Schools in England Will Reopen on March 8

All primary and secondary schools will reopen on March 8; all secondary and college students must wear masks and have twice weekly Covid tests.
Schools in England Will Reopen on March 8
By Carli Allan
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Students in England will return to classrooms in two weeks' time after it was announced that schools and colleges will reopen as planned on Monday, March 8.

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."

How will schools reopen?

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:

Covid-19 testing

  • Secondary school staff and students should take twice-weekly Covid-19 tests; after students take the first three tests at school, parents will be provided with home test kits to use at home. "Testing remains voluntary but strongly encouraged."
  • Staff in primary schools will continue to test twice a week at home.

When to quarantine

  • Staff and students should not come into school for at least 10 days if they or a member of their household has one or more Covid-19 symptoms; they are required to quarantine having recently visited countries outside the Common Travel Area; or they have had a positive test

Face masks

  • Students and staff in Year 7 and above are educated should wear a face mask in corridors, communal areas and classrooms "unless social distancing can be maintained"; this does not apply to PE lessons. 
  • Primary students do not need to wear a face mask; staff should wear a face mask "where social distancing between adults is not possible".
  • Face visors or shields should not be worn as an alternative to face masks.
  • Students aged 11 and over must wear a face covering when travelling to school on public transport.

In the classroom

  • Schools are encouraged to keep students in class 'bubbles' to  make"it quicker and easier in the event of a positive case to identify those who may need to self-isolate".
  • Secondary school teachers are encouraged to maintain a 2m distance from their students, "staying at the front of the class".
  • Students should sit "side by side and facing forwards, rather than face-to-face or side on".
  • Schools should "avoid large gatherings such as assemblies or collective worship" and introduce staggered lunch and break times.
  • Schools should have staggered start and finish times but not "reduce the amount of overall teaching time"; instead school may need to condense free periods and break times, or start and finish later to avoid busy periods.

Assessments and exams

  • All statutory Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 tests for summer 2021, including the Key Stage 2 tests in reading and mathematics, have been cancelled.
  • All GCSE, A and AS Level exams are cancelled this summer; students will receive grades based on teacher assessment. More information about grading will be announced on Thursday (February 25).
  • Performance tables will not be published for the 2020-21academic year; the same decision was taken last year.

After-school activities

  • Schools can resume all before and after-school activities, including sport and music lessons, and wraparound childcare for students from March 8.
  • Competitive sport between different schools is not allowed until wider grassroots sport for under 18s is permitted.
  • Schools must not host any performances such as plays or assemblies with an audience.

Inspections

  • Routine, Ofsted inspections will remain suspended for the spring term; they are expected to resume in the summer term.

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