UK: Schools are reopening in September – what does the guidance say?

United Kingdom/ 20 July 2020/ Author/ Katie Russell/ Source/

Following new government plans, we ask: when schools reopen to all year groups, and are most families sending kids back?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that all children – across nurseries, primary and secondary schools, and colleges – will be back at school from September “on a full-time plan”.

His words echo Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s promise to get all children back to school by the start of the next term.

The Government has released guidelines for the new measures to be introduced, including: classes arranged into “bubbles”, strict behaviour regimes, banning choirs and assemblies and even overhauling the curriculum.

How would the school curriculum change?

The curriculum might be curtailed to focus solely on maths and English for a year, to allow pupils to ‘catch up’ and fill any gaps in their “core knowledge”. Pupils taking their GCSEs next summer could need to drop some subjects entirely to make room for extra maths and English lessons, and children in Year 7 might need to be retaught parts of the English and maths syllabus from their final year at primary school.

Students will be quizzed regularly to ensure they have a full grasp of the curriculum, and the government recommends a “broad and ambitious” curriculum, including a wide range of subjects.

Teachers have also been told that they must incorporate remote learning into their lesson plans, as it may need to be an “essential component” of a child’s learning if there is a local lockdown and a school is closed down. Schools have also been told to have a contingency plan in place for remote learning by the end of September at the latest, incorporating high quality online resources and teaching videos, as well as printed worksheets and textbooks for those who do not have computers. Remote learning must also be delivered for children who are shielding or continuing to self-isolate at home.

All league tables have been suspended for the next academic year. GCSEs and A Levels will take place in summer 2021, but with some “adaptions” which will “free up teaching time” (more details to come from Ofqual in the coming weeks). There will also be GCSE and A Level exams this autumn for students wishing to appeal against the predicted grades they are given this summer.

As well as overhauling the curriculum, the government has altered its approach to social distancing within school walls.Students will not need to socially distance – instead, they will be grouped into “bubbles” (either in classes or year groups) and these students will have their lessons, breaks and lunchtimes together. This approach reduces the risk of transmission and, if a pupil does get Covid-19, also limits the number of pupils who would need to self-isolate.

If there is an outbreak in a school (defined as two or more cases of coronavirus, or overall rise in sickness and absence where Covid-19 is suspected to be the cause, within two weeks) the school will need to liaise with their local health protection team who will advise on whether further action is needed. This could include asking a number of pupils to stay at home and self-isolate or encouragement for pupils and teachers to be tested – but school closures will “not generally be necessary”.

Classroom layouts will also be adapted. Instead of facing each other, all pupils will face the front of the classroom. Windows will be kept open where possible, and any unnecessary furniture removed to optimise space.

Assemblies and communal activities, such as prayer, will be banned. School choirs and ensmebles (including playing brass or wind instruments) are also prohibited, as the government guidelines warns of an “additional risk of infection”.

Lunch and break times will be staggered, with each bubble needing to stay apart from other children as much as possible. School canteens will be allowed to open, but tables and chairs must be wiped down after use by each bubble of pupils.

Schools will also stagger start times for pupils, and ensure that they don’t coincide with rush hour. Parents will be told not to congregate by the school gates.

After almost six months at home, the government anticipate an increase in children’s bad behaviour, so recommends schools try to “reintegrate” children into school life. Children can be expelled – but only as a last resort.

What are the current government guidelines?

Earlier this month on June 15, which reopened secondary schools to Year 10 and 12 pupils, and the reopening of primary schools to Reception, Year One and Year Six pupils from June 1.

In Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings, the government advised secondary schools and colleges to “ensure that only a quarter of pupils in year 10 and year 12 are in school at any one time”.

Thus far, while the school gates have been allowed by the government to re-open, many families have chosen not to send their children back at school. A survey of headteachers by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) found that just 62 per cent of schools were set to bring back all of their eligible Year 10 and 12 pupils from June 15 – meaning more than a third would only open their schools to some pupils, if at all.

The main reason cited by heads who chose not to open schools to the extent the government advice allowed was fear of driving up the local reproduction (R) rate of the virus. According to the report: “The main reason for not opening to more pupils from June 15 is local concerns about the reproduction rate of the virus.”

Some councils have even gone against government guidelines and stopped schools from reopening. Bury Council, for instance, announced that Year 10s could go back on June 15 but Year 12s would have to wait. Likewise, Wirral Council, following a rise in the local reproduction rate of the virus, said it was “supportive of schools to pause their plans to open to more children until further information is provided”.

This cautiousness has also affected primary schools. Up to half a million pupils were forced to stay at home after more than 50 councils defied the Government’s plans and did not open primary schools on June 1.

When will all children be back at school?

The Government confirmed on July 17 that all children will be back to school with full attendance in September.

To facilitate this, the Government is planning to expand classroom “bubbles”, the Education Secretary revealed on June 19.

Gavin Williamson said there were signs that the virus was receding, saying that meant ministers could look at “making sure every child returns to school”.

He added: “We’ve been creating bubbles of children in the classroom, creating a protective environment for those children.

“Currently that is at 15, what we would be looking at doing is expanding those bubbles to include the whole class.”

Mr Williamson also committed to the guarantee given by Boris Johnson earlier today that every child would return in September, saying he was aiming to get “every child back, in every year group, in every school”.

Initially, the government promised that primary school pupils would return to school for a month before the summer holidays. However, on June 8 the Government acknowledged that most primary school pupils would not be able to return to school this term and each school has established its own rules.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned ministers that welcoming all primary school pupils back before the summer holidays would be “unworkable”, given the Department for Education’s recommendation that classes be split into groups of 15.

“If class sizes can be 15 at a maximum and you are genuinely going to have every child in, you will need double the class sizes and double the teachers,” Barton said. “Officials were quick to realise that, unless you can suddenly rustle up double the classrooms and double the teachers, it is logistically impossible.”

However, all secondary school students should be able to go into school for a face-to-face meeting with a member of staff before the summer holidays – although this is likely to be a one-off occurrence.

What’s happening with private schools?

Private schools don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Department for Education, so they have been able to set their own rules for reopening. Westonbirt Prep School in Gloucestershire, for instance, opened to the entirety of its school population on June 23.

Initially, private schools were asked to cap the students allowed into their buildings at 25 per cent. Independent schools lobbied ministers against this, arguing that they tend to have smaller class sizes than state schools and, often, larger buildings.

“The Government seems to have made these plans based on large secondaries with year groups of 200 pupils,” said Neil Roskilly, chef executive of the Independent School Association (ISA). “But if you are a small private with 40 children in the year, just bringing back a small proportion of that doesn’t make sense.”

Many private schools were unable to reopen because, without the Government approval for them to have more pupils back, their insurers would not cover their legal liability. Others decided to open, but to maintain a focus on remote learning.

Meanwhile, some schools will never be able to open again. As many as 30 British private schools are preparing to close down indefinitely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, often citing parents’ struggles to pay fees.

What is school like for students who are back?

Even though some secondary pupils are now back at school, many are not yet in full-time lessons. The government guidelines have not stipulated that teaching must now begin – instead, they currently recommend “face-to-face support to supplement the remote education”.

As for the school environment itself, it has been transformed – with schools introducing one-way traffic systems in the corridors, smaller class sizes composed of ‘bubbles’ and a two metre distance between pupils.

Some schools have gone for more innovative solutions – such as the pop-up tent built at Manorfield Primary School in Tower Hamlets, by architects Curl la Tourelle Head.

According to new draft government plans, teachers will not be able to stand less than a metre away from children for more than 15 minutes when schools fully reopen; whole-school assemblies will be banned; and children will have staggered lunch times, as well as home times.

Controversy surrounding GCSEs and A-levels

As GCSE and A-level exams were cancelled this year, teachers were instead put in the tricky situation of having to predict what their Year 11 and 13 students would have achieved, had they sat their exams.

This process is controversial – not only does it create setbacks for those students who would have “pulled it out of the bag” on the day of their exam, but it also does not acknowledge teachers’ unconscious bias towards students, relating to their gender, ethnicity and background.

The need for these grades to follow a certain data pattern for the school has also led people to question whether this system is fair.

Public divide: should kids be going back to school?

It’s an issue that has divided parents – and their WhatsApp groups – all over the UK. Should children go back to school, or is it safer for them to stay at home?

Telegraph readers have weighed in on the issue. Some believe children should hold out until September. “Schools should not rush to open, but wait until September so special measures can be put in place and all can prepare,” said Melissa, a secondary school teacher.

Meanwhile, Stephanie, a parent, argued for schools to reopen, as she worried about her son who is “badly missing his peers”. On Twitter, too, there has been a similar divide.

Before schools reopened to some children, a poll found that the majority of parents would not send their children back to school straightaway.

Yet other parents are desperate for schools to reopen – especially those who juggle homeschooling with holding down a full-time job. One writer said she will have to quit her job because her child’s school is still closed.

As lockdown restrictions start to lift, others argue it makes sense for children to return to school. The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said it was “ridiculous” that schools are opening after other parts of the economy – noting that children “could have spent two and a half months browsing Primark, but not been in school”.

Children missing out on education

Boris Johnson announced on June 19 that the Government will pay for private tutors for children who have fallen behind during lockdown as part of a £1 billion “catch-up” plan.

Schools will be given money to hire in-house tutors who can run extra classes for small groups of pupils throughout the academic year.

Two million children have done almost no home learning during lockdown, according to a study from University of London’s Institute of Education. The study, which assessed 4,500 households in the UK, found one in five pupils in the UK either did no home schoolwork at all or less than one hour a day.

This could be partly due to the standard of teaching in lockdown, which varies from school to school – with independent schools often offering a full timetable, and many state schools offering worksheets online with no teacher interaction for three months and counting. An estimated four million students have not had regular contact with their teachers, according to an academic study.

Those from disadvantaged backgrounds have been hardest hit, according to the UCL research. The poorest children, defined as those eligible for free school meals, did the least schoolwork at home; only one in 10 spent more than four hours a day on schoolwork, compared to almost one in five of their wealthier classmates.

The attainment gap: long-term implications of lockdown

Lockdown learning has widened the attainment gap between rich and disadvantaged children, and an “immense” number of children will fail to reach their potential, according to the Children’s Commissioner.

Anne Longfield said that the closure of schools has had a particular impact on children from deprived backgrounds and could lead to them dropping out of education forever.

When pupils do finally return to school, wealthier children from primary schools will have received seven days’ worth of extra home learning, according to a recent report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Remarking on this phenomenon on Sky News, Michael Gove said the longer children were not in school, “the more the divide between those children who are in privileged circumstances and those children who are in less privileged circumstances grows”.

Looming mental health crisis

Parents might believe the threat of Covid-19 is a reason to keep their child at home, but in doing so they might expose them to another health problem: mental ill health.

A recent review by the University of Bath found that young people, between the ages of four and 21, who have experienced loneliness during lockdown are up to three times more likely to develop depression, and the impact could last for at least nine years.

As such, Dr Gavin Morgan told The Sunday Telegraph that schools remaining shut is “100 per cent worse” for children than coronavirus. “We know how important play is for children’s development,” he said. “If they can’t play with their friends, their mental health is going to suffer.”

This is particularly relevant to teenagers. Depriving teens of contact with their friends could have an impact on brain development and behaviour, and their mental health could also suffer, according to a recent article in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health.

Are you a teacher or parent who will be impacted by schools reopening? Do you think September is too late? Or do you feel it’s too soon? Share your thoughts on the proposed reopening below or send an email to

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UK: Schools are reopening in September – what does the guidance say? – Sarraute Educación María Magdalena

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