Since Wednesday 18 March, when the Government announced the closure of schools for the vast majority of pupils, the education sector has been operating a scaled-back service, with most pupils staying at home.
Schools have however stayed open for the vulnerable children and the children of key workers, allowing their parents to continue working. There is a huge societal benefit in maintaining this provision; to relieve childcare requirements for key workers and continuing to support vulnerable children through their schooling. Closing schools for the vast majority of children has helped in our efforts to control the spread of the virus and save lives.
When the medical advice allows, the Government intends to begin a phased reopening of schools so children can return to their studies. This is a key part of getting society back to normal, and will free up parents around the country to return to work if possible.
The return to schooling will be undertaken in stages, with local authorities first encouraging more eligible children to attend. This will be followed by the return in stages of primary age pupils to school, beginning with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. The Government’s ambition is that secondary-age pupils who are sitting exams next year will get at east some time with their teachers before the summer holidays.
To facilitate this, schools have been asked to carry out risk assessment before opening to more children and young people. It must be remembered that children are thankfully at a particularly low risk of coronavirus.
The assessments should directly address risks associated with coronavirus so that sensible measures can be put in place to minimise those risks for children, young people and staff. This will likely include the reduction of class sizes and keeping children in small groups without mixing with others; staggered break and lunch times, as well as drop offs and pick-ups; increasing the frequency of cleaning, reducing the used of shared items and utilising outdoor space.
Photo above: Gavin Williamson MP, Secretary of State for Education