Schools reopened in September and the government have not indicated that they will shut again, instead publishing 25,000 words of guidance explaining how schoolchildren and staff should be kept safe.
Below are some of the key points that every pupil, teacher and parent should know.
Will schools close again?
Very unlikely. Announcing wider restrictions in the House of Commons on Sept 22nd, the Prime Minister 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.”
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, a “rota system” is introduced in secondary schools 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.
Social distancing and ‘bubbles’
So-called ‘bubbles’ have been 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.
Professor Tim 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.