The latest advice on re-opening schools
15th May 2020
For most pupils, schools have been closed since the 20th March. However, on the 10th May, the UK Prime Minister announced the roadmap towards recovery, including the latest advice and plans for the re-opening of schools for some pupils to school from the week commencing the 1st June.
Primary schools are being asked to welcome back all children currently in nursery, reception, year 1 or year 6. Secondary schools will also be asked to provide some face-to-face support for pupils in year 10 and year 12 facing exams next year to supplement their remote education. The government intend to work with sector representatives to develop models of how this could operate, and this will be published along with further guidance shortly.
Many parents, sector staff and the media have sparked many issues and concerns about this new roadmap. Why are certain year groups excluded? What protective measures will be in place to ensure the virus doesn’t spread further in a school setting? Will attendance be compulsory? We have addressed these issues below, following the latest advice:
Why are certain year groups going back in the first phase?
The rate of infection remains too high to allow the full opening of schools for all pupils yet.
Pupils in Reception and Year 1 are at the very beginning of their school career and are mastering the essential basics, including counting and the fundamentals of reading and writing, and learning to socialise with their peers, this is crucial to their development andit is important for this to continue. Year 6 pupils are finishing Key Stage 2 and are preparing for the transition to secondary school and will benefit immensely from time with their friends and teachers to ensure they are ready. Year 10 and 12 pupils have been prioritised because they are preparing for key examinations next year and in order not to fall behind, due to time out of school or college, doors will be reopened for these students to help close that attainment gap.
There are many innovative ways to learn outside the formal school or college setting, and those who aren’t being asked to return to school or college immediately will continue to be educated remotely. The UK Government has created a list of many resources to support remote learning, these include:
- A list of educational online resources which have been identified by some of the country’s leading educational experts to help pupils to learn at home: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-online-education-resources/coronavirus-covid-19-list-of-online-education-resources-for-home-education
- Enhanced education provision from the BBC to include daily lessons: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize
- A package of support by the Oak National Academy, a sector led initiative to support teachers educating their pupils remotely: https://www.thenational.academy/
How will pupils follow social distancing rules?
Unlike older children and adults, early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain 2m apart from each other and staff. The government are taking this into account when deciding to bring more children back to early years and schools.
As a result, class sizes will be smaller, creating more space for pupils and teachers, and pupils will only mix with their small group. For primary schools, classes should normally be split in half, with no more than 15 pupils per small group and one teacher (and, if needed, a teaching assistant). Vulnerable children and children of critical workers in other year groups should also be split into small groups of no more than 15. Where desks are used, they should be spaced as far apart as possible.
Schools will implement protective measures designed to reduce the risk of transmission, including increasing cleaning and reducing ‘pinch points’ in the school day such as breaktimes, pick-up and drop-off.
The government have followed the best scientific latest advice on this and looked at what other countries are doing when drawing up this guidance.
However, according to a recent survey, almost three-quarters of school staff say social distancing in UK schools is “impossible”. As there is a mix of age groups and behaviours, alongside limited space, teachers stress that it may become difficult to manage social distancing strictly and consistently.
Should teachers be wearing PPE?
Wearing a face covering or face mask in schools or other education settings is not recommended by the latest advice from the government. Face coverings may be beneficial for short periods indoors where there is a risk of close social contact with people you do not usually meet and where social distancing and/or other measures cannot be maintained, for example on public transport or in some shops. This does not apply to schools or other education settings.
This is very contrasting to the views of teachers, who believe strongly that their health should not be put at risk as schools re-open. Teachers are demanding personal protective equipment as a “pre-condition” for schools re-opening.
Will attendance be compulsory?
While the government are strongly encouraging children in eligible groups to attend, they will not penalise people for keeping their children at home. Parents will not be fined for non-attendance at this time, and schools and colleges will not be held to account for attendance levels. Parents can decide themselves whether they want to send their students to school but should consider the education of their children first.
For more information and the latest advice on the actions for schools to prepare for wider opening from the 1st June, further guidance and documentation is available on the government website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-educational-and-childcare-settings-to-prepare-for-wider-opening-from-1-june-2020