Addressing the Commons today, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that schools will reopen for all age groups; after-school sports and activities will also be allowed to start again.
Secondary school and college students should wear masks in classrooms and corridors, and have twice-weekly Covid-19 tests. Previously, most secondary schools have only required students to wear masks in corridors and other communal areas; this time, the Department of Education is asking secondary and college staff and students to wear masks "where social distancing cannot easily be maintained". Extending the use of face coverings to classrooms is a temporary measure that will be reviewed at Easter.
Primary school staff will continue to take two rapid Covid-19 tests each week at home. All secondary school and college students will take three tests at existing school testing facilities from March 8; they will then be provided with two rapid tests to use each week at home.
University students on practical courses who need to access specialist facilities and equipment can also return to in-person teaching and learning from March 8. Twice weekly testing will continue to be available on campuses. The government will review the return for all remaining students by the end of the Easter holidays.
Scroll down to find out how your school will reopen on March 8.
Johnson's plan to reopen schools differs to that taken in Scotland and Wales, which have both opted for a phased return of students, starting with the youngest children returning to primary schools today.
He told MPs today:
"All the evidence shows that classrooms are the best places for our young people to be, and that's why I've always said that schools would be the last to close and the first to reopen."
Education secretary Gavin Williamson added:
"I know this is a moment that students and parents up and down the country have been waiting for, and I would like to take this opportunity to give my thanks to all education and childcare staff and parents who have worked so hard to make sure students have continued to receive a high-quality education throughout this lockdown.
"The testing of staff and students ahead of their return to secondary schools and colleges, 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 secure precautions."
While the Department of Education says that it "is likely that some pupils, parents and households may be reluctant or anxious about attending school", it reminds all schools that "pupils of compulsory school age must be in school unless a statutory reason applies". State schools are only required to offer online learning if a class, group or small number of students need to self-isolate or if a child is "clinically extremely vulnerable" and needs to shield.
There are concerns from some school leaders that the government's "Big Bang" approach to reopening schools could risk another surge in infections; it's also argued that conducting Covid testing on students can only be done with a phased reopening of schools.
Geoff Barton, general secretary for the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“We share the government’s aim of returning all children to school as soon as possible, but we are concerned that its decision to press ahead with a full return on 8 March may prove counterproductive and lead to more disruption.
“It is very difficult to understand why the approach in England is so different from the decisions taken in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland for a more cautious, phased approach to full school reopening, particularly as the Covid infection rate is actually higher in England than in Scotland and Wales."
The Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference, which represents heads at some of the UK's leading independent schools welcomed the news. HMC general secretary Dr Simon Hyde said:
“With infection rates falling and vaccinations proceeding at an impressive rate, the public health position looks increasingly secure. As the government has repeatedly advised, schools themselves are safe places for pupils and staff. This is not least due to the incredible work done by school staff, but is also the result of the common sense and public spirit of our pupils, who are determined to get back to school.
“Now that infection rates are declining to manageable numbers, test and trace will form an important ingredient in schools’ COVID-19 precautions. Ideally tests should be carried out at home, relieving the burden on schools, but institutions now have robust procedures in place and will be ready to implement them."
The Department of Education has issued a 67-page document to all England schools, outlining how to reopen schools as safely as possible. The key points, many of which will be all too familiar from the first reopening of schools last September, are:
When to quarantine
In the classroom
Assessments and exams