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Classroom social distancing could be eased to get pupils back in school, report suggests

PUBLISHED: 16:14 30 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:14 30 June 2020

Whole year 'bubbles' of up to 240 pupils could be created in secondary schools to allow all students to return in September. Picture: PA Images

Whole year 'bubbles' of up to 240 pupils could be created in secondary schools to allow all students to return in September. Picture: PA Images

PA Images

Schools could be asked to create whole year-group ‘bubbles’ of up to 240 pupils under plans to ease classroom social distancing but ensure all children can return to the classroom in September.

Binks Neate-Evans, executive headteacher at the Evolution Academy Trust. Picture: SubmittedBinks Neate-Evans, executive headteacher at the Evolution Academy Trust. Picture: Submitted

Education secretary Gavin Williamson is due to announce the final plans for reopening schools more widely to children on Thursday this week.

It could say that in secondary schools ‘bubbles’ of entire year groups could be introduced to limit the number of interactions with pupils of other ages, according to draft guidance still being finalised but seen by HuffPost UK, while teachers will be advised to keep two metres away from pupils.

Meanwhile in primary schools class sizes, currently capped at 15 pupils, could be doubled to 30 pupils, the report suggests.

Reception pupil Sophia painting at Queen's Hill Primary School in Costessey. Primary class 'bubbles' could rise to 30 in September. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA WireReception pupil Sophia painting at Queen's Hill Primary School in Costessey. Primary class 'bubbles' could rise to 30 in September. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

MORE: Headteachers warn schools can only fully reopen in September if social distancing is dropped

The website also reported that other proposals could include students told to sit at desks facing forwards in the same direction, rather than at circular tables.

And some subjects may have to be suspended for two terms to enable pupils to catch-up in English and maths, while secondary pupils taking GCSEs may even need to drop non-core subjects entirely.

Binks Neate-Evans, executive headteacher at the Evolution Academy Trust, which includes 13 primary schools in and around Norwich, said she envisaged all pupils being back but that schools will not be able to maintain the same level of social distancing due to lack of space.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: Archant LibraryGeoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: Archant Library

She said: “I don’t think there will be an expectation that schools need to adapt because I think there has been a realisation from central government that we cannot just magic extra space unless we get lots of mobile classrooms, but that’s just not going to happen.

“It is going to be more about trying to avoid cross contamination which will be maintaining ‘bubbles’ - though I hope we can soon go back to calling them classes - and trying to reduce cross transmission.”

She added: “It will be a bigger challenge for secondary schools because primary pupils are taught in their ‘bubbles’ and have their own teacher, whereas in secondary you have different subject teachers.”

Pupils taking GCSEs may need to drop non-core subjects to allow catching up in matsh and English. Picture: Getty ImagesPupils taking GCSEs may need to drop non-core subjects to allow catching up in matsh and English. Picture: Getty Images

Geoff Barton, a former Bury St Edmunds secondary headteacher and now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said a full return in the autumn had to be done in a way that does not spark a new wave of coronavirus infections.

He said: “That is what the government guidance is aimed at achieving. The processes involved are logistically problematic, so this is going to be the art of the possible, rather than an ideal solution.

“We are urging the government to have a Plan B in place in the event that we arrive in September and the situation with coronavirus is too precarious to allow a full reopening.”

Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion for Norfolk children's services, part of Norfolk County Council. Picture: Julian Claxton PhotographyChris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion for Norfolk children's services, part of Norfolk County Council. Picture: Julian Claxton Photography

The leaked guidance suggests engagement with the NHS Test and Trace system will be compulsory for parents, and whole classes or even year groups will be liable to be sent home if a single pupil tests positive.

The Education secretary has said the return to school in September will be “compulsory” and families may face fines if they keep their children at home without a “good reason”.

MORE: Parents not sending children back to school in September could be fined

Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion for Norfolk’s children’s services, part of Norfolk County Council, said: “Lots of effort is going into how schools can operate, then it’s a really important job that schools can do in talking to their parents to say don’t worry we are going to be able to organise things in this way, your child will be safe, so therefore we expect those children back.

“It’s a shame we are talking about fining people before we are even able to describe what it is going to look like and reassuring parents.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Pupils have been returning to school since June 1 - we’ve already given primary schools the flexibility to invite more children back if they have the capacity, and 1.5 million children were in school at the end of last week.

“We’ve said we want to see all children back at school in September - returning to full primary and secondary class sizes in a safe way.

“We continue to engage with school leaders, teaching unions and the wider sector about our plans and will publish full details later this week.”


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