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School opening from 8 March

Confirmation schools can test pupils for COVID before 8 March – update on 24 February

The DfE has confirmed that schools can begin testing before 8 March to manage the return of pupils. The DfE update said:

A number of schools and colleges have asked whether they can start testing pupils and students the week before Monday 8 March to help manage the flow of pupils and students through on-site assisted test sites (ATS).

Schools and colleges may start testing students and pupils before Monday 8 March if they would like to do so. This is voluntary and at the discretion of each school or college. Asymptomatic testing is an important tool for helping to break the chains of transmission of the virus and so students and pupils may go to school or college specifically for a test before Monday 8 March if their school or college offers to test them.

If a school or college chooses to start testing before Monday 8 March, they should still follow the schools operational guidance or further education guidance.

Students must maintain social distance and must go home after their test result if the test is before Monday 8 March.

Students and pupils will still need to do three tests on-site (ATS), each three to five days apart, before moving to home-testing. Schools and colleges should not start home testing students and pupils before the week beginning Monday 15 March.

Schools and colleges will need to consider the transport implications of testing before Monday 8 March.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - plans for wider opening of schools - 22 February 2021

The ISC is working closely with all of its member associations and the Boarding Schools' Association (BSA) to provide schools with advice and guidance in relation to coronavirus (COVID-19). However, please note that neither the ISC nor the other associations referenced are medical, statutory or legal authorities and advice must be read in that context.

Boris Johnson confirmed in a statement to Parliament this afternoon that all year groups will return to school on Monday 8 March. He said: "Two weeks from today, pupils and students in all schools and further education settings can safely return to face-to-face teaching."

A more detailed press release from the DfE can be read here; and detailed guidance for schools here.

The DfE guidance states: "We expect independent schools to follow the control measures set out in this guidance in the same way as state-funded schools, and health and safety legislation applies equally to independent schools."

Key points contained within the guidance are:

COVID testing for staff and pupils - there are no changes to the system of testing for primary schools. Staff in primary schools can carry out lateral flow tests at home twice a week, with no testing for primary age pupils at present. The revised arrangements for secondary schools are as follows:

  • Secondary age pupils to test three times on site when they return to school
  • Thereafter, secondary age pupils test twice a week using home testing kits
  • Staff to test twice a week with home testing kits provided from the time they return to school.

The DfE guidance provides detail on flexibilities for schools on the testing for pupils when they first return. For completeness, the whole section says: "Secondary schools should offer pupils testing at an on-site ATS (asymptomatic testing site) from 8 March. Testing and return of pupils can be phased during the first week to manage the number of pupils passing through the test site at any one time. You should offer three tests, three to five days apart.

"You have the flexibility to consider how best to deliver testing on a phased basis from 8 March, depending on your circumstances and local arrangements, but you should prioritise vulnerable children and children of critical workers, and year groups 10 to 13.

"Pupils should return to face-to-face education following their first negative test result. Pupils not undergoing testing should attend school in line with your phased return arrangements. Schools will have discretion on how to test students over that week as they return to the classroom.

"Testing is voluntary. If consent is provided, pupils will be asked to self-swab at the on-site ATS and after 30 minutes they should be informed of their results."

Wearing of facemasks - in schools where Year 7 and above are educated, it is recommended that staff and pupils wear face coverings outside the classroom and social distancing is not possible. In addition, guidance states that "face coverings should be worn in classrooms or during activities unless social distancing can be maintained". These measures will be reviewed at Easter. Children in primary school do not need to wear a face covering.

International pupils and quarantine - pupils from a 'red list' country are not yet permitted to return to school, unless they have a right to reside (in which case they would need to quarantine in a Government hotel), but all other international students are permitted to quarantine in boarding houses. Clinically extremely vulnerable and clinically vulnerable pupils/staff - pupils and staff who are clinically extremely vulnerable should not attend school. Staff who are clinically vulnerable can attend school.

Extra-curricular activities - schools can resume all before and after school educational activities and wraparound childcare, where this provision is necessary to support parents to work, attend education and access medical care, and is as part of pupils' wider education and training.

Sport - physical education and sport can continue. Competition between different schools should not take place until wider grassroots sport for under 18s is permitted.

Curriculum - schools should teach an "ambitious and broad curriculum in all subjects".

Inspection - the guidance confirms the current position, saying: "The Independent Schools Inspectorate will continue to undertake emergency, progress monitoring and material change inspections where appropriate in the spring term. The current intention is that standard inspections will not be reintroduced until the summer term."

Final announcements on plans for grading GCSE, AS and A-levels this summer
Announcements are expected later this week.

Further links

ISC coronavirus FAQs
There is a coronavirus FAQs page for schools on the Member Zone of the ISC website (login required), which is updated regularly.