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School re-opening (September 2020)

Plans for re-opening schools this September

The Government has published its plans for the full re-opening of schools this September. The Secretary of State Gavin Williamson said (in the Department for Education press release ), “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”.

To support the full re-opening, the Government has 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.
  • The government has published guidance on the use of face coverings in English schools. This re-affirms that face coverings will not generally be necessary in the classroom. However the guidance states that, “Schools and colleges will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed, if they believe that it is right in their particular circumstances”. When an area moves to the local COVID alert level ‘high’ or ‘very high’, in education settings where year 7 and above are educated, the guidance states that face coverings should be worn by adults (staff and visitors) and pupils when moving around indoors, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain.
  • 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
The Prime Minister announced a new three tier system of Covid restrictions (12 October) – although the focus remains on keeping schools open and the new announcements do not directly impact on current measures for schools. Further details of the new alert levels can be found here: medium, high, very high. The only change is that when an area moves to the local COVID alert level ‘high’ or ‘very high’, in education settings where year 7 and above are educated, guidance states that face coverings should be worn by adults (staff and visitors) and pupils when moving around indoors, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Government guidance on school restrictions during local lockdowns can be viewed in this ISC alert.

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.

Ordering home test kits

Schools should note the following information from the DfE on the ordering of home test kits (15 October):

Schools and further education providers in particularly high risk areas may be eligible for an additional delivery of coronavirus (COVID-19) test kits. These will be allocated to schools and further education providers by the Department of Health and Social Care based on the local prevalence of coronavirus (COVID-19). You will be emailed directly if you are eligible to receive these additional test kits.

Further information for all schools and further education providers on how to order additional coronavirus (COVID-19) test kits can be found in our guidance on coronavirus (COVID-19) test kits for schools and further education providers.

Test kits are only to be used in the exceptional circumstance where:
- an individual is symptomatic
- you do not think that individual would be able to access testing by the usual routes (attending a test site or applying for a home test kit)

These kits will help to ensure access to testing for symptomatic staff who are vital to the running of your education setting. They will help symptomatic staff – including those who are currently self-isolating – who test negative, and are not close contacts of confirmed cases, to get back to work as soon as they feel well enough.

It is for schools and further education providers to determine how to prioritise the distribution of their test kits in order to minimise the impact of the virus on the education of their pupils or students.

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.

Additional FAQs

In addition, ISC has also sought answers from officials on a number of other key questions. To view the answers please click here. (member login required)