During the Summer Recess, I asked the Secretary of State for Education what steps his Department were taking to ensure that pupils can return to full-time education in the 2021-22 academic year without interruption or risk of losing in-school teaching days during the covid-19 outbreak.
The full answer to this question is below:
The Department’s priority is for schools to deliver face to face, high quality education to all pupils. The evidence is clear that being out of education can cause significant harm to educational attainment, life chances, and mental and physical health.
To reduce transmission, the Department is keeping some measures in place across nurseries, schools and colleges to enable us to provide as normal an experience as possible as schools welcome pupils back in larger numbers. This will be supported by our ability to respond swiftly and consistently to any exceptional circumstances should it prove necessary and may include reintroducing additional control measures for a limited period to deal with outbreaks. These are set out in the contingency framework: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-local-restrictions-in-education-and-childcare-settings.
The Department has worked closely with the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England to revise guidance for schools from Step 4: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak. The Department’s aim is to balance the risks associated with COVID-19 whilst moving to a position that minimises both the burden of implementing a system of controls on schools and the impact those measures have on young people’s educational experience.
Schools are no longer asked to keep children and young people in consistent groups (‘bubbles’). As well as enabling flexibility in curriculum delivery, this means that assemblies can resume, and schools and colleges no longer need to make alternative arrangements to avoid mixing at lunch. Nurseries, schools and colleges should continue to ensure good hygiene for everyone, maintain appropriate cleaning regimes, keep occupied spaces well ventilated and follow public health advice on testing, self isolation, and managing confirmed cases of COVID-19.
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 face coverings but expects and recommends that they are worn in enclosed and crowded spaces where pupils or staff may come into contact with people they do not normally meet. This includes public transport and dedicated transport to school or college.
The Department will continue to keep these measures under review, in partnership with health experts and informed by the latest scientific evidence and advice.