What We Know About School Reopenings So Far

Author: Bethany Spencer

Posted: 21 May 2020

Estimated time to read: 5 mins

The government has released guidance for schools in England who are, if the scientific evidence allows and it is considered safe to do so, planning to reopen on 1st June - after the May half term. 

We’ve been through the government’s article ‘Actions for education and childcare settings to prepare for wider reopening from June 1 2020’ and condensed the information relating to primary and secondary schools in this blog post. 

Please note, that this information has been taken from the government’s website and is based on their advice. For the purpose of our readership we have not included measures that are being put in place to support the return of childminders and early years - this is just for students in primary and secondary school. To read the government’s article in full, click here

School Reopenings 

Who is this advice for?

This advice is currently for schools in England who are set to begin the return of more pupils to schools after the May half term on 1st June.

This advice is implied for both mainstream and Independent schools.  

What year groups are supposed to be returning?

If it is considered safe to do so, in England, students in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 of primary school will begin to return to school as they are at important transition periods within their school career. The emphasis on younger aged pupils returning is due to their resistance to the virus as well as the fact that it’s not as easy for these younger children to learn at home. 

The government aspires for all primary school aged children to be back in school for a month before the summer holidays - if deemed safe. 

In secondary schools, sixth form colleges and colleges, the government wants pupils in year 10, 11 and 12 to start being exposed to some face to face support as of June 1st. 

Considerations for pupils and staff beginning to return to school

  • Children should stay within the same class group wherever possible 
  • Avoid asking students to come in during busy travel periods 
  • Utilise outside space as much as possible
  • Increase cleaning measures 
  • Reduce ‘pinch points’ - parents dropping students off at the start and finish of the school day

Are teachers and students eligible for testing?

If staff or students become ill with coronavirus symptoms they will be eligible for testing, as will members of their household. 

The same advice follows if anyone is displaying coronavirus symptoms and the affected person should self-isolate. If the test turns out to be positive schools should take rapid action to protect staff and students who may have come into contact with the affected person. 

If the test comes back negative, the affected party can return to their normal day to day routine. 

What should schools do to prepare and what measures should be put in place?

  • Schools should carry out a risk assessment before they open the school and this risk assessment should look for risks directly associated with coronavirus. 
  • Ensure class sizes are smaller in order to reduce the risk of transmission
  • The government realises it’s difficult or younger children to remain two metres apart at all times, and although this should be encouraged has also outlines additional measures that teachers should follow if 2 metres distancing cannot be achieved:
    • Avoid contact if students are displaying symptoms 
    • Encourage frequent handwashing for all parties in school
    • Minimise contact and mixing of students wherever possible 
    • Put in place more regular and frequent cleaning
  • As a general rule for mainstream schools on class sizes, they should be halved 
  • There should be one teacher for each reduced class size, if schools are experiencing teacher shortages, supply staff can be used to lead groups 
  • Different groups and classes within school should be kept away from one another 
  • If, for whatever reason, schools can not comply with the measures outlined they should speak to their LA or Trust so solutions can be met 

What we know about school reopenings

Is it compulsory for students in outlined year groups to attend school?

While eligible students, including priority groups, are encouraged to return to school in line with these guidelines, parents will not be fined for non-attendance nor will schools or colleges be held to account for their attendance levels. 

Additionally, eligible and priority students should not attend school if they are self isolating, clinically vulnerable, if they are displaying symptoms of coronavirus and if they are in a household with someone who is extremely clinically vulnerable and the student is unable to adhere to strict social or does not comprehend to situation and is unable to follow instructions. 

Vulnerable children, regardless of year group, are still encouraged to attend school and where they are not attending, schools and LAs are expected to reach out and encourage this attendance. 

What lessons should schools teach to returning students?

Due to the disruption to learning school closures has caused, and the teething problems to be expected during this phased reopening of schools, the focus on what students will be taught as they return to school is to be decided by the schools based on their best judgement and taking into consideration ‘local context and staff capacity’. Schools will not be penalised if they are unable to offer a broad and balanced curriculum at this time. 

The government have outlined the steps they expect schools to take for those pupils who are returning to school and they include:

  • Pay special attention to students’ mental health and wellbeing, providing additional support for those students who need it
  • Take time to look at where students are with their learning and decide what adjustments need to be made to the curriculum taking into account areas that may need more focus
  • Identify those children in high need groups who may need extra support 
  • Support students in year 6 who will need the help of their secondary school to assist their transition into year 7

What about staff wellbeing?

In order for staff to be able to fully support their students, their wellbeing needs to be taken into consideration. The government asks that senior leaders and governing boards look after their staff’s wellbeing as well as their own and put practices in place to promote flexible working and a positive work-life balance. 

Schools should carefully manage the workload of staff and ensure those teachers who are having to stay at home due to health conditions are able to provide effective remote education. 

How should children travel into school?

School should encourage children to walk or cycle to work wherever possible. Travel organised by schools, trusts or LAs should be reviewed and they should work together with local transport providers to create safe travel arrangements that fit in with the local circumstances. 

What about food for pupils?

The government outlines that all schools should provide food for their pupils and they should be free of charge for those students who qualify for FSMs. School kitchens should be reopened to provide students with meals and all food should be prepared and served safely. 

They are also asking schools to continue working with their food providers to provide those pupils not returning to school with food for ‘benefits-related free school meal pupils’. Food vouchers for those who are eligible will also be continued. 

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