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Thu, 22 October 2020

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At a glance: The changes schools must make before they welcome back all pupils in September

At a glance: The changes schools must make before they welcome back all pupils in September

All schools are expected to reopen from September (PA)

6 min read

The Government is asking schools reopen for all pupils full-time from the start of the autumn term, and have issued guidance on how they can make classrooms and campuses Covid-secure.

How will social distancing work in schools?

To minimise the contact between individuals, schools are advised to divide pupils into separate groups or ‘bubbles’ consisting of either year groups or individual classes. 

It is also recommended that lesson, break, start and finish times are staggered to prevent crowding in corridors or playgrounds and to minimise contact between groups. Assemblies and group worship consisting of more than one bubble are also not advised.

However, the approach should not be “all or nothing”. The guidance says schools should “endeavour” to keep groups separate, adding that “minimising contacts between children will still offer public health benefits as it reduces the network of possible direct transmission”.

Groups can share toilet facilities, but these should be cleaned regularly and pupils must be encouraged to clean their hands thoroughly after using the toilet.

What changes need to be made in classrooms?

Classrooms should be rearranged with forward-facing desks with pupils spaced two metres apart where possible. The current 15-child cap on class sizes will no longer be in place, so students should be in their normal class groups.

Teachers should sit at the front of the class and maintain social distancing from students and colleagues when they are able. However, it is acceptable to relax these rules when circumstances require, such as for younger children or students with additional needs.

How can schools slow the spread of the virus?

Schools should ensure pupils clean their hands regularly, especially when they arrive at school, return from breaks, switch classrooms or after eating. Additional handwashing or hand sanitiser stations may also need to be set up. 

Hygiene expectations must be communicated to pupils, and it is recommended that leaders build it into school routines and culture. 

Throughout educational settings, additional cleaning schedules should be implemented, particularly focusing on rooms shared between groups or surfaces that are frequently touched. 

The guidance does not recommend wearing masks within the school, but does advise that measures are put in place for the safe removal of masks for those arriving on public transport.

It will not be necessary to make significant adaptations to school buildings or deliver any of education on other sites, the guidance claims. All recommendations will be at the discretion of individual schools, based on their particular circumstances.

Can students take public transport?

It is mandatory to wear face coverings on public transport in England for anyone over the age of 11. The use of public transport by school pupils should be kept to a minimum, particularly at peak times. Schools should work with transport providers, local authorities, parents and pupils to both reduce the demand and manage the capacity of local networks.

Measures such as staggered start times, ‘walking buses’, or safe cycling routes could be considered. For some families, driving children to school will also be an option.

On dedicated school transport, children should be kept one metre apart where possible and additional measures such as hand sanitiser points, extra cleaning and organising boarding should be considered.

What changes will be made to examinations and the curriculum?

Department of Education advice states that curriculums should still be “broad and ambitious”, and schools should offer “high quality” remote learning where needed. 

Up to and including key stage 3, teachers should prioritise the most important components of a curriculum, rather than removing subjects within the curriculum itself. 

Year 10 and 11 pupils are expected to continue to study their examination subjects, but some students can drop certain subjects in exceptional circumstances to ensure better results in key areas such as English and maths.

Sports and physical education can go ahead, but should be held outside or in large indoor spaces where possible.

Non-overnight school trips can resume from September,  but overnight and overseas trips are not advised. Infection control should be considered as part of risk assessments for such trips. 

Exams are expected to take place as normal in summer 2021, but with adaptations to help free up teaching time and accommodate pupil catch up. Ofqual will launch a consultation on proposed adaptations to exams shortly.

All schools are expected to develop remote education that is integrated into the wider curriculum. This should be available for pupils required to self-isolate, and in place in the event of a school-wide lockdown. 

Normal teaching structure should commence in all subjects by the 2021 summer term. 

It is expected that a primary assessment will take place in summer 2021 to help understand the impact of the 2020 lockdown on this cohort of pupils nationally.

What happens if a child/teacher develops coronavirus symptoms?

If a child develops symptoms at school they should be sent home and advised to get tested for Covid-19. While the child is waiting to get collected by a parent or guardian, they should be isolated from staff and peers. 

Any members of staff who have helped someone with symptoms and any pupils who have been in close contact with them do not need to go home to self-isolate unless they develop symptoms themselves. Schools should ask parents and staff to inform them immediately of the results of a test.

Schools must take swift action when they become aware that someone who has attended has tested positive for coronavirus and contact local health authorities. If a school site has two or more confirmed cases within 14 days, this may be deemed an outbreak and additional action will be considered, including self-isolating certain groups or a school-wide lockdown.

Is it optional for children to go back to school? 

School attendance is mandatory again from the beginning of the autumn term. This means from that point, the usual rules on school attendance will apply. Sanctions can be applied for non-attendance.

Do pupils/staff who are clinically vulnerable have to return to school?

If a child cannot attend school because they are deemed clinically vulnerable, the school should provide remote education and additional support. Children who are self-isolating due to coronavirus or are following other clinical advice will not be penalised for their absence.

Staff who were considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable and received a letter advising them to shield are now advised that they can return to work from 1 August, as long as they maintain social distancing. People who live with those who are clinically vulnerable can attend school.


The full text of the Government guidance for reopening schools can be found here.  Advice for other educational settings can be found here.

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