Omicron variant: updated guidance for schools

The majority of Covid restrictions have been removed in English schools. Rules have also been eased elsewhere in the UK, but some measures are being retained for the moment.

Staff and students without symptoms in England are no longer asked to test for Covid twice-weekly. Secondary school pupils also don’t need to wear masks. The legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test is also being removed, although it is still recommended.

The information in the support article below was current at the time it was published. You may still find it useful for reference purposes.

Overview

The Department for Education (DfE) has updated its covid operational guidance for schools in England with the news of the omicron variant. 

It explains, these measures are precautionary, while the variant is tracked and assessed. 

As a result, the DfE are suggesting a temporary recommendation on the wearing of face coverings in schools and changes to isolation requirements for confirmed and suspected cases of the omicron variant and their contacts. This advice remains subject to change as the situation develops.

In Wales, face coverings also should be worn by secondary aged learners in all indoor areas, including classrooms, where physical distance cannot be maintained.

If you are an Edapt subscriber, you can contact us for support and advice on this topic. We will be able to update this article when the government advice changes.

In this support article we provide a summary of the updated guidance from the DfE. We’ve also published another article on the topic of whether Christmas plays can go ahead.

Omicron variant: what are the main changes to schools?

Changes to the guidance since its 27 September 2021 publication include: 

  • Updated advice on tracing close contacts and isolation to reflect the change in measures for close contacts of suspected or confirmed omicron cases 
  • Updated advice on face coverings to reflect the change in measures – they are now recommended in communal areas in all schools for adults and for pupils from year 7 onwards 
  • Updated information in the other considerations section on vaccination of under 18 year olds
  • An updated travel and quarantine section to reflect that pupils arriving from abroad will need to isolate and test on arrival
  • An updated educational visits section to advise you consider whether to go ahead with any planned international educational visits

Omicron variant: tracing close contacts and isolation

All individuals who have been identified as a close contact of a suspected or confirmed case of the omicron variant of COVID-19, irrespective of vaccination status and age, will be contacted directly and required to self-isolate immediately and asked to book a PCR test. 

They will be informed by the local health protection team or NHS Test and Trace if they fall into this category and provided details about self-isolation.

Further actions for educational settings may be advised by a local Incident Management Team (IMT) investigating a suspected or confirmed case of the omicron variant of COVID-19. For everyone else, isolation rules are unchanged. Individuals are not required to self isolate if they live in the same household as someone with COVID-19 who is not a suspected or confirmed case of the omicron variant, or are a close contact of someone with COVID-19 who is not a suspected or confirmed case of the omicron variant, and any of the following apply:

  • They are fully vaccinated
  • They are below the age of 18 years and 6 months
  • They have taken part in or are currently part of an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
  • They are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons 

Instead, they will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace, informed they have been in close contact with a positive case and advised to take a PCR test.

Staff who do not need to isolate, and children and young people aged under 18 years 6 months who usually attend school, and have been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19 who is not a suspected or confirmed case of the omicron variant, should continue to attend school as normal. 

18-year-olds will be treated in the same way as children until 6 months after their 18th birthday, to allow them the opportunity to get fully vaccinated. At which point, they will be subject to the same rules as adults and so if they choose not to get vaccinated, they will need to self-isolate if identified as a close contact.

Omicron variant: face masks in communal areas

Where pupils in year 7 (which would be children who were aged 11 on 31 August 2021) and above are educated, we recommend that face coverings should be worn by pupils, staff and adult visitors when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas. 

This is a temporary measure. Pupils in these schools should also wear a face covering when travelling on public transport and dedicated transport to and from school. We do not advise that pupils and staff wear face coverings in classrooms. In primary schools, we recommend that face coverings should be worn by staff and adults (including visitors) when moving around in corridors and communal areas. 

Health advice continues to be that children in primary schools should not be asked to wear face coverings. Face coverings do not need to be worn when outdoors.

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