The government has published its safety plans for children in England to return to full-time education in September.
The safety plans issued by the Department for Education say that “given the improved position, the balance of risk is now overwhelmingly in favour of children returning to school.”
School leaders have been told that there is no need for any pupils to sit apart in their ‘bubbles’, but encourage older children and staff to keep their distance where possible.
Professor Calum Semple of Liverpool University, a consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine, supports a full return to school but says pupils should distance from their teachers and other staff.
He said: “It would be best practice if children could maintain a one-metre distance from their school teachers and other adults.
“You have to remember that if anyone is at risk in the schools it’s going to be the adults, not the children.
“One of the good things that’s come out of all the research we’ve been doing is that we understand that children are not at risk of severe COVID.”
Schools will be issued with testing kits to give to parents if children begin to show symptoms.
In the event of a positive case, ‘small groups’ of pupils and staff may have to self-isolate for up to 14 days if there is a positive case of coronavirus in a school or college, according to new guidance.
But this does mean that if there are two confirmed coronavirus cases in 14 days, all pupils in that group, or even the whole school, may have to be sent home.
Schools have been advised on how to minimise the number of pupils in each group with measures such as staggered start times and extra hygiene precautions.
The guidance for September says:
- Teachers should distance themselves from each other and older students.
- Children should be grouped together in ‘bubbles’. In primary this will be a class, in secondary it will be a year group.
- Children and staff will not be required to wear face coverings when in school, but children over the age of 11 will be required to do so if travelling in on public transport.
- Follow extra hygiene precautions.
- No big group events, such as school assemblies.
- For school transport, pupils should be discouraged to, but must “sit with others from their group and remain in their class or year ‘bubble’ wherever possible”.
- Track and trace in place for schools.
- Schools will be expected to have plans in place for pupils who are self-isolating, including offering remote learning.
- Ahead of the start of the summer holiday, the restriction on group sizes for nurseries, childminders, and other early year providers will be lifted from 20 July.
There is expected to be a Downing Street press conference later on, where the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is likely to face intense questions about safety from MPs and teaching unions.