Current restrictions on group sizes will be lifted to allow schools, colleges and nurseries in England to fully reopen to all children and young people, as COVID-19 infection rates continue to fall.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has published guidance that provides schools, colleges and nurseries with the details needed to plan for a full return.
COVID-19 secure measures will remain in place to reduce the risk of transmission, with schools being asked to keep children in class or year group sized ‘bubbles’ and encourage older children to keep their distance from each other and staff where possible. These measures would be implemented alongside protective measures such as regular cleaning and hand washing.
Where there is a positive COVID-19 case in a school or college, the Public Health England local health protection team will advise on the appropriate action, which could include small groups of young people and staff being asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days. Where there are two or more confirmed cases in a two-week period, health protection teams may ask a larger number of other children or young people to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure.
Where an outbreak in a school is confirmed, for specific detailed investigations a mobile testing unit may be dispatched to test others who may have been in contact with the person who has tested positive. Testing will first focus on the person’s class, followed by their year group, then the whole school if necessary.
All staff, pupils and their families will continue to have access to testing if they develop COVID-19 symptoms and schools will be provided with easy to use home testing kits for children and staff who would otherwise be unable to get a test.
Schools will be expected to have plans in place to offer remote education to pupils who are self-isolating.
For nurseries, childminders, and other early years providers, restrictions on group sizes will be lifted from 20 July, increasing capacity from the start of the summer holiday.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I know these past three months have been some of the most challenging that schools have faced. What they have achieved to make sure that young people are kept safe and can continue to learn during this period is remarkable, and I am incredibly grateful for that.
“Nothing can replace being in the classroom, so ever since schools, colleges and nurseries closed to most children, we have been working hard to ensure they can reopen as soon as possible. We have already seen more than 1.5 million children and young people return, but we must make sure all pupils can go back to school in September, giving them the opportunity to thrive and fulfill their potential. I want to reassure parents and families that we are doing everything we can to make sure schools, nurseries, colleges and other providers are as safe as possible for children and staff, and will continue to work closely with the country’s best scientific and medical experts to ensure that is the case.”
The guidance has been developed in close consultation with the sector and medical experts from Public Health England. Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries, said: “A child’s education is essential to their healthy development. We know that missing too much school can have a negative impact on children’s mental and physical wellbeing. Everybody wants children to be safe and thankfully as we have learned more about COVID-19, the evidence has shown that the risk of severe disease in children is low. However, although the number of COVID-19 cases has declined, it is still in general circulation, so it important we ensure schools implement sensible precaution to reduce potential transmission of COVID-19 and minimise any risk to teachers and their pupils.”
Schools will need to work with families to secure full attendance from the start of the new academic year, with the reintroduction of mandatory attendance.
To help pupils catch up on lost learning, schools will be required to resume teaching a broad and balanced curriculum in all subjects, making use of existing flexibilities to create time to address gaps in knowledge. Schools should consider how all subjects could contribute to filling gaps in core knowledge.
Exams will take place in 2021 and Ofqual is consulting on arrangements for those exams, including measures to mitigate any impact on pupils from time out of school.
Ofsted will carry out visits to schools in the autumn term to discuss how they are supporting the return to education for their pupils, with routine inspections planned to restart in January 2021.
The guidance applies to all mainstream schools, alternative provision, independent schools and boarding schools and sets out advice on how they can minimise contact and mixing. Separate guidance has also been published for special schools.
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