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Schools re-opening

ISC has produced an FAQs for schools on the practical issues arising from the current pandemic – including government support, summer exams and safeguarding – which can be accessed on the ISC member zone. However with schools having lots of questions at present around plans for re-opening, we have decided to publish our FAQs on this issue below: (note: there is also more information on this topic available to member schools on the ISC member zone)

The Prime Minister said in his statement on 10 May that there may be a partial re-opening of primary schools in England from 1 June “at the earliest”, if sufficient progress is made in tackling the disease and reducing the infection rate. The Government’s Covid 19 recovery strategy subsequently confirmed that pupils will return in stages, beginning with nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6. Schools should prepare for secondary pupils facing exams next year (Year 10 and 12) to get some face to face time with their teachers this term, while the ambition “is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible”.


The following FAQs pull-out some of the key points from the DfE guidance and answer questions schools have been raising.

Do the announcements on the re-opening of schools apply to England only?

Yes. Education is a devolved matter and there are currently no announcements on re-opening schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Does the guidance apply to independent schools?

The guidance makes clear that, “We expect all mainstream schools and colleges, including independent schools, to follow the same approach”.

How much notice will schools have on re-opening?

Schools are being asked to begin planning for re-opening from 1 June at the earliest, for the year groups specified by government. As the basis for their planning for what measures to put in place, the DfE guidance says schools should carry out a risk assessment to, “directly address risks associated with coronavirus (COVID-19), so that sensible measures can be put in place to control those risks for children and staff”.

Final decisions on re-opening will be taken by government based on progress in tackling the virus, including that the rate of infections is decreasing. Changes in timings will be announced at least 48 hours before coming into effect.

Why have these year groups been chosen?

The three year groups within mainstream primary have been prioritised by government because they are key transition years – children in Reception and year 1 are at the very beginning of their school career and are mastering the essential basics; while year 6 pupils are preparing for the transition to secondary school. In addition, the guidance says, “there is moderately high scientific confidence in evidence suggesting younger children are less likely to become unwell if infected with coronavirus (COVID-19)”.

While there are currently no plans to re-open secondary schools this term, students in Year 10 and 12 will have some face to face contact with teachers as they face major exams in summer 2021. However the guidance makes clear that, “This will not be a return to full timetables or pupils back in school or college full time, rather some support to supplement pupils’ remote education”.

What is the maximum class size?

For primary schools, the recommendation is that classes should normally be split in half, with no more than 15 pupils per small group and one teacher. This is based on state school class sizes, and clearly those in independent schools are normally smaller. The advice from the DfE is that classrooms should be at half capacity and that classes can be spread over 2 rooms if required. In addition if a school has a large sports hall for example, more than one group of children can be accommodated provided the group does not exceed 15 and different groups are kept apart. For pre-school children, the staff to child ratios within Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) continue to apply.

However, the guidance accepts that early years and primary age children cannot always be kept 2 metres apart, and hence the approach is based on, “ensuring children, young people and staff where possible, only mix in a small, consistent group and that small group stays away from other people and groups”..

Do staff need PPE?

No. The guidance on protective measures says, “The majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of 2 metres from others”. In addition, the wearing of face masks is not recommended for staff or pupils.

PPE is only recommended for staff looking after pupils whose care regularly requires use of PPE or in some instances where a pupil is showing symptoms of coronavirus.

Will pupils be fined for non-attendance?

The Government has said that they, “strongly encourage children and young people in the eligible year groups and priority groups (such as children of critical workers) to attend” school. However, parents will not be fined for non-attendance.

What if staff or pupils have underlying health conditions?

  • Pupils or staff who are ‘Clinically extremely vulnerable’ should not attend school – they should be shielding and supported to work or learn from home.
  • Children who are clinically vulnerable (individuals who are at higher risk of severe illness) should seek and follow medical advice; adults in this category should work from home where possible.

For further information see here.

Will term dates be extended?

The government has not made any announcement on the extension of term dates. However with independent schools tending to finish term earlier, the sector has said early decisions are needed if it is to meet the government’s ambition for all primary school pupils “to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible”.

Will pupils be tested?

The guidance states that, “Once settings open to more children and young people, staff and pupils in all settings will be eligible for testing if they become ill with coronavirus symptoms, as will members of their household. This will enable children and young people to get back to childcare or education, and their parents or carers to get back to work, if the test proves to be negative”.

What is the provision for year 10 and 12 pupils?

Further guidance is expected from government shortly on secondary provision. However Government has said that for Year 10 and 12 it will be some face to face contact but not “ a return to full timetables”.

Most schools will want to take this opportunity to see pupils for a number of specific purposes. These could include those who need some pastoral care, UCAS applications, missed practical work, or a small amount of teaching. How much schools do is up to them and we await the further guidance from government which should help clarify further.