Back to school myth busting: What will new Covid measures actually involve?

Here's what you need to know as children across East Anglia head back to school.

Here's what you need to know as children across East Anglia head back to school. - Credit: PA

The new term will soon see pupils back at school with measures in place to prevent coronavirus cases leading to large numbers being sent home.

From face masks to tests, guidance has changed. But what are facts and what are myths? And can parents be sure their children will be safe on their return to the classroom?

Will my child have to be Covid tested before returning to classes?

Pupil taking Covid test

Secondary school and college students will have to take two Covid tests before starting lessons. - Credit: PA

Only if your child attends or is starting secondary school or college. All pupils in year 7 and above will be invited into school to take two lateral flow tests - three to five days apart. 

Many schools are staggering the start of lessons across the first week back in order to conduct this testing programme, which for some involves thousands of students.

Those who test positive will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and instructed to isolate.

Later tests are voluntary and can be done at home rather than in school with testing kits provided. 

Will my child be sent home to isolate if there is a positive case in their class?

Probably not. The government is keen to avoid a repeat of last year when large numbers of pupils had to be sent home to self-isolate.

New rules this year mean that under-18s or those fully vaccinated no longer need to self-isolate even if they are identified as a close contact. Instead, they will be advised to take a PCR test.

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The Department for Education’s new framework says schools can seek advice from public health officials about further measures after “thresholds” have been reached, such as five ‘close mixing’ students or staff testing positive within 10 days.

Will my child still be taught in a ‘class bubble’?

Pupils will no longer be taught in class 'bubbles'.

Pupils will no longer be taught in class 'bubbles'. - Credit: PA

No. The DfE has dropped the rules requiring pupils to be taught in consistent class ‘bubbles’ or fixed year groups to avoid mixing between groups.

In its guidance to schools it states: “As well as enabling flexibility in curriculum delivery, this means that assemblies can resume, and you no longer need to make alternative arrangements to avoid mixing at lunch.”

Contingency plans in the event of an outbreak of coronavirus could see schools reintroduce ‘bubbles’ for a temporary period.

But this decision “should not be taken lightly” and would need to take account of the “detrimental impact they can have on the delivery of education”, the DfE guidance adds.

Will pupils still face social distancing at my child’s school?

School one-way system

Depending on their size and lay-out schools may continue with measures including one-way systems. - Credit: PA

Possibly. Depending on the size and layout of their school, some may decide to keep measures like one-way systems to avoid the mixing of large groups of children. 

The guidance gives head teachers the responsibility and flexibility to decide what common-sense measures they feel are needed.

Does my child have to wear a face mask?

School pupil wearing a face mask on bus.

Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities across Norfolk claim to have been “left in limbo” over school transport. - Credit: PA

No. Face coverings are no longer advised for pupils, staff and visitors either in classrooms or in communal areas.

The government has removed the requirement to wear masks by law but it still recommends that they are still worn in enclosed and crowded spaces, including on school transport. 

However no pupil or student should be denied education on the grounds of whether they are, or are not, wearing a face covering, the DfE states.

School hygiene measures

Schools will continue with hygiene measures and extra ventilation for buildings and classrooms. - Credit: PA

My child is over 16. Do they have to be vaccinated?

No. Currently those aged 16 and over can be vaccinated, while 12 to 15-year-olds who are clinically vulnerable or live with adults who are at increased risk are also eligible. 

Reports suggest that the government is considering offering vaccines to all children aged 12 and over, with NHS trusts told to draw up plans, though no decision on whether to extend the programme has yet been made. 

Pupils wearing masks

Pupils may be encouraged to wear face coverings in busy spaces but cannot be required to. - Credit: PA

Can I choose to keep my child off school if I’m still worried?

No. Attendance is mandatory for all pupils of compulsory school age.

Schools have the power to issue sanctions against parents, including fixed penalty notices, in line with local authorities’ codes of conduct if pupils aren’t attending.

However most schools take a conciliatory, common sense approach and will talk to parents to seek to address any concerns. 

Parents: tell us what YOU think about the start of the new school year

Take part in our survey. We are interested in how confident you feel about the new measures, what your concerns are and what you think of testing and vaccination of young people.

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