Back to school: what Covid measures will be in place in England?

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Q. What measures are schools in England taking to prevent the spread of Covid?

A. There are relatively few measures required by the government, compared with the reopening of schools in 2020. The remaining active measures will be handwashing and hygiene, increased ventilation where possible, and in secondary schools and colleges there will be lateral flow tests for staff and pupils, with testing for staff in primary schools.

Q. What happened to bubbles and masks?

A. The Department for Education has dropped requirements for children in England to be kept in smaller groups or bubbles to restrict the spread of Covid. Social distancing and other measures such as staggered starts have also been dropped, but with school leaders given some discretion. Requirements for secondary or college students to wear masks have also been ended, and schools will no longer need to trace contacts of pupils with confirmed cases.

Q. Will we see hundreds of thousands of children sent home after contact with a confirmed case?

A. Unlike the last school year, when many children were told to self-isolate, new rules this year mean that under-18s or those fully vaccinated no longer need to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact. But they will be asked to take a PCR test.

Q. How will schools handle outbreaks?

The DfE’s new framework says schools can seek advice from public health officials about further measures such as mask-wearing after “thresholds” have been reached, such as five students or staff who have been “closely mixing” testing positive within a 10-day period. But even then, the DfE’s guidance is that any measures should be limited in duration.

Q. Given the airborne spread of Covid, what about improving ventilation?

A. The DfE is distributing ventilation monitors that measure carbon dioxide, and is encouraging teachers to keep windows and doors open where possible. But teaching unions say that is not practical in many of England’s Victorian-era school buildings. The government is also running a pilot within primary schools in Bradford to test air purification filters.

Q. How will Covid testing be done?

A. Like last year, two lateral flow tests for pupils in year 7 and above will be administered within schools and colleges at the start of term. Many schools have delayed the start of teaching in order to conduct tests. Later tests are voluntary and to be done at home using kits provided. Those who test positive will need to self-isolate and take a PCR test. Tracing of confirmed cases will be done by NHS Test and Trace.

Q. Will pupils be vaccinated?

A. Currently those aged 16 and over can be vaccinated, while those aged 12 to 15 who are clinically vulnerable to Covid or live with adults who are at increased risk from the virus are also eligible. But recent reports suggest the government is preparing to offer vaccines to all children aged 12 and over.

Q. What’s different in schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

A. Because education policy is devolved, each country has its own rules. There are many detailed differences. In Scotland, for example, pupils must wear masks in school for at least the first six weeks of term. In Northern Ireland schools are able to retain bubbles, and students who are close contacts of a confirmed case must self-isolate for 10 days even if they have a negative PCR test. In Wales, older pupils should continue to wear masks on school transport, and close contacts may be advised to self-isolate.

Q. Will exams go ahead in 2022?

A. Yes, barring future lockdowns or other dramatic events. But regulators in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are making changes to the format and curriculum of national exams to reflect the lost learning and disruption affecting pupils over the past two years. In England, pupils are likely to be told in advance which topics will come up in their GCSE and A-level exams. Grading is also likely to be adjusted.

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