Coronavirus: School safety plans will keep groups apart

The government has published its safety plans for England’s return to school in September – built on the principle of keeping classes or whole year groups apart in separate “bubbles”.

Schools will have testing kits to give to parents if children develop coronavirus symptoms in school.

Mobile testing units may be sent to schools which have an outbreak.

The education secretary said there must be a “concrete determination” to get pupils back to class.

“By working together we will make sure that their hopes and dreams for the future are not to be knocked off course,” Gavin Williamson said during a Downing Street press briefing.

“We cannot sit back and… just say that children are not going to go back to school.”

He said a “system of control” would “minimise the risk” from Covid-19, and children would not be taught a “watered-down” curriculum.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel” over getting children back into school full-time.

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Head teachers said it would be “mind-boggling” to try to keep groups of pupils apart all day in school.

Dr Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer, who spoke alongside Mr Williamson, said the government was also trying to encourage families to “control their teenagers in the social interactions outside school”.

On the spike in cases in Leicester, Dr Harries said the transmission rate there was caused by “community transmission” and not the partial return of schools in the area.

She said schools were “not the focal point” and described them as “quite controlled environments”.

What are the new rules for autumn?

The safety plans issued by the Department for Education say that “given the improved position, the balance of risk is now overwhelmingly in favour of children returning to school”.

The UK death toll stands at 43,995, according to the Department for Health and Social Care – an increase of 89 on Wednesday’s figure.

The return to classrooms will be based on separating groups of children into “bubbles” and minimising contacts between them, rather than social distancing.

It will mean:

  • Grouping children together in groups or “bubbles”, a class in primary and year group in secondary
  • Avoiding contact in school between these groups, with separate starting, finishing, lunch and break times
  • Attendance compulsory with the threat of penalty fines
  • Test and trace in place for schools
  • Regular cleaning of hands, but masks not expected for pupils or staff
  • Those with symptoms told to stay out of school
  • No big group events like school assemblies and arranging classrooms with forward facing desks
  • Separate groups on school buses and discouraging the use of public transport
  • Pupils will be expected to continue with all their GCSEs and A-levels