The UK Government has published new guidance for schools on contingency planning for areas with local lockdowns in place. The guidance sets out that all possible measures should be taken before any restrictions are imposed on schools to maintain consistent education for children and young people.
The Department for Education has also published further guidance to help schools plan for potential ‘Tier 2’ restrictions, which will involve secondary year groups operating a rota system in order to reduce pupil numbers on-site.
The updated CONTAIN guidance sets out four tiers of restrictions for education settings, for use as an absolute last resort in areas subject to local restrictions.
Local authority leaders and directors of public health, alongside national government, would be at the centre of any decision making to move out of Tier 1 for education settings, said the department.
They would take all other possible measures, including implementing restrictions on other sectors, before considering restricting attendance in education.
If all other measures have been exhausted, Tier 2 would advise secondary schools and colleges in a restricted area to use rotas to help break chains of transmission of coronavirus, while primary schools remain open to all pupils.
Tiers 3 and 4 introduce remote learning full time for wider groups of pupils, with vulnerable children and children of critical workers continuing to attend.
The government asked schools in July to ensure they were able to provide high quality remote education that mirrors in-school education, in case any pupils were required to self-isolate or local restrictions were needed. These plans should extend to rotas if ever required.
All children are due to return to school for the autumn term and schools have been putting in place protective measures to reduce the risk of transmission.
School staff have been working to implement increased hygiene and hand-washing with children remaining in consistent groups, using measures such as staggered break times to keep groups apart.
The Government has also announced that in areas of the country currently subject to enhanced restrictions, staff and pupils in secondary schools should wear face coverings in communal areas where social distancing cannot be maintained.
Schools and colleges have begun receiving home testing kits, each receiving a pack of 10 tests, with more available to be ordered if needed. The home testing kits are to be used in exceptional circumstances such an individual with symptoms who may have barriers to accessing a test elsewhere and the home kit would significantly increase their chance of getting tested.
Schools are also receiving packs of personal protective equipment (PPE) to use in the very limited circumstances it may be required, such as when it is not possible for a staff member to maintain 2-metre distance from a pupil with a suspected case of coronavirus.
The Chief Medical Officers from all four nations in the United Kingdom publically stated that the risks to children contracting COVID-19 in school or college is extremely low and that the risks associated with not being in school or college outweighs that of not being there.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our primary focus remains supporting all schools to welcome back all pupils for the start of term and we thank teachers and staff for their hard work in preparations. We hope that we won’t have to implement the guidance set out today because the local lockdown measures we have introduced so far are working. Changes to school attendance will only ever be an absolute last resort. However, it is important that both government and schools prepare for a worst case scenario, so this framework represents the sensible contingency planning any responsible government would put in place.”
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