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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Back to school guidance

National Government has advised that all pupils in all year groups including those in school-based nurseries are expected to return to school full-time from the beginning of the Autumn term.

In welcoming all children back this Autumn, schools are working within the guidance available, particularly to minimise the number of contacts that a pupil has during the school day. Each school's Governing Body has worked hard over recent months to put in place measures that are right for their school. Therefore, the following questions are general guidance.

Please contact your child's school directly for more specific information about your school setting.

What actions have schools taken to ensure safety?

Each school has undertaken their own risk assessment, implementing appropriate measures to enable a return to full capacity in the Autumn term.

Each school is working with their own governing body and staff to make informed decisions to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum, balanced with the measures needed to manage risk.

Schools have reviewed their health and safety risk assessments and drawn up plans for the Autumn term that address the risks identified, using the system of controls set out below. Essential measures include:

  • A requirement that people who are ill stay at home
  • Robust hand and respiratory hygiene
  • Enhanced cleaning arrangements
  • Active engagement with NHS Test and Trace
  • Formal consideration of how to reduce contacts and maximise distancing between those in school wherever possible and minimise potential for contamination so far as reasonably practicable

How contacts are reduced will depend on the school's circumstances and will (as much as possible) include:

  • Grouping children together
  • Avoiding contact between groups
  • Arranging classrooms with forward facing desks
  • Staff maintaining distance from pupils and other staff as much as possible

Does my child/ren have to return to school?

Returning to school is vital for children's education and for their wellbeing. The national guidance advises that risk to children themselves of becoming severely ill from coronavirus (COVID-19) is very low.

It also highlights the negative health impacts of being out of school. Time out of school is detrimental for children's cognitive and academic development. This impact can affect both current levels of learning and children's future ability to learn.

In March, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was increasing, the government announced that no parent would be sanctioned or penalised for their child's non-attendance at school.

From September school attendance is mandatory from the beginning of the autumn term for all pupils. In the first half term there will be a focus on supporting those families who are anxious about  returning to school.  Where a pupil is unable to attend because they are complying with clinical and/or public health advice, absence will not be penalised. In these cases schools may be able to offer access to remote working.  

If any parent has planned travel abroad during school term, parents should talk to the school immediately and follow government restrictions for people returning from some countries. The latest guidance on quarantine can be found on the .gov website. 

Do teachers or pupils need to wear a face covering?

  • The government is not recommending universal use of face coverings in all schools.
  • For years 7 and above, schools will have discretion to require face coverings for pupils, staff and visitors in areas outside the classroom where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.
  • Primary school children do not need to wear a face covering.
  • In particular, schools that teach years 7 and above may decide to recommend face coverings for pupils, staff or visitors in communal areas outside the classroom where the layout of the schools makes it difficult to maintain social distancing when staff and pupils are moving around the premises, for example, corridors. Schools must develop their school policy.
  • In primary schools where social distancing is not possible in areas outside of classrooms between members of staff or visitors, for example in staffrooms, headteachers will have the discretion to decide whether to ask staff or visitors to wear, or agree to them wearing face coverings in these circumstances.
  • Based on current evidence and the measures that schools are already putting in place, face coverings will not be necessary in the classroom even where social distancing is not possible.

What measures are in place in the school to ensure my child's safety?

COVID-19 cases have decreased, the NHS Track and Trace system is up and running and Central Government is clear on the measures that are needed to be in place to create safer environments in schools.

Schools must support pupils to be able to clean their hands regularly, including when they arrive at school, when they return from breaks, when they change rooms and before and after eating. Rooms will be cleaned more frequently and toilets will be cleaned regularly. Pupils are encouraged to clean their hands thoroughly after using the toilet.

No one will be able to enter the building without an appointment. A record will be kept of all visitors. Schools will work with contractors etc. to inform them of the measures they have in place to ensure safety.

Measures to help protect pupils and staff over lunchtime

The lunch hall can get very busy and make it difficult for staff and pupils to socially distance. Some schools are only allowing pupils to eat in their classrooms but this is not always possible.

With the new guidance from Monday 14 September schools could think about only allowing 6 pupils on a table (from the same bubble if possible) and spread tables out at least 2 metres apart both in front, to the side and behind.

Pupils should also avoid queuing up in large groups. If queues do form they should be monitored so that social distancing can take place. Again this could be in groups of 6 from the same bubble. Schools could also consider staggering lunchtimes to try lessen the amount of pupils in the dinner hall and asking pupils to keep their face coverings on in the dining hall until they sit down to eat.

What if my child/ren takes ill at school?

If anyone in the school becomes unwell with a new and persistent cough or a high temperature, or has a loss of, or change in, their normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia), they will be sent home and advised to follow the stay at home guidance for households, which sets out that they should self-isolate for at least 10 days and should arrange to have a test to see if they have coronavirus (COVID-19).

If anyone has tested positive whilst not experiencing symptoms but develop symptoms during the isolation period, they should restart the 10-day isolation period from the day they develop symptoms. Other members of the household should self-isolate for 14 days from when the symptomatic person first had symptoms.

If a child is waiting for collection they will be moved, where possible, to a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door, depending on the age and needs of the child, with appropriate adult supervision if required. If it is not possible to isolate them, they will be moved to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people.

If a child needs to go to the bathroom while waiting to be collected, they should use a separate bathroom if possible. The bathroom will be cleaned and disinfected using standard cleaning products before being used by anyone else.

Staff will wear PPE if they are in the room with the sick child.

What happens if a child tests positive for COVID-19?

The health protection team will work with schools in this situation. Based on the advice from the health protection team, schools must contact those people who have been in close contact with the person who has tested positive, advising them to self-isolate for 14 days since they were last in close contact with that person when they were infectious.

Close contact means:

  • direct close contact - face to face for any length of time, within 1 metre, including being coughed on, a face to face conversation, or skin-to-skin contact
  • extended close contact (within 1 to 2 metres for more than 15mins) with an infected individual
  • travelling in a small vehicle, like a car with an infected person

Household members of those who are sent home do not need to self-isolate themselves, unless the child, young person or staff member who is self-isolating develops symptoms. If someone in a class or group that has been asked to self-isolate develops symptoms themselves within their 14-day isolation period they should follow stay at home guidance from Central Government.

The individual should get a test and:

  • if the test delivers a negative result, they must remain in isolation for the remainder of the 14-day isolation period. This is because they could develop the coronavirus (COVID-19) within the remaining days
  • if the test result is positive, they should inform their setting immediately, and should isolate for at least 10 days from the onset of their symptoms. Their household should self-isolate for at least 14 days from the symptomatic person first had symptoms

If a child or staff member develops symptoms, do the other children or staff in a class need to isolate?

No, if someone has symptoms this does not mean that staff or children who have been in close contact with them need to self-isolate.

The other children and staff will only need to isolate if:

  • the person with symptoms tests positive, or
  • they have been requested to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace

If other children or staff members develop symptoms themselves, they should isolate and get a test.

My child's bubble at school has been told they must self-isolate. Does this mean that our household has to self-isolate too?

The rest of the household does not need to self-isolate but your child will have to self-isolate for 14 days.

The rest of the household would only need to self-isolate if they start showing symptoms. If your child starts to develop symptoms and took a test, even if this came back negative your child would still need to complete the 14 day self-isolation period.

This is because they could develop COVID-19 at any point in those 14 days, so a negative test at - say - day 5 isn't helpful, as they could still develop COVID between days 6 and 14.

My child has tested positive for COVID-19. The school has said that my child must self-isolate for 10 days. Do I need to get the rest of the household tested as we are not showing any symptoms?

The guidance says that only those who are symptomatic should be tested.

Therefore if no-one else in the household is showing any symptoms than there is no need to get a test.

However, everyone in the household will need to self-isolate for 14 days from when your child's symptoms started or the day of their test if they were asymptomatic.

How will the school contain an outbreak?

If a school has two or more confirmed cases within 14 days, or an overall rise in sickness absence where coronavirus (COVID-19) is suspected, they may have an outbreak, and must continue to work with their local health protection team and South Tyneside Council who will be able to advise if additional action is required.

Schools will communicate with parents, pupils and staff about any action needed.

How can children maintain a distance at school?

For children old enough, they will be supported to maintain distance and will not touch staff and their peers where possible. This will not be possible in some cases for the youngest children and some children with complex needs and is not feasible in some schools where space does not allow.

When staff or children cannot maintain distancing, particularly with younger children in primary schools, the risk can also be reduced by keeping pupils in smaller, class-sized groups.

Each school will have their own plan in place to keep movement around the school site to a minimum including staggered start, break and finish times.

How will using equipment work in the schools?

Each school will inform parents and pupils about what equipment is needed including bags, books and stationery.

Primary schools will clean any playground equipment and any shared classroom resources such as books, games, art, science will be cleaned. In some cases equipment may be left for 48 hours between use.

Will school meals be available?

Kitchens will be fully open from the start of the autumn term, and normal legal requirements will apply for the provision of food to all pupils who want it, including for those eligible for free school meals. School kitchens will comply with government health and safety on food. 

Parents should contact the school direct for school meals and packed lunches.  

If the school usually offers breakfast clubs and after school provision, parents should contact the school direct for confirmation these are available.

Will the school provide PE classes?

Each school has the flexibility to decide how physical education, sport and physical activity will be provided whilst following the measures in their system of controls. Schools are able to work with external coaches, clubs and organisations where they are satisfied it is safe to do so.

Can schools take children on educational trips?

In the autumn term, schools can resume non-overnight domestic educational visits. This will be done in line with protective measures. Schools will undertake thorough risk assessments in relation to all educational visits to ensure they can be done safely.

Does my child need to follow the school uniform policy?

Please check with your child's school.

Uniforms do not need to be cleaned any more than usual, nor do they need to be cleaned using methods which are different from normal.

My child/ren need to use public transport - what is the plan for this?

Pupils are encouraged to walk or cycle to school where possible. In many areas, pupils normally make use of the public transport system, particularly public buses. We expect public transport capacity will be constrained in the autumn term. The Department for Transport has produced funding for additional travel options which will be announced shortly.

For more information read our travelling to and from school guidance.

Testing guidance

Schools have been issued with guidance on testing: GOV.UK: Letter from PHE and NHS test and trace to school and college leaders

It is very important that this guidance is followed. Schools should not advise pupils or teachers to take a test unless they exhibit one or more of the listed symptoms. If there is a confirmed case then schools should not advise entire classes or year groups to get tested. Only those with symptoms or those advised by their clinician or Local Authority should get a test. Schools must not require students to provide evidence of a negative test before letting them back to school.

National government guidance

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