Keep your distance from older pupils, teachers told, as Government unveils back-to-school plan

ANNA DAVIS, NIcholas Cecil
·3-min read

Teachers are to be told to keep their distance from colleagues and older pupils as schools fully return in September.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today unveiled the Government’s plan for all pupils to begin classes again in the autumn. The new school guidance sets out a range of measures to protect children and staff as Mr Williamson sought to stress safety.

He said: “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.”

Coaches are to be laid on to get pupils to school , so that public transport can be avoided — given constraints on buses, the Tube and trains because of social-distancing requirements. More pupils are being urged to walk.

Under the guidance, teachers will be advised to distance from each other and older students where possible. In particular, they should avoid close face-to-face contact and minimise time spent within one metre of anyone.

Primary school “bubbles” of pupils will increase from 15 to about 30, in secondary schools they could be the whole year group. Older children will be told to keep their distance from each other and staff where possible.

Rules will minimise contact in corridors, cleaning will be more frequent, and more handwashing encouraged. The use of shared items will be reduced. Attendance will be mandatory, though, headteachers have made clear that at least initially parents will not be fined for not sending their children to school. A broad and balanced curriculum will be taught in all subjects so that pupils can catch up on lost learning.

If a pupil tests positive for Covid-19, small groups of children and staff may be asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days.

If there are two or more confirmed cases in a two-week period, larger groups may be told to self-isolate as a precautionary measure.

If there is an outbreak, the whole school could be tested, and large numbers of pupils told to self-isolate, but the school is unlikely to close in most cases.

Mobile testing units could be dispatched to schools with outbreaks. Testing would first focus on the person’s class, followed by their year group, then the whole school if necessary. Home-testing kits will be made available if needed. Schools will be expected to offer remote education to pupils who are self-isolating.

Nurseries and childminders will be able to welcome back more children from July 20, when restrictions on class sizes are lifted.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (AFP via Getty Images)
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (AFP via Getty Images)

Exams will take place in 2021 and Ofqual is consulting on arrangements for them. Ofsted staff will visit schools in the autumn, with formal inspections restarting in January.

GCSE exams could be delayed next year by a few weeks, to start on June 7, to allow pupils more time to catch up.

More optional questions could also be used in test papers under proposals unveiled by England’s exams regulator.

Vicky Bingham, head of South Hampstead High School, said the emphasis on keeping children in bubbles rather than maintaining social distancing will make life more complicated.

She said: “Managing different start times, finish times, break times and lunchtimes for different year groups requires significant logistical overhaul. The challenge is getting the staff to the right children at the right time because staff don’t teach just one year group! They may teach seven different year groups.”

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