Easing restrictions in education settings (6th July 2021 Update)
On 5 July the Prime Minister announced that at Step 4 we will be able to remove swathes of restrictions on daily life, and that after 16 months of sacrifice by those across society, we will return even closer to normality. Having balanced the risks, the Government has decided that key restrictions on education and childcare will come to an end as we move to Step 4.
The enormous efforts made by students and teachers have allowed us to control the virus and save lives – and as we continue to ease restrictions, we will put the education and wellbeing of schoolchildren first. That is why, as part of Step 4 of our Roadmap, it is expected from 19 July, COVID bubbles in schools will end, social distancing will no longer be required, and start and finish times will no longer need to be staggered – however schools will be allowed to continue with these measures until the end of term if they wish.
Bubbles and contact tracing
Though keeping children and young people in consistent groups was essential to control the spread of the virus when our population was less vaccinated, we recognise that the system of bubbles is causing disruption to education and childcare.
That is why the Government will be ending bubbles for early years settings, schools, out-of-school settings and Further Education (FE) providers, and transferring contact tracing to the NHS test and trace system, where this is not already the case. Where there are outbreaks, schools, out-of-school settings, and FE providers may be contacted by Test and Trace, and will work with local health teams as they do now.
NHS test and trace will carry out contact tracing in all education settings rather than being run by the school or college. Those identified as close contacts will be advised to take a PCR test, and only need to isolate if they test positive. Children must self-isolate if they have symptoms of COVID or a positive test result.
Testing for close contacts under 18 will be split into two categories. All Primary, Secondary and College age children should take a single PCR test. Early Years children should only take a PCR test if a member of their household tests positive.
From Step 4, larger group activities such as sports days and transition days can resume as well as all school trips, drama, music and sporting activity will be able to resume in line with the relaxation of restrictions across society from Step 4. Removing bubbles allows increased flexibility in curriculum delivery and also means that important routines such as assemblies can resume. Schools and FE providers may of course decide to keep the current arrangement for the last few days of term.
Should Step 4 be taken in July, this also means that bubbles will not need to be used for any summer provision (for example, summer schools, the holiday, activities and food programme or any other holiday clubs) or in education settings from the autumn term.
We need to be prepared for the possibility that in some local areas we may recommend the reintroduction of ‘bubbles’ or other control measures for a temporary period, to reduce mixing between groups. We are therefore asking education institutions and childcare settings to make sure their outbreak management plans cover this possibility and work with local health teams, as is standard practice. Local Directors of Public Health may advise a setting to temporarily reintroduce some control measures in the event of an outbreak. Any recommendation to reintroduce ‘bubbles’ would not be taken lightly and would need to take account of the detrimental impact they can have on the delivery of education.
From 16 August, children and young people will only need to isolate if they have tested positive with COVID-19. In addition, fully vaccinated staff who have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive will be able to remain in the classroom from the Autumn term.
There will be no restrictions on in-person teaching and learning in universities, unless students are advised to isolate or impacted by local outbreaks.
Over the summer, both staff and secondary school /college students should continue to test regularly if they are attending settings that remain open, such as summer schools and out of school activities based in school settings. Schools will only provide tests for twice weekly asymptomatic testing for pupils and staff over the summer period if they are attending school settings. However, testing will still be widely available over the summer and kits can be collected either from your local pharmacy or ordered online.
As students will potentially mix with other people during the summer holidays, all secondary school and college students should receive 2 on-site lateral flow device tests, 3 to 5 days apart, on their return in the autumn term. Students should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, when this will be reviewed. Staff should undertake twice weekly home tests until the end of September, when this will also be reviewed.
There is no need for primary age pupils (those in year 6 and below) to test over the summer period. They will be offered the 2 tests at an Assisted Testing Site at the beginning of the autumn term when they start at their secondary school as a new year 7. Schools may choose, however, to start testing year 6 pupils earlier, including in summer schools, depending on their local circumstances.
Protective measures will remain in place for the autumn term in all education settings including practicing good hygiene, ventilation, and regular testing until the end of September to strike a balance between relaxing restrictions and minimising further disruption to children’s education.
From 17 May, in line with Step 3 of the roadmap, face coverings were no longer recommended for pupils and students in classrooms or communal areas, in all schools and FE providers.
From Step 4, face coverings will also no longer be advised for staff and visitors in communal areas and social distancing will no longer be necessary.
Education and childcare has been a key priority for this Government during the COVID-19 pandemic, from providing high-quality remote education during periods of national lockdown to prioritising the wider reopening of schools, out-of-school settings, wraparound childcare and FE providers as part of the first step in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Now, as we emerge from this pandemic, our focus continues to be on young people of our country and ensuring no child is left behind with their learning. Further detailed guidance has been published to enable schools and FE providers to plan for how they will operate from September and for out-of-school settings to help them plan for how they will operate over the summer.
Guidance Updates COVID-19 Response: Summer 2021
- Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak
- Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus outbreak
- Guidance for special schools and other specialist settings
- Assessment processes for selective school admissions
- Actions for FE colleges and providers during the coronavirus outbreak
- Guidance for higher education providers
- Use of PPE in education, childcare and children’s social care
What will happen if there’s a confirmed case in an early years setting?
We’re removing the need to limit mixing between groups and contact tracing conducted by staff in the early years settings, schools and colleges. NHS Test & Trace will now oversee contact tracing in all education settings.
Settings should continue to report cases to Ofsted as previously.
From 16 August, the legal requirement to self-isolate for contacts of a positive case will end for everyone aged under 18 but children should stay at home if they have symptoms of COVID or a positive test result.
Will parents be allowed to go into nurseries at drop off and pick up?
There won’t be any national restrictions that say parents can’t enter early years settings at drop off and pick up – although we know many settings prefer parents to pick children up without coming inside regardless of COVID.
Will children have to stay in bubbles at primary schools?
No. Primary schools will no longer be expected to keep pupils in bubbles.
Are there any other changes for primary schools?
Not significant ones. Primary school pupils don’t have to regularly test nor have there been any expectations for them to wear face coverings. Teachers and other staff will no longer have to wear face coverings in communal areas.
From 16 August, school children will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are a contact of a positive case. Close contacts should take a PCR test and only need to isolate if they test positive.
Teachers and staff should keep on testing twice a week even if fully vaccinated.
What things will be staying the same?
Guidance on hygiene measures, cleaning and keeping classrooms well ventilated will remain, as will local contingency measures if there are significant outbreaks. These may require greater levels of isolation, the reintroduction of face coverings and community testing.
What will happen if there is a positive case in a primary school?
From 16 August, children under the age of 18 years old will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are contacted by NHS Test & Trace as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case. Instead, children will be contacted by NHS Test & Trace, informed they have been in close contact with a positive case and advised to take a PCR test.
Secondary schools and colleges
Will secondary age pupils at schools and colleges have to stay in bubbles?
No. Secondary school and college students won’t have to stay in bubbles.
What about face coverings?
Face coverings are no longer recommended in education settings. Headteachers may still wish to recommend pupils wear them and pupils themselves remain free to wear face coverings if they decide to. Staff and visitors are free to wear a face covering in communal areas if they wish to. It may be the case that, in the event of a significant outbreak, face coverings in schools will again be recommended.
What happens to testing for all staff, secondary and college students?
Over the summer all staff, secondary school and college students should continue to test and report results online. You can test during the summer by ordering your free rapid Covid-19 tests online nhs.uk/GetTested, or by picking them up at pharmacies.
You will continue to receive tests if you're attending summer schools, out of school activities based on education sites and settings that do not operate on a term time basis. In these cases, staff and students should continue to test twice weekly at home and it is important test results are reported regardless of whether they are positive, negative or void.
This autumn asymptomatic testing will resume in secondary schools and colleges - including two tests in person on return – and continue until the end of September with a review at that point. It means apart from tests taken in person on the return to school, pupils will be expected to carry on testing themselves twice a week using LFD tests obtained online, through their school/college or via their local pharmacy.
What if there is a positive case in a secondary school or college?
From 16 August, children under the age of 18 years old will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are contacted by NHS Test & Trace as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case. Instead, children will be contacted by NHS Test & Trace, informed they have been in close contact with a positive case and advised to take a PCR test. 18-year-olds will be treated in the same way as children until 4 months after their 18th birthday to allow them the opportunity to get fully vaccinated.
What things will be staying the same?
Guidance on hygiene measures, cleaning keeping classrooms well ventilated will remain, as will local contingency measures if there are significant outbreaks. These may require greater levels of isolation and community testing.
What if my child is clinically extremely vulnerable?
Pupils who are clinically extremely vulnerable should attend school and college including out-of-school settings.
If you are a parent or student and feeling are anxious about attendance, you should speak to your education setting about your concerns and discuss whether any accommodations can be made to ensure that your child can regularly attend school.
Where a pupil or student is unable to attend because they are complying with clinical or public health advice, their school or college will be to be able to offer them access to remote education.
What will the main changes be in universities?
For Higher Education, step 4 of the roadmap means there will be no further restrictions and in-person teaching can resume for the autumn term.
What about testing?
Testing remains important and students and staff should continue twice weekly testing either using home test kits or at an on-site facility. These tests should be taken three-four days apart.
Tests are free and are available via gov.uk, your local pharmacy or community testing centre. It is important that you register your test result regardless of whether it’s negative, positive or void.
If you do test positive for Covid, you will need to isolate for 10 days.
Do students or staff still need to wear a face covering?
No. Face coverings are no longer recommended in education settings. Individuals are free to wear a face covering in communal areas and classrooms if they wish to.
What if someone is not vaccinated, can they go back to university?
Vaccinations are not mandatory but we strongly encourage all students to get their jab before returning to university, as the COVID-19 vaccination programme continues and has been offered to everyone aged 18 and over.
Students can access the vaccine programme via local sites run by GPs or community pharmacies, at larger vaccination centres and in some hospitals.
Will online learning continue during the autumn?
Universities are autonomous and it is for them to determine what their learning approach is, taking into account any Government guidance.
But as step 4 means in-person teaching can continue, we expect universities to ensure their tuition is accessible for all.