes it quicker and easier in the event of a positive case to identify those who may need to self-isolate and keep that number as small as possible. This is in replace of measuring social distance by metre.

For the autumn term, the government will be increasing the size of these groups to make it more manageable for schools. For primary schools, the bubbles have been expanded to 30 students, and in large secondary schools the bubble may incorporate an entire year group.

Whatever the size of the group, they should be kept apart from other groups where possible and older children should be encouraged to keep their distance within groups. All teachers and other staff can operate across different classes and year groups in order to facilitate the delivery of the school timetable.

Groups should be kept apart, meaning that schools should avoid large gatherings such as 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).

Section 2: School operations

  1. Travelling to and from school

Schools should consider staggered starts or adjusting start and finish times to keep groups apart as they arrive and leave school. Staggered start and finish times should not reduce the amount of overall teaching time. A staggered start may, for example, include condensing and/or staggering free periods or break times but retaining the same amount of teaching time, or keeping the length of the day the same but starting and finishing later to avoid rush hour.

  1. Use and cleaning of school equipment

Equipment and resources are integral to education in schools. For individual and very frequently used equipment, such as pencils and pens, it is recommended that staff and students have their own items that are not shared. Classroom based resources, such as books and games, can be used and shared within the bubble; these should be cleaned regularly, along with all frequently touched surfaces. Resources that are shared between classes or bubbles, such as sports, art and science equipment should be cleaned frequently and meticulously and always between bubbles, or rotated to allow them to be left unused and out of reach for a period of 48 hours (72 hours for plastics) between use by different bubbles.

  1. Mandatory school attendance

School attendance will be mandatory again from the beginning of the autumn term. It is vital for all students to return to school to minimise the longer-term impact of the pandemic on the student’s education, wellbeing and wider development. Missing out on more time in the classroom risks students falling further behind. Those with higher overall absence tend to achieve less well in both primary and secondary school.

  1. Revising and updating safeguarding practices

Schools should consider revising their child protection policy to reflect the return of more pupils. Schools must have regard to the statutory safeguarding guidance, keeping children safe in education and should refer to the coronavirus (COVID-19): safeguarding in schools, colleges and other providers guidance.

The government suggests that designated safeguarding leads (and deputies) should be provided with more time, especially in the first few weeks of term, to help them provide support to staff and students regarding any new safeguarding and welfare concerns and the handling of referrals to children’s social care and other agencies where these are appropriate, and agencies and services should prepare to work together to actively look for signs of harm.

Communication with school nurses is important for safeguarding and supporting wellbeing, as they have continued virtual support to pupils who have not been in school.

Section 3: Curriculum, behaviour and pastoral support

Curriculum planning and expectations

The government have set out some key principles that underpin their advice on curriculum planning:

  • Education is not optional: all pupils receive a high-quality education that promotes their development and prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.
  • The curriculum remains broad and ambitious: all pupils continue to be taught a wide range of subjects, maintaining their choices for further study and employment.
  • Remote education, where needed, is high quality and aligns as closely as possible with in-school provision: schools and other settings continue to build their capability to educate pupils remotely, where this is needed.

Schools should also have a coherent plan for returning to their normal curriculum for all pupils by the summer term 2021.

£1 billion to support lost teaching time

The government have announced a package worth £1 billion to ensure that schools have the resources they need to help all pupils make up for lost teaching time, with extra support for those who need it most.

Student wellbeing and support for students returning back to school

Students may be experiencing a variety of emotions in response to the coronavirus outbreak, such as anxiety, stress or low mood. This may particularly be the case for vulnerable children. It is important to contextualise these feelings as normal responses to an abnormal situation. Some may need support to re-adjust to school; others may have enjoyed being at home and be reluctant to return; a few may be showing signs of more severe anxiety or depression. Others will not be experiencing any challenges and will be keen and ready to return to school.

The government suggest that schools consider the provision of pastoral and extra-curricular activities to all pupils designed to:

  • support the rebuilding of friendships and social engagement
  • address and equip pupils to respond to issues linked to coronavirus
  • support pupils with approaches to improving their physical and mental wellbeing

Behaviour considerations for students returning back to school

It is likely that adverse experiences and/or lack of routines of regular attendance and classroom discipline may contribute to disengagement with education upon return to school, resulting in increased incidence of poor behaviour. Schools should work with those pupils who may struggle to re-engage in school and are at risk of being absent and/or persistently disruptive. Schools should provide support for overcoming barriers to attendance and behaviour and to help them reintegrate back into school life.

Schools should set out clearly at the earliest opportunity the consequences for poor behaviour and deliberately breaking the rules and how they will enforce those rules including any sanctions.

Section 4: Assessment and accountability

Suspended Ofsted and ISI inspections

For state-funded schools, routine Ofsted inspections will remain suspended for the autumn term. However, during the autumn term, inspectors will visit a sample of schools to discuss how they are managing the return to education of all their pupils.

For independent schools, Ofsted/the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) standard inspections also remain suspended. During the autumn term, Ofsted/ISI will undertake non-routine inspections, as commissioned by the Department for Education, where appropriate.

It is intended that routine Ofsted and ISI inspections will restart from January 2021, with the exact timing being kept under review.

Exams season to take place in summer 2021

Primary assessments: It is vital that we know the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on this cohort of pupils nationally and can give support to schools that need it the most. The government therefore plan that statutory primary assessments will take place in summer 2021.

Exams: GCSEs and A levels will take place in summer 2021 but with adaptations, including those which will free up teaching time.

Section 5: Contingency planning for outbreaks

For individuals or groups of self-isolating students, remote education plans should be in place. These should meet the same expectations as those for any pupils who cannot yet attend school at all due to coronavirus. Therefore, all schools must have the capacity to offer immediate remote education.

Schools are expected to consider how to continue to improve the quality of their existing offer and have a strong contingency plan in place for remote education provision by the end of September. This planning will be particularly important to support a scenario in which the logistical challenges of remote provision are greatest, for example where large numbers of pupils are required to remain at home.

How can Impero support a hybrid learning environment?

Here at Impero, our priority is to ensure that we can support schools to ensure students continue to receive a quality education in the classroom or at home.

Being able to support student and teacher safety when they return to school is of the upmost importance. Impero Education Pro, our cross-platform classroom management solution, allows teachers to interact with students on their devices and provide any support they need remotely, whilst still adhering to social distancing requirements. Where schools can provide each student with a device, as part of a 1:1 initiative, there’s no swapping of devices between students (like in a computer lab), helping to minimise the spread of bacteria and allowing teachers and students to remain socially distanced. Read more about how Impero supports social distancing here.

Alongside this, Impero Education Pro can be configured into a remote environment, to support and monitor students who are working from home. Find out more about this capability by booking a demo below:

To read the full government guidance on opening schools in September, follow this link:

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