Back to school: How will schools be kept Covid-safe this term?

3 months ago 15
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Pupils will soon be back at school across the UK, with new measures in place to prevent Covid cases leading to large numbers being sent home.

Schools have already returned in Scotland, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon thinks they could be linked to a rapid rise in Covid 19 cases.

How often will pupils be tested?

In England, all secondary-school pupils will be invited to take two lateral-flow swab tests at school - three to five days apart - to see if they are carrying the virus.

Schools can begin testing just before the term starts and stagger the return of pupils across the first week to manage this.

They will be contacting parents to seek consent and inform them of arrangements.

Those who test positive will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and instructed to isolate.

In Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, pupils and staff will be encouraged to take home or community-based tests before term starts.

Across all the nations, twice-weekly voluntary lateral-flow testing for pupils at home will be encouraged and continued.

What happens if a pupil tests positive?

Once school is under way, pupils who test positive will be required to isolate at home for 10 days, as before.

The child - or their parents - will also be asked to provide details about close contacts at school and elsewhere.

And children named as close contacts will be asked to take a polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) swab test.

But this term, unless these close contacts themselves test positive, they will not have to self-isolate.

Will pupils still need to socially distance?

For schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, social-distancing measures and rules around "bubble" or "contact" groups, where pupils stay in a fixed group, have been relaxed.

In many ways, the responsibility has been handed over to head teachers to decide what common-sense measures are needed.

And depending on the layout and size of their school, some will decide to keep some of their one-way systems and crowd-control measures.

In Scotland, more restrictions are being maintained until the end of September.

On school premises, all staff must stay at least 1m (3ft) from pupils and colleagues.

What about face coverings and ventilation?

Face coverings are no longer routinely advised for staff or pupils in schools England and Wales, although they are still recommended in crowded spaces such as school buses.

But in Scotland, face coverings will be required at least until the end of September.

And in Northern Ireland, they will be required in class for the first six weeks of term at least.

Meanwhile, head teachers have been asking for government support to introduce ventilation measures beyond opening windows and doors, which may not always be possible or comfortable in the winter months.

And the Department for Education has pledged to provide 300,000 carbon-dioxide monitors to schools in England from September - to help identify where airflow is limited and viruses may more easily spread.

But nothing further has been promised in the way of funding for ventilation, which teaching unions have demanded.

Are there any other measures?

If there is an outbreak, the Department for Education has also published a list of measures schools in England can consider, including:

  • having classes and assemblies outside
  • improving ventilation indoors

And it may become necessary to temporarily reintroduce bubble groups in some local areas.

Although, any such decision would have to take into account the detrimental impact they can have on the education.

How will pupils catch up on lost school time?

Pupils in the UK have missed an average of about a third of their learning time during the pandemic.

A subsidised tutoring scheme was set up in England and summer schools have been running in some schools.

The government pledged £1.4bn to support catch-up in England.

But this figure was heavily criticised by school leaders, who said it amounted to only £50 per pupil per year.

Will exams go ahead in 2022?

Exams are expected to return in 2022 for GCSEs, A-levels and vocational qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

  • In England, pupils are likely to be told which topics will come up - to mitigate some of the Covid disruption
  • In Wales, exams will be modified to take account of the challenges pupils have faced
  • In Northern Ireland, national exams will have significantly fewer papers

In Scotland, the government says exams will go ahead next year. National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams will be held in spring 2022 providing public health advice allows it.

Course content will be reduced to take account of the turmoil of the past two years.

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