What will schools look like when they reopen to all children in September?

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent

The Government has published safety advice for schools in England ahead of a full return in September.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has unveiled his much-anticipated detailed plan for how to get all children in all year groups back to the classroom in the autumn term after up to six months at home.

Here are the main points from the Department for Education (DfE) guidance:

– How will the number of contacts between children and staff be minimised?

Schools in England have been told to keep classes or whole year groups apart in separate “bubbles”.

Primary schools are encouraged to have bubbles that include a whole class, while secondary schools are likely to need bubbles that consist of an entire year group so the full range of subjects can be delivered.

Older children will also be encouraged to keep their distance within groups of students and from staff.

Schools have also been advised to stagger break and lunch times, as well as start and finish times, to keep groups apart and avoid creating busy corridors, entrances and exits.

– How are children expected to get to school?

Students have been advised to keep their use of public transport to a minimum in the autumn.

Parents, staff and pupils will be encouraged to walk or cycle to school if at all possible – and schools have been told to consider using “walking buses” to reduce the use of public transport.

On dedicated school buses, the “one-metre plus” social distancing rule will not be required. Instead, schools should consider whether pupils can be grouped in their “bubbles” on the designated transport.

– What activities are likely to be avoided in the autumn?

Schools should avoid large gatherings, such as assemblies or collective worship with more than one group.

The advice also says singing, wind and brass playing should not take place in larger groups, such as school choirs and ensembles, as there may be an additional risk of infection.

Students will be asked to sit at forward-facing desks, rather than face-to-face at circular tables.

– What measures will be taken if there is a Covid-19 case in school?

By the autumn, all schools will be provided with a small number of testing kits that they can give to parents collecting a child who has developed symptoms.

The whole school, or all pupils in a year group, may have to self-isolate at home if a school has two or more confirmed coronavirus cases within a fortnight.

But the guidance insists that school closures “may not be necessary” if there are a number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 on site if schools implement the recommended controls.

If there is an outbreak, mobile testing units will be sent to schools to test anyone who has been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

– What happens if there is a local lockdown?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson joins a socially distanced lesson during a visit to Bovingdon Primary School in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire (Steve Parsons/PA)

Every school will need to plan for the possibility of a local lockdown to ensure education continues.

The Government expects schools to have the capacity to offer immediate remote education if there is a local lockdown – or if a group of pupils need to self-isolate.

Schools should have a strong contingency plan in place for remote education by the end of September.

– Does my child have to attend school in September?

School attendance will be mandatory again from the beginning of the autumn term, which means parents could face fines if they decide to keep their child off school.

This week, Mr Williamson said families may face financial penalties if they keep their children at home, unless there is a “good reason” for the absence.

It is down to school heads to record whether an absence is unauthorised.

– Will the curriculum and exams look different in the next academic year?

GCSE and A-level exams are set to go ahead – but Ofqual is looking to push back the start date for the GCSE exams to June 7.

In exceptional circumstances, a Year 11 pupil could be allowed to discontinue a subject if the school judges that they would perform significantly better in their other subjects – such as English and mathematics.

Substantial modification to the curriculum may be needed at the start of the year so teaching time can be prioritised to address significant gaps in pupils’ knowledge.

Pupils starting secondary school in Year 7 in September may need to be taught essential knowledge and skills from the primary school curriculum to address gaps in English and maths.

– What will happen to breakfast and after-school clubs?

The guidance says schools should consider resuming any breakfast and after-school provision from the start of the autumn term to support working parents and ensure vulnerable children have healthy meals.

Schools should look at how they can make the provision work alongside their wider protective measures, including keeping children within their year groups or bubbles where possible.

But if it is not possible to maintain the bubbles used during the school day, then schools should instead use small, consistent groups, the advice says.

– What is happening in the other devolved nations?

Last week, Wales became the first country in the United Kingdom to reopen its primary and secondary schools for all pupils since they closed in March.

The Scottish Government aims to have all children back in school on a full-time basis on August 11.

The education minister in Northern Ireland hopes to be able to change school reopening plans to allow for a full return to the classroom in the autumn.

Under current plans, schools must comply with one-metre social distancing guidance for pupils when classes restart at the end of August.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting.