School closures in Covid lockdown: latest news on when they could reopen

All primary and secondary schools have closed, after England moved into a third national lockdown.

The Prime Minister stated on Jan 4 that schools will need to offer remote learning until at least mid-February and GCSE and A-level exams face cancellation for a second year.

Gavin Williamson, however, has indicated that exams may go ahead in a reduced capacity. The Education Secretary has said he would "like to explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers", in a letter to the chief exam regulator on Jan 13. 

Only vulnerable children and children of key workers are currently allowed to attend schools for face-to-face learning, and early years settings such as nurseries will remain accessible.

Boris Johnson said the new measures were necessary: "because we have to do everything we possibly can to stop the spread of the disease".

However, Mr Johnson remains "very cautious" about the timetable, with restrictions being lifted as a "gradual unravelling". 

Those entitled to free school meals will continue to receive them during closures, and more devices will be distributed to help remote learning, according to Mr Johnson.

The Government had insisted schools would remain open only a day before the new measures were announced, reassuring parents it was "safe" to send their children back for the start of term on January 4.

But the move prompted backlash from four national teaching unions, who called for the delay seen across London to apply to all schools in England amid concerns the new strain of Covid-19 poses a threat to teachers.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England has called for teachers to be vaccinated "as a priority".

The Telegraph reported on January 9 that education experts warned that Britain needed to massively expand its army of tutors to stave off the long-term economic damage of Covid-19 from lost learning.

Read more: Tracking UK Covid vaccinations: Are we on target to end lockdown?

What are the rules for children of key workers and vulnerable children?

The Department for Education (DfE) said children with at least one parent or carer who was a critical worker could attend class — even if parents were working from home.

It came after concerns were raised about the risks of transmission of Covid-19 amid reports that more than half of pupils were onsite in some primary schools.

Matt Hancock said on Jan 11 that Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, will be sending out 500,000 laptops to vulnerable children to ensure they can access remote lessons.

The Prime Minister told MP’s that 560,000 laptops were distributed in 2020, but this still falls short of the 1.5m pupils that Ofcom estimates are without digital devices in their homes, on which they can learn.

A DfE spokesperson said: "Schools are open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. We expect schools to work with families to ensure all critical worker children are given access to a place if this is required.

"If critical workers can work from home and look after their children at the same time then they should do so, but otherwise this provision is in place to enable them to provide vital services.

The DfE also said that schools were expected to "strongly encourage" vulnerable children to attend class.

Vulnerable children could include "pupils who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home" due to a lack of devices or a quiet space to study, according to the advice.

But Government guidance says parents who choose to keep children out of class will not be penalised.

What do Tiers mean for schools?

The new lockdown measures mean the entire country will be subject to the same tougher measures, including the closure of all schools. This means the tier system is not currently in place.

Every school had been instructed to draw up plans to ensure children continue to receive an education even if they have to stay at home.

Mr Johnson said on the announcement of closing schools: "I want to stress that the problem is not that schools are unsafe to children.

"The problem is that schools may nonetheless act as vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households."

Read more on the previous tier system: 

  • Tier 1
  • Tier 2
  • Tier 3
  • Tier 4
  • Tier 5

When will secondary schools reopen?

All schools will remain closed until mid-February, with the possibility that these measures could be extended further.

This means most secondary school pupils will stay at home until at least the February half-term. 

Are there any changes to exams?

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has indicated that GCSE, A-Level and AS exams may take place after all. 

Mr Williamson addressed this possibility in a letter to the chief exam regulator on Jan 13. This contradicts his announcement on on January 6 that exams would not take place this summer. 

Mr Williamson explained that the replacement would be a "form of teacher-assessed grades, with training and support provided to ensure these are awarded fairly and consistently across the country".

However, the Education Secretary stated on Jan 13 that he would "like to explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers".

While teachers’ predicted grades will still be used, the exams may be necessary so that teachers can "draw on this resource to support their assessments of students", he said.

Previously, Mr Williamson had told the Commons that, while exams are the fairest way of testing a student’s knowledge, the Covid pandemic means it is "not possible to have exams this year" and ministers will "put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms". 

The Department for Education and Ofqual will launch a joint consultation on the plans later this week, and this will run for a fortnight.

How will testing in schools work?

The Government had previously set out a plan for every secondary school to test as many pupils and staff as possible when they reopened.

It is not yet clear if schools will still be required to mass test pupils after the latest school closures have ended.

The plans stated that 40,000 volunteers will have to be recruited by secondary schools to mass test their pupils, according to Government documents.

Testing would need to be supported by 1,500 Army personnel who will help deliver the tests to schools and provide online training, but it is up to head teachers to recruit parents and governor volunteers, or advertise for contract workers.

Schools could employ lateral flow tests, which produce results in 30 minutes, and in the case of a positive result a second sample will be sent to a laboratory for confirmation.

Social distancing and ‘bubbles’

When schools reopened in September the Government published 25,000 words of guidance explaining how school children and staff should be kept safe.

So-called “bubbles” were created so youngsters could learn and mix with fellow pupils. Large assemblies or collective worship should not include more than one group, and break and lunch times should 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. 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”. 

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. Currently, pupils in a bubble, year groups and (very rarely) the entire school could be asked to self-isolate. A mobile testing unit could also be sent to a campus. 

Schools will be offered "serial testing" of close contacts of staff and pupils who test positive to negate the need for entire year groups to self-isolate at home.

NHS Test and Trace would be informed, and 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 isolate.

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.

Do children need to wear face coverings during class?

A school pupil wearing a face mask on a bus

Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA

Although guidelines do not recommend the universal use of face coverings, each school can decide whether pupils above Year 7, teachers and visitors should wear them when in corridors and communal areas, where passing briefly is deemed a “low risk”. They will not be worn in class. 

A school supply of masks is also recommended for youngsters spotted wearing old or damp ones. Primary school children are not required to wear them.

Hygiene and cleaning

The guidance insists a “robust hand and respiratory hygiene” regime is in place, with children encouraged to clean their hands when they arrive at school, return from breaks, use bathrooms, change classrooms and before eating. Hand sanitiser stations should be commonplace, with possible supervision “given risks around ingestion”.

Staff will also supply and promote the use of tissues as part of the “catch it, bin it, kill it” technique to control germs.

“Enhanced cleaning” regimes will be introduced on surfaces which students touch regularly, such as desks, door handles, books and playground apparatus, which are cleaned with bleach and detergents. Toilets should also be cleaned regularly.

Pupils must limit equipment they bring to school, only carrying bags of essential items, “such as lunch boxes, hats, coats, books, stationery and mobile phones”.

Добавить комментарий

Ваш e-mail не будет опубликован. Обязательные поля помечены *