Coronavirus: steps to fully reopen schools in September


From September (Autumn term), it will be the plan that all pupils, in all year groups, will return to school full-time.

In this article, we provide an overview of the government’s ‘Guidance for full opening for schools’ available on GOV.UK primarily looking at the implications for school staff.

Broadly, it will mean:

  • Grouping children together in groups or “bubbles”
  • Separate starting, finishing, lunch and break times
  • Attendance compulsory for pupils with the threat of penalty fines
  • No big group events like school assemblies
  • Arranging classrooms with forward facing desks
  • Separate groups on school buses
  • Discouraging the use of public transport
  • Masks not expected for pupils or staff

If you are concerned about returning to school with all pupils you can contact us for further advice and support.

Implications for school staff

School timetables

GOV.UK explains all teachers and school staff can operate across different classes and year groups in order to facilitate the delivery of the school timetable. Where staff need to move between classes and year groups, they should try and keep their distance from pupils and other staff as much as they can, ideally 2 metres from other adults. The DfE recognises this is not likely to be possible with younger children and teachers in primary schools can still work across groups if that is needed to enable a full educational offer.

Groups should be kept apart, meaning that schools should avoid large gatherings such as assemblies or collective worship with more than one group.

When timetabling, groups should be kept apart and movement around the school site kept to a minimum. While passing briefly in the corridor or playground is low risk, schools should avoid creating busy corridors, entrances and exits. Schools should also consider staggered break times and lunch times (and time for cleaning surfaces in the dining hall between groups).

Staff rooms

Schools should also plan how shared staff spaces are set up and used to help staff to distance from each other. Use of staff rooms should be minimised, although staff must still have a break of a reasonable length during the day.

Staggered start and finish times

Schools should consider staggered starts or adjusting start and finish times to keep groups apart as they arrive and leave school. Staggered start and finish times should not reduce the amount of overall teaching time.

Supply teachers

Supply teachers, peripatetic teachers and/or other temporary staff can move between schools. They should ensure they minimise contact and maintain as much distance as possible from other staff.

Expectations for staff to attend

The government expects most staff will attend school. It remains the case that wider government policy advises those who can work from home to do so. We recognise this will not be applicable to most school staff, but where a role may be conducive to home working for example, some administrative roles, school leaders should consider what is feasible and appropriate.

School leaders should be flexible in how those members of staff are deployed to enable them to work remotely where possible or in roles in school where it is possible to maintain social distancing.

People who live with those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable can attend the workplace.

Work-life balance and wellbeing

Governing boards and school leaders should have regard to staff (including the headteacher) work-life balance and wellbeing. Schools should ensure they have explained to all staff the measures they are proposing putting in place and involve all staff in that process.

Staff deployment

Schools may need to alter the way in which they deploy their staff, and use existing staff more flexibly to welcome back all pupils at the start of the autumn term. Managers should discuss and agree any changes to staff roles with individuals.

The DfE has also published a range of resources, including case studies to support remote education and help address staff workload, this includes case studies on managing wellbeing.

Staff taking leave

The DfE explains that staff will need to be available to work in school from the start of the autumn term. It recommends that school leaders discuss leave arrangements with staff before the end of the summer term to inform planning for the autumn term.

There is a risk that where staff travel abroad, their return travel arrangements could be disrupted due to factors arising beyond their control in relation to coronavirus, such as the potential for reinstatement of lockdown measures in the place they are visiting.

Where it is not possible to avoid a member of staff having to quarantine during term time, school leaders should consider if it is possible to temporarily amend working arrangements to enable them to work from home.


For state-funded schools, routine Ofsted inspections will remain suspended for the autumn term. However, during the autumn term, inspectors will visit a sample of schools to discuss how they are managing the return to education of all their pupils. These will be collaborative discussions, taking into account the curriculum and remote education expectations set out in this document, and will not result in a judgement.

For independent schools, Ofsted/the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) standard inspections also remain suspended.

It is intended that routine Ofsted and ISI inspections will restart from January 2021, with the exact timing being kept under review.

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