March 8th schools reopening: what do teachers need to know?

Overview

The Department for Education (DfE) has unveiled new guidance for schools as part of the plan to reopen all settings on 8 March.

There will be mass Covid testing in secondary schools – with parents expected to carry out the testing at home, after three tests in school.

Home testing for secondary pupils will be twice weekly – but with no testing so far planned for primary pupils.

The tests are voluntary and will operate “based on trust”, officials have said. The DfE explains that testing remains voluntary but strongly encouraged.

Face masks will also be required in some secondary school classrooms. We have updated our article on the topic of face masks in schools here.

Asymptomatic testing

Rapid testing using Lateral Flow Devices (LFD)s will support the return to face-to face education by helping to identify people who are infectious but do not have any coronavirus symptoms. For secondary school staff and pupils the DfE explains we are moving to a home testing model (for pupils, following the first 3 onsite tests). 

The lateral flow devices used have received regulatory approval from the MHRA for self use. Home test kits will be available for all staff on return. Once pupils have been tested 3 times at school, they will be provided with home test kits for regular testing. 

Secondary school testing on-site through an Asymptomatic Testing Site (ATS)

Secondary schools should offer pupils testing at an on-site ATS from 8 March. Testing and return of pupils can be phased during the first week to manage the number of pupils passing through the test site at any one time. Schools should offer 3 tests, 3 to 5 days apart. Schools have the flexibility to consider how best to deliver testing on a phased basis from 8 March.

Pupils should return to face-to-face education following their first negative test result. Pupils not undergoing testing should attend school in line with phased return arrangements.

Schools will have discretion on how to test students over that week as they return to the classroom. Testing is voluntary. If consent is provided, pupils will be asked to self-swab at the on-site ATS and after 30 minutes they should be informed of their results.

Individuals with a positive LFD test result will need to self-isolate in line with the guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection. Those with a negative LFD test result can continue to attend school unless they have individually been advised otherwise by NHS Test and Trace or Public Health professionals (for example as a close contact).

They should continue to apply the measures in the system of controls to themselves and the wider school setting. Schools should retain a small on-site ATS on site so they can offer testing to pupils who are unable or unwilling to test themselves at home.

Home testing

Both pupils and staff in secondary schools will be supplied with LFD test kits to self swab and test themselves twice a week at home. Staff and pupils must report their result to NHS Test and Trace as soon as the test is completed either online or by telephone as per the instructions in the home test kit. Staff and pupils should also share their result, whether void, positive or negative, with their school to help with contact tracing. 

Adolescents aged 12 to 17 should self-test and report with adult supervision. The adult may conduct the test if necessary. Children aged 11 attending a secondary school should be tested by an adult.

Staff or pupils with a positive LFD test result will need to self-isolate in line with the stay-at-home guidance. They will also need to arrange a lab-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result if the test was done at home. Those with a negative LFD test result can continue to attend school and use protective measures.

Primary schools

Staff in primary schools will continue to test with LFDs twice a week at home, as per existing guidance on testing for staff in primary schools and nurseries. Primary age pupils will not be tested with LFDs. Public Health England have advised there are currently limited public health benefits attached to testing primary pupils with lateral flow devices.

Specialist settings 

The DfE recognises specialist settings will have additional considerations to take into account when delivering asymptomatic testing and additional guidance will be published and circulated.

It recognises that self-swabbing may cause significant concerns for some children and young people with SEND. Testing is voluntary and no child or young person will be tested unless informed consent has been given by the appropriate person. 

Staff who are clinically extremely vulnerable

CEV staff are advised not to attend the workplace. Staff who are CEV will previously have received a letter from the NHS or their GP telling them this (no new letter is required), and there is guidance for everyone in this group.

It provides advice on what additional measures individuals in this group can take. Employers should talk to their staff about how they will be supported, including to work from home. Schools should continue to pay CEV staff on their usual terms.

Those living with someone who is CEV can still attend work where home-working is not possible and should ensure they maintain good prevention practice in the workplace and home settings.

Staff who are clinically vulnerable

CV staff can continue to attend school. While in school they must follow the system of controls to minimise the risks of transmission. Staff who live with those who are CV can attend the workplace but should ensure they maintain good prevention practice in the workplace and at home.

Pregnancy

Schools will need to follow the specific guidance for pregnant employees because pregnant women are considered CV. In some cases pregnant women may also have other health conditions that mean they are considered CEV, where the advice for clinically extremely vulnerable staff will apply.

Your workplace risk assessment should already consider any risks to female employees of childbearing age and, in particular, risks to new and expectant mothers. If you are notified that an employee is pregnant, breastfeeding, or has given birth within the last 6 months, you should check the workplace risk assessment to see if any new risks have arisen.

An assessment may help identify any additional action that needs to be taken to mitigate risks. Any risks identified at that point, or later during the pregnancy, in the first 6 months after birth, or while the employee is still breastfeeding, must be included and managed as part of the general workplace risk assessment. 

You must take appropriate sensible action to reduce, remove or control the risks. As part of your risk assessment, you should consider whether adapting duties and/or facilitating home working may be appropriate to mitigate risks.

You should be aware that pregnant women from 28 weeks’ gestation, or with underlying health conditions at any point of gestation, may be at greater risk of severe illness if they catch coronavirus. This is also the case for pregnant women with underlying health conditions that place them at greater risk.

Staggered started and finishing times

The DfE explains schools should consider staggered starts or adjusting start and finish times to keep groups apart as they arrive and leave.

Staggered start and finish times should not reduce the amount of overall teaching time. A staggered start may include: 

  • Condensing or staggering free periods or break time but retaining the same amount of teaching time 
  • Keeping the length of the day the same but starting and finishing later to avoid busy periods

Ofsted inspections remain suspended

The DfE explains that routine, graded Ofsted inspections remain suspended for the spring term. It is intended that these inspections will resume in the summer term. In the spring term, Ofsted is conducting non-graded monitoring inspections of: 

  • Inadequate schools 
  • Schools judged as requires improvement at their last 2 (or more) consecutive inspections 
  • Some other schools that require improvement

If you are an Edapt subscriber and you are concerned about returning to school you can contact us for further advice and support.

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