From Monday 8 March, schools and colleges will open to all pupils with asymptomatic COVID-19 testing in place. University students on practical courses will also return on Monday 8 March. The return of all pupils is a priority in the Government’s roadmap for the easing of restrictions and recovery from the impact of coronavirus pandemic.
The reopening of education settings to all is being prioritised due to the significant and proven impact caused by being out of school to the mental and physical health and wellbeing of children and young people.
We have strengthened existing protective measures in schools, colleges and universities with adults and students in year 7 and above to wear face coverings in all indoor settings, including classrooms as an extra temporary precaution.
Which education settings are opening on 8 March?
Primary school children, secondary school pupils and college students as well as university students on practical courses who need access to specialist facilities and equipment will all return on Monday 8th March.
All secondary school and college students will take three COVID-19 tests as they return to the classroom from the 8 March at existing school testing facilities. Schools and colleges will have discretion on how to stagger the return of their students over that week to allow them to be tested on return. After an initial programme of three tests in school or college, students will be provided with two rapid tests to use each week at home.
What about higher education students whose courses are not practical?
We will review, by the end of the Easter holidays, the options for timing of the return of remaining students. Students and providers will be given a week’s notice ahead of any further return.
Twice weekly testing will continue to be available for all on campus.
What about special schools and alternative provision?
Special schools, special post-16 providers, and alternative provision have remained open to vulnerable children and young people, including those with Educational Health Care Plans, and to the children of critical workers.
Because of this, many settings have continued to offer face to face provision for the vast majority, if not all, of their pupils and students.
From 8 March, we expect students in all year groups to be attending in line with the wider return to face-to-face teaching.
What about wraparound childcare, early years and nursery provision?
Wraparound childcare will be open to parents who need to access it to work, attend education or seek medical care, and to vulnerable children. Early years and nursery provision has remained open to all throughout the lockdown.
How has the approach been guided by scientific evidence?
We have and continue to take the safety of all education staff extremely seriously, and our guidance for all education settings has been based on the best medical advice.
Public Health England continues to advise that the existing range of safety measures in place in education settings remains appropriate.
We have strengthened existing protective measures and staff and students in secondary schools and colleges are advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained as a temporary extra measure, as the twice weekly at home testing regime is set up.
What’s changed since schools were closed to most pupils in January that makes you think March is the right time to reopen them?
Schools closed to most pupils during the third lockdown to help reduce overall social contacts across the country whilst the NHS experienced significant pressure, not because schools were considered a high-risk setting to staff or pupils.
The consensus view from SAGE continues to be that missing out on classroom-based education has severe impacts for children and young people, with clear evidence that further time out of schools and colleges is detrimental for cognitive and academic development, learning, health and wellbeing.
Evidence from the Public Health England-led Schools Infection Study continues to show that infection rates in schools mirror infection rates in the wider community, suggesting schools are not the main driver of infections.
The Schools Infection Study (SIS) by PHE, ONS and LSHTM also showed that COVID-19 infection rates in schools among staff and pupils mirrored infection rates in the wider community.
PHE’s Surveillance in Schools study (sKIDS) suggests that transmission in primary schools is extremely low and outbreaks are rare.
Warwick University recently published research on school transmission rates in schools which found there is no clear evidence of schools being a ‘significant driver’ of infections. Warwick University research also suggests that cases in schools amongst teachers and students seemed to reflect and follow those in the community, rather than preceding them, suggesting it is cases in the community driving infections in schools, rather than vice versa.
The flexibility we are providing in the first week of return for secondary schools and colleges to allow testing of staff and students, alongside strengthened safety measures, should reassure families and education staff that extra measures are in place alongside the existing bubble system, enhanced hygiene and COVID-19-secure precautions.
Will attendance be mandatory?
School attendance will be mandatory for all pupils from 8 March. The usual rules on school attendance apply.
Schools and colleges will have discretion on how to phase the return of their students over that week to allow them to be tested on return.
Will you provide additional funding/support to help pupils and students catch up?
The government has committed to helping children and young people recover learning lost as a result of the pandemic. We will also be outlining further measures as part of our Catch Up programme.
In June 2020 we announced a catch-up package worth £1bn, including a ‘Catch Up Premium’ worth a total of £650m to support all schools to make up for lost teaching time and £350m for the National Tutoring Programme to help disadvantaged pupils to catch-up on lost learning.
In January 2021 we also committed to a further programme of catch up which will involve £300m of new money to early years, schools and providers of 16-19 further education for high-quality tutoring.
We will work in collaboration with the education sector to develop specific initiatives for summer schools and a Covid Premium to support catch up; and to develop a long-term plan to make sure children and young people have the chance to make up their learning over the course of this Parliament.
What you need to know about testing
Why are we testing?
Testing in schools and colleges is already well-established, as recent figures show more than four million tests have been conducted since 4 January 2021.
As many as one in three people who contract the virus show no symptoms, so could be spreading the disease unknowingly. Asymptomatic testing will help to identify positive cases more quickly and break the chains of transmission. Those who test positive will self-isolate, helping to reduce transmission of the virus.
Alongside asymptomatic testing, secondary schools and colleges should also continue to put in place a range of protective measures to minimise the risk of infection spread. No test is perfect, but the speed and convenience of Lateral Flow Device tests supports detection of the virus in asymptomatic individuals who would not otherwise be tested.
How and where will the testing happen?
- Secondary school and college students will take COVID-19 tests as they return the classroom from the 8 March.
- Schools and colleges will have discretion on how to phase the return of their students over that week to allow them to be tested on return.
- After an initial programme of 3 tests in school/college, students will be provided with two rapid tests to use each week at home.
- Staff in secondary schools will also be supplied with test kits to self swab and test themselves twice a week at home.
- Schools should offer pupils tests three to five days apart to manage the number of pupils passing through the test site at any one time.
Will testing be mandatory and will consent be needed?
- Testing is voluntary but strongly encouraged. If consent is provided, pupils will be asked to self-swab at the on-site ATS and after 30 minutes they should be informed of their results.
Will testing stop outbreaks?
- As many as one in three people who contract the virus show no symptoms (they are asymptomatic), so could be spreading the disease unknowingly. Asymptomatic testing will help to identify positive cases more quickly and break the chains of transmission.
- LFD tests produce results much faster than PCR tests. Testing staff and pupils twice per week, 3-4 days apart starting on Sunday evenings, will also increase confidence that positive cases are being identified quickly. Those who test positive will then self-isolate, helping to reduce transmission of the virus.
Extra testing is going to find more positive cases and close contacts, resulting in increased absences from school. How will this be managed?
It is important that positive cases and their close contacts isolate to break the chains of transmission. Testing regularly will help keep everyone safe. Students will be able to participate in remote learning from home until they can return to the classroom.
We will continue to support the development of high quality remote education, including through The Get Help with Technology scheme, which has so far provided over a million laptops and tablets to help disadvantaged pupils and students access remote education.
What about testing for early years staff and staff and students in wider FE settings (not colleges)?
The asymptomatic testing programme in education currently covers all staff at school-based nurseries and maintained nursery schools.
We are now expanding home testing kits to staff in all private, voluntary and independent nurseries, who will start to receive deliveries of Lateral Flow Device (LFD) home testing kits to offer to all their staff for twice weekly testing from next month.
This is a significant development that will help to identify positive cases more quickly and break the chains of transmissions. Childminders continue to have access to community testing facilities for asymptomatic testing.
Home testing will be available for Independent Training Providers and Adult Community Learning Providers by the end of March.
What about vaccinations for teachers/staff?
Staff and students who are in the Phase 1 priority groups determined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) should have been offered their first vaccination dose
The JVCI will provide advice on the next phase of the vaccine rollout. The Government is committed to offering every adult a dose of the vaccine by 31st July.