Schools and colleges to reopen in full in September
Current restrictions on group sizes will be lifted to allow schools, colleges and nurseries to fully reopen to all children and young people, as Covid-19 infection rates continue to fall.
Covid-19 secure measures will remain in place to reduce the risk of transmission, with schools being asked to keep children in class or year group sized ‘bubbles’ and encourage older children to keep their distance from each other and staff where possible. This is alongside protective measures such as regular cleaning and handwashing.
Where there is a positive case in a school or college, the Public Health England local health protection team will advise on the appropriate action, which could include small groups of young people and staff being asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days. Where there are two or more confirmed cases in a two-week period, health protection teams may ask a larger number of other children or young people to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure.
Where an outbreak in a school is confirmed, for specific detailed investigations a mobile testing unit may be dispatched to test others who may have been in contact with the person who has tested positive. Testing will first focus on the person’s class, followed by their year group, then the whole school if necessary.
All staff, pupils and their families will continue to have access to testing if they develop Covid-19 symptoms and schools will be provided with easy to use home testing kits for children and staff who would otherwise be unable to get a test.
Schools will be expected to have plans in place to offer remote education to pupils who are self-isolating.
To ensure pupils can catch up on lost learning, schools will be required to resume teaching a broad and balanced curriculum in all subjects, making use of existing flexibilities to create time to address gaps in knowledge. Schools should consider how all subjects can contribute to filling gaps in core knowledge.
This will help pupils catch up and will work alongside the financial support provided to primary and secondary schools through the Government’s £1 billion Covid catch-up package. This is on top of the £14 billion that we are investing in schools over the next three years.
Exams will take place in 2021 and Ofqual is consulting on arrangements for those exams, including measures to mitigate any impact on pupils from time out of school.
For The Government’s full ‘Guidance for full opening: schools’, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/guidance-for-full-opening-schools
Face coverings in education
Nationwide, the Government is not recommending face coverings are necessary in education settings generally because a system of control, applicable to all education environments, provides additional mitigating measures. Schools and colleges will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed, if they believe that it is right in their particular circumstances.
Examples of where education leaders might decide to recommend the wearing of face coverings - for pupils and staff - in communal areas of the education setting include:
- where the layout of the school or college estate makes it particularly difficult to maintain social distancing when staff and pupils are moving around the premises
- where on top of hygiene measures and the system of controls recommended in the full opening guidance to schools and FE colleges and providers, permitting the use of face coverings for staff, pupils or other visitors would provide additional confidence to parents to support a full return of children to school or college
Safe wearing of face coverings requires cleaning of hands before and after touching – including to remove or put them on – and the safe storage of them in individual, sealable plastic bags between use. Where a face covering becomes damp, it should not be worn and the face covering should be replaced carefully.
On the basis of current evidence, in light of the mitigating measures education settings are taking, and the negative impact on communication, face coverings will not generally be necessary in the classroom even where social distancing is not possible. There is greater use of the system of controls for minimising risk, including through keeping in small and consistent groups or bubbles, and greater scope for physical distancing by staff within classrooms. Face coverings can have a negative impact on learning and teaching and so their use in the classroom should be avoided.
Where local restrictions apply
Schools and colleges should take additional precautionary measures in areas where the transmission of the virus is high. These areas are defined as areas of national Government intervention.
In these local intervention (lockdown) areas, in education settings where Year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn by adults and pupils when moving around, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain. As in the general approach, it will not usually be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, where protective measures already mean the risks are lower, and they may inhibit teaching and learning.
In the event of new local restrictions being imposed, schools and colleges will need to communicate quickly and clearly to staff, parents, pupils and learners that the new arrangements require the use of face coverings in certain circumstances. This updated guidance on face coverings for areas of national government intervention will come into effect on 1 September. Separate guidance will be issued on this.
Some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings. For example people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability, or if you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate. The same exemptions will apply in education settings, and we would expect teachers and other staff to be sensitive to those needs.
For more information on face coverings in education, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-in-education
Details on exams and grades
GCSE, A and AS Level
Ofqual had consulted on and implemented a standardisation process for exam results this summer, but the system has resulted in too many inconsistent and unfair outcomes for A and AS level students. Over the last few days, it has become clear that the algorithm has revealed a number of anomalies that had not been anticipated by Ofqual and which severely undermined confidence in the system.
Subsequently, the Government and Ofqual have jointly agreed to revert to centre assessment grades, which are the grades which schools and colleges assessed students were most likely to have achieved, had exams gone ahead. This was deemed to be the fairest approach to avoid some students receiving grades that did not reflect their prior performance.
Students who would have sat their GCSE, A or AS level results will now receive their centre assessment grade from their school or college. If students’ calculated grades were higher than the centre assessment grade, their calculated grade will stand.
Students will also have the opportunity to sit exams in the autumn if they were not able to receive grades this summer or are not happy with the grades they have received.
BTEC or other Vocational and Technical Qualification (VTQ) results
Vocational and technical results, such as BTECs and Cambridge Technicals, were assessed differently to A levels. The statistical approach used for A levels was not generally used for VTQs as results generally took into account other factors such as coursework already completed.
Those awarding organisations have decided to take more time in order to make absolutely certain no student is inadvertently worse off due to changes in how grades are assessed.
Critically, no student will see their result downgraded as a result of this review, so any results already issued will either stay the same or improve. The relevant awarding organisations have assured us that students will receive their results as soon as possible.
The Government recognises the move to centre assessment grades will have implications for universities and students, and therefore intends to remove student number controls. The move will help to prioritise students’ interests and ensure that there are no barriers to students being able to progress.
The Government is working closely with the sector to create additional capacity and ensure they are as flexible as possible, and are setting a clear expectation that they honour all offers made and met. The Universities Minister Michelle Donelan will lead a new taskforce, working with sector groups, to ensure students can progress to the next stage of their education.
Students who previously missed their offer and will now meet it on the basis of their centre assessment grade should get in contact with the university. Those who have accepted an offer will be able to release themselves if they have another offer reinstated.
More Information for students about GCSEs, AS and A levels and other qualifications in 2020 online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/summer-gcse-as-and-a-level-results-2020-information-for-students/information-for-students-about-gcses-as-and-a-levels-and-other-qualifications-in-2020
Free school meals
Due to the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, we recognised families will face increased pressure on household budgets over the coming months. That is why we launched a Covid Summer Food Fund which will enable children who are eligible for benefits-related free school meals to be supported over the summer holiday period.
The payments for the Covid Summer Food Fund will be met centrally by DfE. This is in addition to the free school meals national voucher scheme and will support children who usually receive benefits-related free school meals.
For more information, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-summer-food-fund
Open letter from Essex County Council ahead of schools opening
Dear parents and carers of Essex school children,
Last month marked the end to an extraordinary school year. Schools and colleges had to respond to necessary measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, meaning they closed to the majority of pupils on 23 March. June then saw the return of some pupils, largely on a part-time basis. Throughout, we have been incredibly proud of Essex’s response. Many parents and carers have had to provide childcare and assist with education on top of their work commitments, teachers and education staff have had to deal with the logistical issues associated with ensuring those attending settings were kept safe, and pupils have experienced disruption to their routine, education, exams and social interactions. We do not underestimate the sacrifices that have been made, the uncertainty that’s been felt, and the hard work that’s gone into Essex’s response to this crisis.
The government has said education settings can return to full-time opening for all students from the beginning of September. This is possible because the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community has decreased since settings restricted opening in March, NHS Test and Trace is now up and running, and settings have a better understanding of the measures that need to be in place to create safer environments. While there will still be risks as long as COVID-19 remains in the community, scientific evidence shows that COVID-19 presents a lower risk to children than adults of becoming severely ill, and that there is no evidence that children transmit the disease any more than adults.
In preparation for wider opening, we ask that parents and carers read the government’s guidance on what parents and carers need to know about early years providers, schools and colleges in the autumn term and speak to their children about the important role we must all play in reducing the spread of the virus. Essex schools and colleges have been communicating their individual plans for September with their parent communities; it’s crucial we support our county’s schools and colleges by understanding and adhering to the protective measures they put in place.
Outside school and college, and as a wider population, we must all remain vigilant and observe social distancing measures. It is vital we all play our part if we are to ensure we avoid further restrictions that will impact society.
Essex County Council (ECC) has been working with schools, colleges and partners to prepare for this return, and measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools and colleges will be in place in September. These may include pupils being kept in class or year group-sized bubbles, older pupils being asked to socially distance where possible, the staggering of start, end, break and lunch times, and regular hand-washing. If children, or anyone they live with, have coronavirus symptoms, they must not attend their school or college and you will be asked to collect your child if they are displaying symptoms whilst at school or college. Remote education will be provided for pupils self-isolating.
You will also note the recent change in the government’s advice regarding the wearing of face coverings for children over the age of 12. Schools and colleges have the discretion to advise on the wearing of face coverings in communal areas and have assessed this need as part of their risk assessment. Your school or college will advise you on the decisions it has taken. It is only compulsory to wear face coverings in schools where a local lockdown is in place. This is currently not the case in Essex but please do talk to your school or college about any concerns you have regarding face coverings.
It is recognised that the disruption to children’s education since partial school closures in March has the potential to have a long-lasting impact. It is therefore vital that all children and young people are supported to catch up on any lost learning and to return to the structure and routine of school and college as soon as possible, as we know that schools and colleges play a crucial role in providing for children’s educational, social and emotional developmental needs. We further recognise the challenge placed upon parents needing to home educate their children during this time. It is therefore vitally important that every child returns to school and college when they fully open from 2 September 2020.
However, we also recognise the significant impact that COVID-19 has had on many families’ lives, and that some families will need more support during this time. We will therefore be asking all schools and colleges to work with families who are anxious about their child returning to the classroom to understand the individual circumstances and the concerns they have. All schools and colleges have been required to complete a risk assessment to outline the protective measures that they have put in place to make their setting COVID safe – it is therefore important for parents who are anxious to talk to their child’s education setting to discuss the measures they have put in place and any further support that may be required.
The government has made it clear that attendance will be mandatory for pupils of compulsory school age from September. If any parents are still not sending their child back to school after the school has made contact to explain their risk assessment and measures that are in place, or if levels of attendance were low prior to the lockdown, then it remains within the headteacher’s discretion to request that we, ECC, issue a targeted penalty notice in line with our policy on attendance. We will want to see clear evidence of the support the school has offered to the family to help their child to attend before we agree to the school’s penalty notice request, and will take each case on an individual basis.
Parents and guardians of eligible students who receive transport to their place of education should have now received a letter outlining transport arrangements and protective measures in place for the new school year. We have been working with transport providers to ensure passengers can travel safely.
Students and parents who can travel to school or college safely by walking or cycling are recommended to do so. To help with this, a new dedicated Getting to School section has been launched on ECC’s Stop.Swap.GO! website. It includes maps and information on cycling and walking routes to schools and colleges in Essex, as well as suggested drop-off zones away from the school gate to reduce congestion. These are being developed for schools in Essex’s most congested areas, with more suggestions being added soon. The aim is to help families develop a sustainable and active travel option for the school run.
We are sharing advice, resources and information about local organisations that can help children to prepare to go back to school with confidence as part of our Every Family Matters campaign. Find out more on the Staying Well: Children and Families page on our website.
Finally we would like to wish all young people, their parents and families, and school staff our best wishes for a safe and successful start to the autumn term. We know that whether you are starting a new school for the first time, returning after a long period away from your school setting, or returning from the summer break, the start of a new school term is always an exciting but anxious time – we know this year there will be more nerves than usual, but have confidence in our school leaders and staff that they will welcome you back with warmth, support and understanding.