Children in England fully back at school in September, leaked plans say

Jun 30, 2020 by

All pupils expected to return on full timetable, with year groups separated in secondaries, guidance says

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All children in England will be expected to go back to school in September on a full timetable, with secondary pupils kept in “Covid-secure” year groups to limit transmission of the virus, according to leaked guidance.

The government is said to be keen to avoid a “vague and woolly” start to the new academic year after months of uncertainty since schools closed to the majority of pupils in March, as part of a national effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Official guidance due to be published on Thursday is expected to advise secondary headteachers in England to keep entire year groups separate throughout the school day, with staggered start and end times, as well as lunch and break times.

Specialist teachers will however be able to move between year groups, to ensure that pupils are taught the full curriculum where possible. Plans for primary school children, who are currently taught in “protective bubbles” of 15, will allow for them to be taught by a single teacher in groups of 30, which is the usual class size.

Until recently the need for social distancing has been a key stumbling block to government ambitions to get all children back in school in England, but the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, indicated on Monday that a full return to school in the autumn was not dependent on social distancing.

“It’s not about 1 metre, it’s not about 2 metres,” he told BBC Breakfast, saying that safety would be based on “reducing the number of transmission points” within schools. He also confirmed that from September parents would be fined if their children did not attend schools without a good reason.

According to detailed plans reported by Huffpost UK, the government is keen to see a return to the full curriculum where possible, but secondary schools are expected to be told to focus on the core subjects, with some year 11 pupils allowed to drop other GSCEs to allow them to concentrate on English and maths.

The NHS test-and-trace system is seen as a critical element in ensuring a safe return for all pupils, with plans for classes or entire year groups to be sent home if a pupil tests positive. All schools will be expected to draw up contingency plans in the event of a partial closure or local lockdown, with renewed pressure on teachers to provide high-quality remote teaching if children cannot be at school.

Significant challenges remain, particularly around transport to and from school where it will be more difficult for schools to manage behaviour. It is understood pupils will be advised to walk or cycle where possible, while those on public transport aged 11 and above will be expected to wear face masks.

Richard Sheriff, chief executive of the Red Kite Alliance, which includes nine primary schools and four secondary schools across Leeds and North Yorkshire, said: “I’m fully expecting all children to be back in school on a full timetable from September. The government is going to be very, very keen to make sure this is not a vague and woolly start. This is going back to a fully functioning, rich, deep curriculum as quickly as possible.”

Hamid Patel, the chief executive of Star Academies, which runs a string of outstanding state schools in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other cities, added: “While class-based bubbles work for primary schools, the complexity of setting and options choices means secondary school bubbles should be on a year-group basis.

“A bubble would occupy a set of ‘home base’ classrooms in close proximity to each other to restrict pupils’ movement. Pupils would receive as much subject teaching as possible within these. They could move between rooms in their bubble to facilitate setting arrangements but would not move beyond their assigned area unless there was a specific need to utilise another space. Where spaces occupied by one bubble need to be used by another bubble, thorough disinfection would be required before and after.”

Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the leaked plans were “quite some way from being satisfactory for schools”. The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Pupils have been returning to school since 1 June – we’ve already given primary schools the flexibility to invite more children back if they have the capacity, and 1.5 million children were in school at the end of last week.

“We’ve said we want to see all children back at school in September – returning to full primary and secondary class sizes in a safe way. We continue to engage with school leaders, teaching unions and the wider sector about our plans and will publish full details later this week.”

Source: Children in England fully back at school in September, leaked plans say | World news | The Guardian

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