Have you seen the meme featuring Hugh Grant as the prime minister in Love Actually representing parents across the country at 9.05am on 8th March? Hilarious and in many cases true!
But what are the plans, and what do we really need to know about our children returning to school? We have asked consultant Sarah Bartlett to answer all our questions.
During the UK’s lockdowns, arguably one of the biggest impacts on families has been school closures. Schools provide a reliable structure 5 days a week, offering social interaction and play to children and respite to parents. UNESCO reports that schools closing have had consequences on children through social isolation and on parents being unprepared for prolonged home schooling.
During online learning, many classes have struggled to have a high level of interaction between peers, and for some a reluctance to use cameras or lack of up-to-date technology can make it feel like an isolated learning experience. There are also fears that the lockdowns have further exposed the divide between the less fortunate pupils – who may lack ideal learning equipment – and their classmates. Therefore, the government prioritised the return of schools above other restrictions.
On Monday, 22nd February the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced the government’s ambitions for all schools in England to reopen on the 8th March for face to face teaching. This is the first major step towards lifting the national lockdown across England.
To support the reopening, and to ensure the safety of both staff and pupil, twice-weekly Covid testing will be carried out on site in secondary schools and colleges. This will be followed by at home testing by parents or carers when the equipment is available. It is understood that secondary school and college leaders will be given the choice, where necessary, to stagger the return of students, to ensure pupils are tested before returning to class. Younger children in primary schools, will not be subject to any testing due to its invasive and uncomfortable nature. Testing will enable schools to monitor and reduce the spread of any outbreaks, and the risk of children missing out on further teaching by having to self-isolate.
Many working parents will also be pleased to know that wraparound care such as breakfast and afterschool clubs will also be allowed to resume from the 8th March, these are in addition to social and sports clubs and activities As well as being a huge support to parents working during school days, these clubs, such as afterschool football, will attribute to improved mental and physical health in young people.
Face coverings will also be necessary in secondary schools and colleges, for a “limited period” when students and staff are indoors – including classrooms- unless it is possible for 2m social distancing to be observed. This safety measure will allow the normal classroom ambience and discussions to take place without a high risk of transmission between students. The government has also recommended face coverings be used in early years and primary schools by staff and adult visitors where social distancing is not possible between one another – for example, when moving from classrooms through corridors and communal areas. Teachers will also be encouraged to stay at the front of any classroom to reduce contact, and pupils must sit spaced out side by side and facing forward, so to reduce the rate of transmission.
‘Bubbles’ between students will also be reintroduced so fellow pupils can learn and mix with each other as safely as possible. Large assemblies or collective worship should not exceed more than one group, and staff are advised to stagger break and lunch times to segregate the various ‘bubbles’. This will also make it quicker and easier to identify contacts, if a positive case emerges. If teaching demands it the ‘bubbles’ may be increased to whole year ‘bubbles’, and books, games and shared equipment can be used within that group but must be sanitised before being used by another.
Whilst secondary schools are opening again, Universities and Higher education facilities will not be fully returning to face to face teaching yet. Students on courses that require “practical teaching, specialist facilities or on-site assessments” will be entitled to return to their Universities from the 8th March. The government will be reviewing the full reintroduction of face to face teaching by the end of the Easter holidays. However, until then, non-practical courses will continue to be taught remotely.
In the event that a pupil or teacher has symptoms or a positive diagnosis for Coronavirus, schools must contact local health protection teams, so those in close contact will them can be traced. Students in a ‘bubble’, year group or even the entire school, could be asked to self-isolate for 10 days, from the day the contact first showed symptoms or tested positive.
With all the changes being implemented to better protect teachers and students there is hope for the prospect of children to get back to a semblance of normality and continue their education. While there is emphasis on providing vaccinations for teachers before the schools reopen, this has yet to be confirmed. Therefore schools, parents and students need to work together to ensure that any protection methods continue to be carried out where possible.
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