How will schools reopen in September?

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Schools are set to reopen fully in England in September, prompting questions over whether other parts of society may need to close to lower coronavirus risk levels.

Guidance on reopening has been published for England. There are separate plans for Wales, Northern Ireland and also Scotland, where schools are scheduled to return next Tuesday.

Who will be expected to go back?

Nearly all children of legal school age will be expected to return to class full-time in September (August in Scotland).

This includes those with special educational needs and disabilities, and those who have been shielding.

Initially, schools were told to adopt a ”bubble” approach, with children split into smaller, fixed groups that would go in on rotation.

But guidance now suggests all pupils should attend school full-time.

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Do I have to send my child back?

Attendance will be mandatory again from the beginning of the autumn term.

Head teachers will be told to follow up pupils’ absence and issue sanctions, including fines in some cases.

Pupils must self-isolate and not attend school if they – or a close contact – develop symptoms or test positive for coronavirus.

Shielding has now been paused, but there may be occasions when some children are advised to shield for longer because of higher rates of coronavirus in their local area.

Children who remain under the care of a specialist health professional should discuss their ongoing care before September.

Could schools close again?

A whole school closure “will not generally be necessary” unless advised by health officials.

If a school has a suspected coronavirus outbreak, teachers will liaise with local health teams.

A mobile testing unit may arrive – focusing first on those in the affected child or teacher’s class, followed by their year group, and then the whole school if necessary.

If pupils can’t come in, schools are expected to have a home-working plan ready to go.

Is there a link between opening schools and closing pubs?

Rising coronavirus infections suggest England is “near the limit” of opening up, the Chief Medical Officer has warned, meaning we may need to make trade-offs to ensure children can safely return to school in September.

Elements of lockdown easing have already been delayed, and some scientists advising the government have suggested pubs or other activities may need to temporarily close again.

Prof Graham Medley told the BBC that reopening schools would ”reconnect lots of households’, so closing other networks may be required, and that was ”a matter of prioritising”. He asked: ”Do we think pubs are more important than schools?”

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How will the school day work?

Schools are expected to teach a broad and balanced curriculum when they return.

They will be asked to minimise the number of contacts each pupil has during the day, by keeping classes or whole year groups apart in separate “protective bubbles” rather than practising individual social distancing.

By law, schools must revisit and update their risk assessments before the autumn term starts, considering any extra measures needed.

Schools must:

  • have strict hand-washing policies
  • promote the “catch it, bin it, kill it” approach for coughing and sneezing
  • step up cleaning arrangements
  • be ready to contact NHS Test and Trace

The government expects school kitchens to be open from September.

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What about getting to and from school?

There may be staggered start and finish times to keep groups apart – although that should not reduce the amount of overall teaching time.

Walking or cycling to school will be encouraged. Parents should not gather in groups at school gates or go on site without an appointment.

Dedicated school transport services will be asked to:

  • move children in “bubbles”
  • provide hand sanitiser
  • apply social distancing where possible
  • ask children over 11 to wear face coverings

Schools will also need a process for staff and pupils to remove face coverings safely on arrival.

What about breakfast or after-school clubs?

If possible these should resume in September, but the government acknowledges it will be “logistically challenging” and may take some schools longer.

Children should ideally stay within their year groups or bubbles – but if this can’t be done, then schools should use “small, consistent groups” to minimise infection risk.

What else does the government say?

Pupils should:

  • wear uniform as normal
  • bring only essentials – including lunch boxes, books, stationery and mobile phones
  • take books and other shared resources home, but avoid unnecessary sharing – this also applies to teachers
  • take part in non-contact physical education – outside if possible – with “scrupulous attention” to cleaning and hygiene

Ofsted inspections will remain suspended for the autumn term – but schools may be visited to assess how the new arrangements are working.

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