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School re-opening and the November lockdown

Guidance for schools on operating during the November national lockdown

The Department for Education has published guidance for schools and early years providers on operating during the month-long lockdown in England (5 November – 2 December).

The guidance again emphasises that it continues to be the Government’s aim that “all pupils, in all year groups, remain in school full-time”. Schools are advised to undertake risk assessments based on the new guidance adding: “If schools follow the guidance and maximise control measures, they can be confident they are managing risk effectively.”

The main points in the new guidance for schools are:

  • On boarding schools and pupils travelling home it says: “Residential providers should support students to reduce travel between home and educational accommodation unless absolutely necessary. Where students normally travel between their boarding school and home during term time for the purpose of education, this is allowed.”
  • Face coverings: There is no change in the rules for schools teaching Year 6 and below – it is not mandatory for staff and visitors to wear face coverings, though the school has the discretion to require them to when moving around communal areas; in schools that teach Year 7 and above, “face coverings should be worn by adults and pupils when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained”. In addition: “Face coverings should also be worn by pupils in Year 7 and above when travelling on dedicated school transport to secondary school or college.”
  • Clinically extremely vulnerable children and staff: Those children whose doctors have confirmed they are still clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to attend education whilst the national restrictions are in place. Similarly clinically extremely vulnerable staff are advised to work from home.
  • Clinically vulnerable staff and children: Staff and children who are clinically vulnerable, or have underlying health conditions but are not clinically extremely vulnerable, may continue to attend school in line with current guidance.
  • Sport and physical education: Schools have the flexibility to decide how physical education, sports and physical activity will be provided whilst following the measures in their system of controls. Sports whose national governing bodies have developed guidance under the principles of the Government’s guidance on team sport - and have been approved by the Government - are permitted.
  • Music, dance and drama can be undertaken in school so long as safety precautions are undertaken.
  • Extra-curricular activities: The guidance says, “Schools and colleges can and should be continuing to offer before and after school or college activities and clubs for their pupils, in order to enable parents to work, seek work, or to undertake education or training, and for the purposes of respite care (for vulnerable children)”. Furthermore it adds, “Schools may also continue to offer before and after school educational provision to their pupils (including PE, sport, music, dance and drama)”.
  • Testing for entry to selective schools: The guidance says, “Tests can continue to be run for entry to selective schools. We consider travel to such tests to be essential travel”. Guidance on assessment processes for selective school admissions is also available.

ISC and associations remain in contact with the DfE and will continue to raise queries or points of clarification on behalf of schools.

Revised measures for schools from 2 December

Once England reverts to the revised tier system after 2 December, schools should continue to adhere to the DfE’s main guidance document for the full re-opening of schools. Early years settings, schools, colleges and universities remain open in all tiers.

A number of revisions have been made to the main schools guidance document and which will take effect from 2 December:

- Face coverings: The government is not recommending universal use of face coverings in all schools. In the medium alert level, schools that teach year 7 and above have discretion “to require face coverings for pupils, staff and visitors in indoor areas outside the classroom where social distancing cannot easily be maintained”. This becomes mandatory for schools that teach year 7 and above in high alert or very high alert areas.

- Transport: The guidance confirms that children and young people aged 11 and over must wear a face covering when travelling on dedicated transport to secondary school.

- Attendance - self isolating and shielding: The guidance states, “The advice for pupils who remain in the clinically extremely vulnerable group is that they should return to school from 2 December at all local restriction tiers unless they are one of the very small number of pupils or students under paediatric or NHS care (such as recent transplant or very immunosuppressed children) and have been advised specifically by their GP or clinician not to attend an education setting”. It also says that, “All staff can continue to attend school in all three local restriction tiers”, although schools may wish to discuss flexibilities with clinically extremely vulnerable staff in very high alert areas such as staggered start times to reduce travel during rush hour.

- Educational visits: Schools are still advised not to take pupils on domestic overnight visits, though this will be reviewed in February 2021 with possibility that such visits could resume at Easter.

- Sport and physical education: Schools have the flexibility to decide how physical education, sport and physical activity will be provided whilst following the measures in their system of controls. Sports whose national governing bodies have developed guidance under the principles of the Government’s guidance on team sport - and have been approved by the Government - are permitted.

Contingency Framework

The Government has also published an updated contingencies framework setting out further restrictions that may be placed on schools (including independent schools) in instances where they are required to address transmission within education settings and the community. This replaces to the previous Contain framework.

The updated framework stresses that imposing further restrictions would be “rare”. Decisions will be taken by DfE Ministers, and “should not be used to address operational challenges, including staff shortages”.

If contingency measures are put in place locally, they would impact settings in the following way:

- Primary schools: Where the contingency framework is implemented, primary schools should continue allowing all children to attend. In the very unlikely event that evidence supports limiting attendance in primary schools, DfE may advise that only vulnerable children and children of critical workers should be allowed to attend.

- Middle schools: Where the contingency framework is implemented, middle schools (with some primary and secondary year groups) may be advised to adopt a combined approach such as all pupils in primary year groups attending but only vulnerable children and children of critical workers in older year groups. High-quality remote education should be provided for all other pupils.

- Secondary schools: Where the contingency framework is implemented, secondary schools should only allow vulnerable children, children of critical workers, pupils in years 11 and 13 and other pupils due to take external exams this academic year, to attend. High-quality remote education should be provided for all other pupils.

- Boarding schools: Where the contingency framework is implemented, boarding schools should follow the guidance for primary and secondary schools above for determining which children should be taught in the classroom. Children who are not to be taught in classrooms but who cannot return home should receive high-quality remote education in their boarding houses.

Plans for re-opening schools in September 2020

To support the full re-opening of schools in September, the Government published the following pieces of guidance:

Key points from the schools guidance are:

  • It states, “We expect independent schools to follow the control measures set out in this document in the same way as state-funded schools”.
  • The guidance builds on the hierarchy of protective measures used during the pandemic, but adds that, “School leaders will be best placed to understand the needs of their schools and communities, and to make informed judgments about how to balance delivering a broad and balanced curriculum with the measures needed to manage risk”.
  • Bubbles in secondary school can be a whole year group, and a whole class in primary school
  • All teachers and other staff can operate across different classes and year groups in order to facilitate the delivery of the school timetable.
  • Staff should socially distance from other staff and pupils where possible – while accepting this is more practical at secondary level; children who are old enough should also social distance.
  • Local health protection teams will provide advice on who needs to self-isolate should a pupil or member of staff test positive for Covid 19 – with a focus on those who have been in close contact with the infected person
  • School attendance will be mandatory again from the beginning of the autumn term. Additional DfE guidance on managing attendance can be read here. The DfE has also published additional guidance for recording pupil attendance during the 2020/21 academic year. This reaffirms that pupil attendance at school will be compulsory and introduces a new category for recording pupil absence – “not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (Covid-19)”. Examples are provided within the guidance of when this new category should be used.
  • Schools are advised to, “Teach an ambitious and broad curriculum in all subjects from the start of the autumn term, but make use of existing flexibilities to create time to cover the most important missed content”.
  • The expectation is that routine Ofsted and ISI inspections will restart from January 2021 – before then ISI may carry out some non-routine inspections based on individual circumstances

Resources for managing safe return

A DfE action sheet setting out steps schools should take if a child display symptoms of coronavirus or tests positive can be read here. instead of calling your local health protection team when there is a confirmed case, schools should instead call the DfE’s helpline (0800 046 8687) where you will be directed to the dedicated NHS advice team for nurseries, schools and colleges with confirmed cases. However, the DfE have also said that, “Where more detailed local arrangements are in place with your local authority, and are working, you can continue to receive support through that route to take action in response to a positive case”.

The Joint Biosecurity Centre has produced a series of posters for the education sector setting out steps to take in the event of a confirmed Covid-19 case in a school. These can be downloaded here.

A letter from Public Health England providing advice to schools on when to test pupils can be read here. Guidance is also available on the use and storage of home test kits by schools. With demand for Covid tests currently outstripping supply, and causing understandable frustration for schools, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced a system of prioritisation for tests. NHS staff and care homes are the highest priority, but teachers will be given priority over the general public. A government paper providing some further details can be read here.

Public Health England has produced a letter for schools to distribute to parents which explains when a child requires a coronavirus test and what the symptoms of coronavirus are. The letter is intended to answer some of the questions parents may have around testing and when a child should be tested. You can download the letter here. The letter also signposts NHS guidance on when a child may be too ill to attend school.

The DfE has issued guidance on the use of the new NHS COVID-19 app in schools. The app is available to download for anyone aged 16 and over if they choose to do so, and so could be used by older pupils and staff. The app forms part of the NHS Test and Trace service, and will alert people when they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus so they can take action. Please note, people in England are now required by law to self-isolate if they test positive or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

To support schools in re-assuring parents about returning to school, the government has produced a communications pack which is available here. Parents are encouraged to visit gov.uk/backtoschool for information and practical guidance to help them plan for their children’s return to school.

Remote Learning

The Government’s new legal directive requiring schools to provide remote education “where a class, group of pupils, or individual pupils need to self-isolate, or there are local or national restrictions requiring pupils to remain at home”, does not apply to independent schools. The focus is “state-funded, school-age children” , however it does apply to non-maintained special schools and pupils at independent schools “whose places at those schools are wholly paid for out of public funds”. To support the new requirements, the government has published a remote education good practice guide which member schools may find useful.