Reopening of schools FAQs


The UK government has stated that it may be in a position to begin the phased reopening of schools to get primary pupils back into school, in stages, beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from June 1st.

The government also explains secondary schools and further education colleges should also prepare to begin some face to face contact with year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year, in support of their continued remote, home learning.

In this article, we summarise information from the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) guidance on education settings to prepare for wider reopening and implementing protective measures in education settings document.

Do teachers need to wear face masks?

The DfE explains wearing a face covering or face mask in schools or other education settings is not recommended. Face coverings may be beneficial for short periods indoors where there is a risk of close social contact with people you do not usually meet and where social distancing and other measures cannot be maintained, for example on public transport or in some shops. 

This does not apply to schools or other education settings. Schools should therefore not require staff to wear face coverings.

Is there a 15 pupil limit in primary classes?

The DfE explains that primary school classes should normally be split in half, with no more than 15 pupils per small group and one teacher (and, if needed, a teaching assistant). If there are any shortages of teachers, then teaching assistants can be allocated to lead a group, working under the direction of a teacher. Vulnerable children and children of critical workers in other year groups should also be split into small groups of no more than 15.

Desks should be spaced as far apart as possible.

The DfE notes that each setting’s circumstances will be slightly different. Any setting that cannot achieve these small groups at any point should discuss options with their local authority or trust.

This might be because there are not enough classrooms or spaces available in the setting or because they do not have enough available teachers or staff to supervise the groups. Solutions might involve children attending a nearby school. 

Do the same principle apply in secondary schools?

For secondary schools and colleges, the same principle of halving classes will normally apply. It is also sensible to rearrange classrooms and workshops with sitting positions 2 metres apart. Where very small classes might result from halving, it would be acceptable to have more than half in a class, provided the space has been rearranged. Again, support staff may be drawn on in the event there are teacher shortages, working under the direction of others teachers in the setting.

Should my school conduct a risk assessment before I return?

The DfE explains that schools should carry out a risk assessment before opening. The assessment should directly address risks associated with COVID-19, so that sensible measures can be put in place to control those risks for children and staff. All employers have a duty to consult employees on health and safety, and they are best placed to understand the risks on individual settings.

Will teachers be able to get tested if they have symptoms?

The DfE states that access to testing is already available to all essential workers. This includes anyone involved in education, childcare or social work. Education settings as employers can book tests through an online digital portal. There is also an option for employees to book tests directly on the portal.

What should teachers be teaching?

The DfE explains no school will be penalised if they are unable to offer a board and balanced curriculum to their pupils during this period. It states that schools continue to be best placed to make decisions about how to support and educate all their pupils during this period, based on the local context and staff capacity.

Where year groups are returning, the DfE expects school leaders and teachers to:

  • Consider their pupils’ mental health and wellbeing and identify any pupil who may need additional support so they are ready to learn
  • Access where pupils are in their learning, and agree what adjustments may be needed ot the school curriculum over the coming weeks
  • Identify and plan how best to support the education of high needs groups, including disadvantaged pupils, and SEND and vulnerable pupils
  • Support pupils in year 6, who will need both their primary and secondary schools to work together to support their upcoming transition to year 7

Schools should use best endeavours to support pupils attending school as well as those remaining at home, making use of the available remote education support.

Will changes be made to staff workload and wellbeing?

Governing boards and senior leaders should be conscious of the wellbeing of all staff, including senior leaders themselves, and the need to implement flexible working practices in a way that promotes good work-life balance and supports teachers and leaders.

Workload should be carefully managed and schools and colleges should assess whether staff who are having to stay at home due to health conditions are able to support remote education, while others focus on face-to-face provision. Senior leaders and boards will want to factor this into their resource and curriculum planning, and consider where additional resource could be safely brought in if necessary.

What should teachers do if living with a shielded or clinically vulnerable person?

The DfE explains that if a member of staff lives with someone who is clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable), including those who are pregnant, they can attend their education setting.

If a member of staff lives in a household with someone who is extremely clinically vulnerable, as set out in the COVID-19: guidance on shielding and protecting people, it is advised they only attend an education or childcare setting if stringent social distancing can be adhered to.

What other practical measures does my school need to consider?

The DfE explains that schools should consider the following steps:

  • Decide which lessons or activities will be delivered
  • Consider which lessons or classroom activities could take place outdoors
  • Stagger assembly groups
  • Stagger break times (including lunch), so that all children are not moving around the school at the same time
  • Stagger drop-off and collection times
  • For secondary schools and colleges, consider how best to supplement remote education with some face-to-face support for students
  • Plan parents’ drop-off and pick-up protocols that minimise adult to adult contact

What happens if there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at my school?

The DfE explains that when a child or staff member develops symptoms compatible with coronavirus, they should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 7 days. All staff and students who are attending an education setting will have access to a test if they display symptoms of coronavirus, and are encouraged to get tested in this scenario.

Where the child or staff member tests negative, they can return to their setting.

Where the child or staff member tests positive, the rest of their class or group within their setting should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 14 days. The other household members of that wider class or group do not need to self-isolate unless the child, young person or staff member they live with in that group subsequently develops symptoms.

As part of the national test and trace programme, if other cases are detected within the cohort or in the wider setting, Public Health England’s local health protection teams will conduct a rapid investigation and will advise schools and other settings on the most appropriate action to take.

In some cases a larger number of other children, young people may be asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure – perhaps the whole class, site or year group. Where settings are observing guidance on infection prevention and control, which will reduce risk of transmission, closure of the whole setting will not generally be necessary.

We have also published another article which looks at the topic of social distancing in schools.

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