Schools are open: all you need to know about Covid-19 testing and face mask rules
All school pupils in England will return to class today, the Prime Minister has confirmed, with mass testing of secondary school and college students taking place twice a week.
However, students who test positive for coronavirus in rapid home tests will receive a subsequent test that could allow them to return to class, No 10 has confirmed after a minister sparked confusion.
Meanwhile, secondary school students will not be forced to wear face coverings in classrooms, as some will be “anxious and nervous” about wearing them, Ms Ford said on March 8.
On Feb 22, Boris Johnson confirmed the easing of lockdown restrictions as part of a gradual roadmap for reopening that will see Covid-19 restrictions eased over four steps spread across at least four months.
The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference that the return to schools marked a “big day and an emotional day” for millions of families across England.
He said: “We all know that the education of our children is so important that the greater risk now is keeping them out of school for a day longer.
“I want to thank all the teachers who have got their schools ready and who have been teaching throughout the period – whether that is remotely or in person. Your work has been astonishing.”
Breakfast and after-school clubs can also reopen, and other children’s activities including sport can restart where necessary to help parents to work.
Families and childcare bubbles will be encouraged to get tested regularly.
Students in foundation phase in Wales and those in Primary Years 1 to 3 in Scotland resumed face-to-face learning on Feb 22. From Mar 15, the next phase of school returns in Scotland – including primary and some secondary students – will begin, with all pupils given at least some in-school teaching in that time, before full-time schooling returns after the Easter holidays.
Some primary school pupils in Northern Ireland will also return to class today, while secondary pupils in key exam years will return to school on Mar 22.
Mr Johnson’s optimism on school reopening is built on the success of the vaccination programme, as more than 23 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine in the UK as of Mar 8.
What is the Government planning to help children catch up?
Boris Johnson has announced an extra £400 million of funding – on top of the £300 million pledged in January – to help pupils make up lost learning time following months of school closures.
As part of the recovery package, summer provision will be introduced for pupils who need it the most, such as incoming Year 7 pupils, whilst one-to-one and small group tutoring schemes will be expanded.
The programme includes a one-off £302 million “Recovery Premium” for primary and secondary schools to support disadvantaged pupils – which could include running additional clubs and activities in the summer, or opting for evidence-based approaches to help children from September.
A further £200 million will be available to secondary schools to deliver face-to-face summer schools.
The Government has also appointed an education recovery tsar, Sir Kevan Collins, to address the amount of learning children have missed out on during the pandemic. Sir Collins will head up a team of experts who will draw up proposals on how to help children catch up.
In an interview with the BBC, Sir Kevan said: “I think we need to think about the extra hours not only for learning, but for children to be together, to play, to engage in competitive sport, for music, for drama because these are critical areas which have been missed in their development.”
The Department of Education announced on Feb 25 that exam boards will prepare a series of test papers for every subject, but teachers will be allowed to choose whether or not to use them to inform their predicted grades.
Should the teacher decide to use the exam questions, students will not need to answer them under exam conditions and teachers have discretion as to whether they are answered in the classroom or at home.
The Education Secretary told the Commons on Feb 25 that it is important to make sure the “system is fair to every student”, adding: “It is vital they have confidence they will get the grade that is a true and just reflection of their work.
“Exam boards will be issuing grade descriptions to help teachers make sure their assessments are fair and consistent. These will be broadly pegged to performance standards from previous years so teachers and students are clear on what is expected at each grade.
“By doing this, combined with a rigorous quality assurance process, are just two of the ways this system will ensure greater fairness and consistency. Quality assurance by the exam boards will provide a meaningful check in the system and make sure we can root out malpractice.”
Grades will be submitted to the exam board by Jun 18 to maximise teaching time, and results days for GCSE and A-Level students on Aug 10 and Aug 12 respectively.
Secondary school and college students will be tested for Covid-19 four times over the first two weeks of term and they will then be asked to carry out the rapid coronavirus tests at home twice a week.
57 million tests have been distributed to schools and pupils in secondary schools and colleges will be asked to use a lateral flow device when they return on Mar 8 – if they test negative, they will be allowed to resume face-to-face classes. Primary school children will not need to take a rapid coronavirus test.
The clarification came after children’s minister Vicky Ford suggested there would be no PCR tests at all.
Sheila Bird, a member of the Royal Statistical Society that produced a new paper on the accuracy of lateral flow tests, said that every positive quick-result test of a school pupil should be double checked with a PCR test to ensure it was accurate.
The paper, published on Mar 5, also warns the opposite – that 60 per cent of positive cases may be missed by the tests, meaning people could be inadvertently spreading the virus among peers.
So-called “bubbles” were created so youngsters could learn and mix with fellow pupils. Large assemblies or collective worship should not include more than one group, and break and lunch times should be staggered to keep bubbles apart. Ensuring these “distinct groups do not mix” makes it quicker and easier to identify contacts if a positive coronavirus case emerges or someone has symptoms.
The bubbles can be larger, increasing to whole “year bubbles”, if teaching demands require it. Books, games and shared equipment can be used within that group, but must be cleaned if then used by another bubble.
Older children will be encouraged to avoid close contact with one another. Teachers are not restricted to a single bubble, but are urged to stay at the front of any classroom to reduce contact. In class, pupils must sit spaced out side-by-side and facing forward.
The use of the staff room by teachers is also meant to be “minimised”.
If a pupil or teacher has symptoms or a positive diagnosis
Schools must contact local health protection teams immediately so those in close contact with the child can be traced. Currently, pupils in a bubble, year groups and (very rarely) the entire school could be asked to self-isolate. A mobile testing unit could also be sent to a campus.
If a parent insists a child with symptoms should attend school, the headteacher can refuse to take the pupil if they believe there is a threat to others.
Do children need to wear face coverings during class?
Face masks should be worn in the classroom where it is impossible for secondary students to keep two metres apart, the Government has said.
Ministers are recommending the use of face masks in “all indoor environments” in secondary schools, colleges and universities – including during lessons – where social distancing cannot be maintained.
However, Children’s minister Vicky Ford said that while secondary school students should be “strongly encouraged” to wear masks, their use is not mandatory.
Asked whether schools where there is not much mask-wearing should close, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on March 8: “No, I think that we should strongly encourage them to wear the masks, I think the vast majority of young people, they get this.
“But there will be some who will be very anxious and nervous about doing so and that’s why we understand that and that is why we have not made it mandatory but we have strongly encouraged this.”