Everything you need to know about school reopenings
PUBLISHED: 06:30 13 May 2020
The government is aiming to see all primary school children spend a month back at school before the summer holidays, according to its updated guidance.
Class sizes should be limited to 15 pupils, desks should be spaced far apart, with staggered break times and outdoor spaces used, it says.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I know how hard schools, colleges, early years settings and parents are working to make sure children and young people can continue to learn at home, and I cannot thank them enough for that.
“But nothing can replace being in the classroom, which is why I want to get children back to school as soon as it is safe to do so.”
But the National Education Union has rejected the reopening plans as “reckless”.
What schools are reopening and when?
Young children could start returning to nurseries from June 1, with the government aiming for all primary school pupils to go back for a month before summer.
It expects pre-school children to be able to return to early years settings, and for reception, year one and year six pupils to be back in school in “smaller sizes”, from the start of next month.
The decision to include year six the first to return is “to ensure those preparing for the transition to secondary school, have maximum time with their teachers”.
How will schools be made safe?
Primary school class sizes should be limited to 15 pupils, desks should be spaced as far apart as possible and outdoor space should be utilised.
The guidelines, from the Department for Education (DfE), advises schools to stagger lunch and break times, as well as drop-off and pick-up times, to reduce the number of pupils moving around.
Schools are also being told to consider introducing one-way circulation, or placing a divider down the middle of the corridor, to keep young people apart.
Children will be encouraged to wash their hands often, cleaning of rooms will be more frequent and schools will be encouraged to use outdoor spaces.
What if schools cannot introduce the measures?
Education settings that cannot achieve the small groups required due to limited classroom space or staff numbers should discuss options with the local authority or trust, the DfE guidance says, adding that children might instead attend another nearby school.
How will such young children be socially distanced?
The guidance acknowledges that young pupils will not be able to remain two metres apart from each other and staff. Instead, primary school classes should be split into groups of no more than 15 pupils per group. These small “consistent” groups will be kept from mixing with other pupils during the day.
Will children and staff have to wear protection?
The guidance says most staff will not require PPE. But it adds that it should be worn by a supervising adult if a pupil becomes unwell with symptoms of coronavirus while in the setting.
Children and staff will not be required to wear a face covering or face mask.
What about preschool youngsters and child carers?
The government has also amended its guidance to clarify that paid childcare, such as nannies and childminders, can take place subject to being able to meet its key public health principles.
The advice suggests that nurseries should remove soft furnishings and toys that are hard to clean - and try to keep children in the same small groups at all times each day.
The strategy document says this should enable “more working parents to return to work.” But it says that demand for childcare is “likely to be lower than usual” and so staff-to-child ratios “should allow for small group working”.
What about secondary schools?
Secondary schools and further education colleges stay closed, and the majority of secondary school pupils will not attend classes until September at the earliest- apart from pupils with exams next year, who will get more help in addition to their current online lessons.
Schools and colleges have been told to prepare to begin some face-to-face contact with year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year.
What are teaching unions saying?
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the government’s aim for all primary school children to return to school for a month before the summer was not “a feasible scenario”.
He said: “The availability of school staff, the sheer number of pupils and the sizes of school classrooms and corridors combined with the need for social distancing measures mean that the government’s calculations simply don’t add up.”
Former Suffolk headteacher and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said: “It is not clear to us how the reintroduction of such significant numbers of pupils in primary schools can be safely managed, particularly considering that reception and year one comprise very young children with whom social distancing is extremely difficult.”
Scott Lyons, district secretary of the National Education Union for Norfolk, said: “The union still thinks the government has made reckless decisions in the past and this announcement shows it is continuing to do so.
“Closing schools could be the most effective way of stopping the virus and that’s what we would expect to continue until there are far fewer cases.”
What if parents don’t send their children to school?
More than 440,000 people have signed a petition urging the government to give parents a choice on sending their children back to school if they reopen.
The government has said families who choose to keep their children at home when schools reopen will not face fines.
But parents will be strongly encouraged to take up these places - unless the child or a family member is shielding, or the child is particularly vulnerable.
In an effort to further reassure parents, the DfE has also said pupils eligible to return to school on June 1 will have access to testing if they display symptoms, alongside symptomatic members of their household.
What do parents think?
Stephie Randall said: “The government, who I have backed since lockdown, have a very strange idea on how schools can be run, how on earth can a school manage four, five, and six-year olds in social distancing?”
Melanie Turrell added: Should be September. Stupid to put this many together from all different families as kiddies don’t understand this and what it means especially the little ones, yet we can’t visit family. This has not been thought through properly.”
However Jemma Gooch-Boags added: “My daughter battled cancer three years ago and I don’t take risks with her health, but I will be sending both her and her brother to school, when they reopen.
“We are not the guinea pigs in this, schools are reopening in countries around the world and we can learn from what works for them and apply it here.”
Michala-Louise Strachan said: “ I’m pleased for my son to go back to year six. So important for them to finish their year, say goodbye to the school they have attended all their lives and friends who won’t move up to secondary school with them.
“He’s missed out on so much already with the cancelled camping trip and prom. As long as safety measures are taken I’m comfortable with this.
“For all the people who would like to wait until September how is this any different? No vaccine will be in place by then either.”
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