For now, the Government insists it has no plans to close schools.
Downing Street announced a new national lockdown across the UK that came into place on 5 November after a rapid rise in coronavirus cases. The new measures will see the closure of non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and more.
Unlike the previous lockdown, nurseries, schools, colleges and universities will remain open, although the Prime Minister is now facing a fresh battle with unions as a result.
Schools reopened in September and the Department for Education published 25,000 words of guidance explaining how schoolchildren and staff should be kept safe.
In his address to MP’s on this Monday, November 2nd, the Prime Minister announced the details of the latest nationwide lockdown which began on Thursday, November 5th. The address included an update on the closure of schools, with Mr Johnson maintaining his proposed plan to keep schools, colleges and universities open throughout November.
In his speech in the Common’s, Boris Johnson’s lockdown plan was criticised by Labour leader, Keir Starmer. With particular reference to the education system, Starmer scrutinised the measures which began on Thursday, November 5th, specifically for its timing, as the lockdown began after the half term break.
However, Mr Johnson maintains he was ‘right to try every possible option’ before reordering people to stay at home.
Below are some of the key points that every pupil, teacher and parent should know now school gates have reopened.
Will schools close again?
Despite announcing a raft of new restrictions, Mr Johnson has always maintained that schools would be the very last thing to close, and he has been as good as his word.
Announcing wider restrictions in the House of Commons on Sept 22nd, the Prime Minister said that schools would not be effected by further restrictions and advocated for their importance.
He said: “We will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open, because nothing is more important than the education, health and wellbeing of our young people.”
He added: “It is vital for children to be in school and we will do everything in our power to ensure that remains the case.”
Swathes of the public are being denied tests because of a lack of capacity in the overrun system. The Prime Minister noted that part of the problem was that the return of pupils to schools for the autumn term had seen a rise in the demand for testing.
Schools are drawing up plans to go part-time if the testing chaos continues.
“Quite reasonably,” he said, people were struggling to distinguish between the symptoms of Covid-19 and seasonal coughs and colds.
Two weeks on, two weeks off
Every school has to draw up plans to ensure children continue to receive an education even if they have to stay at home.
Once the national lockdown eases on December 2nd, the country will adopt an exit strategy, and will continue to follow the restrictions from the existing tier system, depending on the severity of infection in the local area.
In what has been described as an “absolute last resort”, the guidance sets out four tiers of restrictions.
In the first tier, schools remain open with everyone wearing face coverings in communal areas. In the next tier just for secondary schools, a “rota system” is introduced where children are given two weeks at home to see whether symptoms emerge, then two week at school if given the all clear. A one week rota – five days in class, nine days at home – is another possible option.
Tiers three and four offer studying at home, with only the most vulnerable children, or those of key workers allowed to attend classes.
Pupils would be given access to online and offline material and teaching videos linked to the curriculum.
Social distancing and ‘bubbles’
So-called ‘bubbles’ will be created so youngsters learn and mix with fellow pupils. Large assemblies or collective worship should not include more than one group. Break and lunch times can 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, in part because risks increase with age. 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”.
Routine testing of children’s temperatures is not encouraged after Public Health England found the process an unreliable way to test for the disease.
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. Pupils in a bubble, year group and very rarely the entire school could be asked to self-isolate. A mobile testing unit could be sent to a campus.
NHS Test and Trace would be informed so family and friends can be contacted and possibly isolated.
The pupil or teacher would be quarantined for 14 days and tested. If a child with symptoms is waiting to be collected by a parent, he or she should be moved to a room to be isolated, with adult supervision if required.
Teachers who help a child with symptoms do not have to self-isolate unless they develop symptoms themselves. However, they should thoroughly wash their hands and wear PPE while with the child. The area where someone suspected of having Covid-19 has been must then be intensively cleaned.
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.
However, Prof Tim Spector, who developed the Covid-19 symptom tracker app, warned that children with a runny nose do not have coronavirus and should not be getting tested, as demand for tests has soared by 150 per cent.
Prof Spector revealed that children under 18 displayed a completely different array of symptoms to adults and that if they had a cough or congestion were almost certainly suffering from the common cold that is sweeping through schools. As the testing system buckles under the strain, Prof Spector said that parents should be aware of the symptoms specifically attributed to children before they take them out of school.