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School opening – operational guidance

System of controls (10 May 2021)

Pupils will no longer be required to wear face coverings in schools and colleges from 17 May, the prime minister confirmed in a press conference on Monday afternoon (10 May). Staff are not required to wear face coverings in the classroom but should continue to wear them in communal areas such as the staff room, where social distancing may not be possible.

All other protective measures such as ventilation and social distancing where possible will remain in place and regular rapid testing will continue to help find and isolate asymptomatic cases when they do occur.

The Government also announced that from 17 May residential educational visits can take place within the UK. However, the DfE recommends schools and colleges do not plan for international visits to take place up to and including 5 September, recognising the logistical difficulties that will remain in place this academic year regarding overseas travel with groups of children.

For further information see:

Face coverings in schools and updated school guidance (6 April 2021)

The government confirmed that face coverings should continue to be worn in secondary school classrooms as a precautionary measure when students return after the Easter break. It is expected that face coverings will no longer be required to be worn in classrooms, or by students in other communal areas, at Step 3 of the roadmap, which will be no earlier than Monday 17 May. At that point the next stage of easements, including increased social contact indoors, will be confirmed following a review of the latest data on infection and vaccination rates. It will also allow time for the vaccination programme to reach everyone in priority groups one to nine with their first dose before any change is committed.

All changes will be confirmed with one week’s notice and all other safety measures will remain in place, including regular asymptomatic testing, smaller group bubbles, increased hygiene, ventilation, and social distancing where possible.

Other recent updates to the DfE’s operational guidance for schools include:

  • NHS Test and Trace is reintroducing confirmatory PCR testing for positive LFD tests conducted at all assisted testing sites, including schools and colleges. This means that all staff, pupils and students who get a positive LFD test, whether at home or supervised at their school or college, should get a confirmatory PCR. The PCR test should be booked immediately either online or by calling 119 and should be undertaken within 2 days.
  • Shielding advice has been paused nationally from 31 March. All CEV pupils should attend their school unless they are one of the very small number of pupils under paediatric or other specialist care and have been advised by their GP or clinician not to attend.

In addition, the Prime Minister announced that from Friday 9 April all people in England will be able to access twice weekly rapid tests for coronavirus immediately. This does not change the arrangements for staff and students in schools, colleges or nurseries.

COVID testing - update on 5 March

Shortage of COVID test kits

A number of schools have been in contact with the ISC or associations about shortages of home testing kits for staff. We have been in contact with the DfE, which is working to send emergency replenishments to those schools who have raised concerns. These will be sent out as soon as possible although it may take up to a week due to other scheduled deliveries going out at the same time. Moving forward, the advice is as follows:

  • The DfE advises that if secondary schools do not receive sufficient home test kits in time, they should use on-site asymptomatic testing sites for staff until they receive the additional self-test kits for their workforce
  • Schools can contact the DfE helpline (0800 046 8687) to order more home test kits (the website ordering form is only for on-site test kits at present)
  • The DfE will update its data on staff numbers in schools either through the information on schools experiencing shortages that the ISC has provided directly to officials, or when schools contact the DfE helpline
  • The delivery schedule for secondary schools to receive home test kits for pupils can be found here. Schools will begin receiving kits from Monday 8 March, and the DfE has advised that schools can give any surplus test kits to staff for home testing until further deliveries arrive.

Registering for the COVID testing system

The DfE has contacted us about a small number of schools within membership of the ISC's constituent associations who have yet to register their school on the testing system or who have registered but have not uploaded any results. Engaging in the testing programme is part of the system of controls set out by Public Health England to create a safer environment in schools. We would urge any school that has not yet engaged with the testing programme to do so and to contact the DfE helpline if they are experiencing difficulties (0800 046 8687).

Further information on testing

The testing arrangements for schools are as follows:

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.

Secondary schools

  • Secondary age pupils to test three times on-site when they return to school (testing can begin prior to 8 March)
  • 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.

Useful links

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

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.