The areas where primary schools will remain closed

On Jan 1, the government announced all primary schools in London would remain closed for the start of the new term, after protests from local authorities in the capital.  This U-turn follows a list of 50 education authorities across the south of England, which would close for the majority of students in London over the first two weeks of the new term. However, among the 50 education authorities mentioned, a handful of locations with exceptionally high transmission rates were missing. This included the area of Haringey, where local leaders announced they were ready to oppose the government and support any schools who would close for the safety of their students and staff.  After receiving a letter from nine London authorities, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, held an emergency Cabinet Office meeting on January 1, where he added the final 10 London education authorities to his list of contingency areas. Other schools around the country may remain closed until the February half-term holiday as the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advisers warned a lockdown may be insufficient to curb the variant strain of coronavirus. Minutes from a pre-Christmas meeting of Sage released on December 31 revealed members did not believe a lockdown similar to November’s would keep the R rate below one because of the highly infectious new coronavirus strain. The news comes after Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, came under fire for the “patchwork” closures of primaries, which meant many schools would remain closed when those in neighbouring boroughs with higher coronavirus rates would be open. What do tiers mean for schools? The "overwhelming majority of primary schools are opening as planned" on January 4, Gavin Williamson had said.  However, in a "small number" of Tier 4 areas where infection rates are highest, the Government will implement its contingency plan so that only vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers attend primary schools in person. This now includes all schools in all boroughs across London.  The rules will not apply to everywhere under Tier 4 restrictions and a list of the affected areas, where most children are to continue their education remotely from home, will be published on the gov.uk website. It is also detailed in full further down this article.  Keeping schools open as long as possible "is uppermost in all of our plans," Mr Williamson had told the Commons. "The evidence about the new Covid variant and rising infection rates have required some immediate adjustment to our plans for the new term," he said. Every school has been instructed to draw up plans to ensure children continue to receive an education even if they have to stay at home. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said that the new rules ensure a "very difficult balance between needing to keep children in education as much as possible, while also ensuring we don’t add upward pressure on the R [rate] and don’t spread the virus any further". Which areas are covered by the contingency plan?  The following areas are covered by the government's contingency plan, which means that primary schools in these areas will only open on Jan 4 for vulnerable children and children of key workers: Barking and Dagenham Barnet Bexley Brent Bromley Croydon Ealing Enfield Hammersmith and Fulham Havering Hillingdon Hounslow Islington Kensington and Chelsea Merton Newham Redbridge Richmond-Upon-Thames Southwark Sutton Tower Hamlets Waltham Forest Wandsworth Westminster Brentwood Epping Forest Castle Point Basildon Rochford Harlow Chelmsford Braintree Maldon Southend on Sea Thurrock Dartford Gravesham Sevenoaks Medway Ashford Maidstone Tonbridge and Malling Tunbridge Wells Swale Hastings and Rother Milton Keynes Watford Broxbourne Hertsmere Three Rivers  Lambeth City of London Hackney Greenwich  Haringey Camden  Kingston upon Thames Lewisham When will secondary schools reopen? Most secondary school pupils beyond London will stay at home until “at least” January 18, two weeks after term was supposed to start. From January 11, pupils in Year 11 and Year 13 who are preparing to sit their exams will return to schools. Secondary schools and colleges will then reopen fully from January 18, after two weeks of mass testing.  "Because the Covid infection rate is particularly high among this age group, we are going to allow more time so that every school and college is able to roll-out testing for all of its pupils and staff," Mr Williamson said. "This kind of mass testing will benefit everyone in the community. It will break those chains of transmission." How will testing in schools work? Pupils will return to secondary schools on a staggered basis during the first full three weeks of January. This is to allow for mass Covid testing, in which pupils in Year 11 and Year 13 will be prioritised because of GCSE and A-Level studies. All secondary schools will set out to test as many pupils and staff as possible as part of th

The areas where primary schools will remain closed

On Jan 1, the government announced all primary schools in London would remain closed for the start of the new term, after protests from local authorities in the capital. 

This U-turn follows a list of 50 education authorities across the south of England, which would close for the majority of students in London over the first two weeks of the new term.

However, among the 50 education authorities mentioned, a handful of locations with exceptionally high transmission rates were missing. This included the area of Haringey, where local leaders announced they were ready to oppose the government and support any schools who would close for the safety of their students and staff. 

After receiving a letter from nine London authorities, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, held an emergency Cabinet Office meeting on January 1, where he added the final 10 London education authorities to his list of contingency areas.

Other schools around the country may remain closed until the February half-term holiday as the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advisers warned a lockdown may be insufficient to curb the variant strain of coronavirus.

Minutes from a pre-Christmas meeting of Sage released on December 31 revealed members did not believe a lockdown similar to November’s would keep the R rate below one because of the highly infectious new coronavirus strain.

The news comes after Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, came under fire for the “patchwork” closures of primaries, which meant many schools would remain closed when those in neighbouring boroughs with higher coronavirus rates would be open.

What do tiers mean for schools?

The "overwhelming majority of primary schools are opening as planned" on January 4, Gavin Williamson had said. 

However, in a "small number" of Tier 4 areas where infection rates are highest, the Government will implement its contingency plan so that only vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers attend primary schools in person. This now includes all schools in all boroughs across London. 

The rules will not apply to everywhere under Tier 4 restrictions and a list of the affected areas, where most children are to continue their education remotely from home, will be published on the gov.uk website. It is also detailed in full further down this article. 

Keeping schools open as long as possible "is uppermost in all of our plans," Mr Williamson had told the Commons.

"The evidence about the new Covid variant and rising infection rates have required some immediate adjustment to our plans for the new term," he said.

Every school has been instructed to draw up plans to ensure children continue to receive an education even if they have to stay at home.

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said that the new rules ensure a "very difficult balance between needing to keep children in education as much as possible, while also ensuring we don’t add upward pressure on the R [rate] and don’t spread the virus any further".

Which areas are covered by the contingency plan? 

The following areas are covered by the government's contingency plan, which means that primary schools in these areas will only open on Jan 4 for vulnerable children and children of key workers:

  • Barking and Dagenham
  • Barnet
  • Bexley
  • Brent
  • Bromley
  • Croydon
  • Ealing
  • Enfield
  • Hammersmith and Fulham
  • Havering
  • Hillingdon
  • Hounslow
  • Islington
  • Kensington and Chelsea
  • Merton
  • Newham
  • Redbridge
  • Richmond-Upon-Thames
  • Southwark
  • Sutton
  • Tower Hamlets
  • Waltham Forest
  • Wandsworth
  • Westminster
  • Brentwood
  • Epping Forest
  • Castle Point
  • Basildon
  • Rochford
  • Harlow
  • Chelmsford
  • Braintree
  • Maldon
  • Southend on Sea
  • Thurrock
  • Dartford
  • Gravesham
  • Sevenoaks
  • Medway
  • Ashford
  • Maidstone
  • Tonbridge and Malling
  • Tunbridge Wells
  • Swale
  • Hastings and Rother
  • Milton Keynes
  • Watford
  • Broxbourne
  • Hertsmere
  • Three Rivers
  •  Lambeth
  • City of London
  • Hackney
  • Greenwich 
  • Haringey
  • Camden 
  • Kingston upon Thames
  • Lewisham

When will secondary schools reopen?

Most secondary school pupils beyond London will stay at home until “at least” January 18, two weeks after term was supposed to start.

From January 11, pupils in Year 11 and Year 13 who are preparing to sit their exams will return to schools.

Secondary schools and colleges will then reopen fully from January 18, after two weeks of mass testing. 

"Because the Covid infection rate is particularly high among this age group, we are going to allow more time so that every school and college is able to roll-out testing for all of its pupils and staff," Mr Williamson said.

"This kind of mass testing will benefit everyone in the community. It will break those chains of transmission."

How will testing in schools work?

Pupils will return to secondary schools on a staggered basis during the first full three weeks of January. This is to allow for mass Covid testing, in which pupils in Year 11 and Year 13 will be prioritised because of GCSE and A-Level studies.

All secondary schools will set out to test as many pupils and staff as possible as part of the Government's scheme for mass coronavirus testing

More than 40,000 volunteers will have to be recruited by secondary schools to mass test their pupils, according to Government documents.

Testing will be supported by 1,500 Army personnel who will help deliver the tests to schools and provide webinar training, but it is up to head teachers to recruit parents and governor volunteers, or advertise for contract workers.

Schools will employ lateral flow tests, which produce results in 30 minutes, and in the case of a positive result a second sample will be sent to a laboratory for confirmation.

Primary school testing will be introduced in due course, ministers have suggested.

Social distancing and ‘bubbles’

When schools reopened in September the Government published 25,000 words of guidance explaining how school children and staff should be kept safe.

So-called “bubbles have been created so youngsters learn and mix with fellow pupils. Large assemblies or collective worship should not include more than one group. Break and lunch times can be staggered to keep bubbles apart. Ensuring these “distinct groups do not mix” makes it quicker and easier to identify contacts if a positive coronavirus case emerges or someone has symptoms.

The bubbles can be larger, increasing to whole “year bubbles”, if teaching demands require it. Books, games and shared equipment can be used within that group, but must be cleaned if then used by another bubble.

Older children will be encouraged to avoid close contact with one another, in part because risks increase with age. Teachers are not restricted to a single bubble, but are urged to stay at the front of any classroom to reduce contact. In class, pupils must sit spaced out side-by-side and facing forward.

The use of the staff room by teachers is also meant to be “minimised”. 

If a pupil or teacher has symptoms or a positive diagnosis

Schools must contact local health protection teams immediately so those in close contact with the child can be traced. Currently, pupils in a bubble, year group and very rarely the entire school could be asked to self-isolate. A mobile testing unit could be sent to a campus. 

schools will be offered "serial testing" of close contacts of staff and pupils who test positive to negate the need for entire year groups to self-isolate at home.

NHS Test and Trace would be informed, and the pupil or teacher would be quarantined for 14 days and tested. If a child with symptoms is waiting to be collected by a parent, he or she should be moved to a room to isolate.

Teachers who help a child with symptoms do not have to self-isolate unless they develop symptoms themselves. However, they should thoroughly wash their hands and wear PPE while with the child. The area where someone suspected of having Covid-19 has been must then be intensively cleaned.

If a parent insists a child with symptoms should attend school, the headteacher can refuse to take the pupil if they believe there is a threat to others.

Do children need to wear face coverings during class?

A school pupil wearing a face mask on a bus Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA

Although guidelines do not recommend the universal use of face coverings, each school can decide whether pupils above Year 7, teachers and visitors should wear them when in corridors and communal areas, where passing briefly is deemed a “low risk”. They will not be worn in class. 

A school supply of masks is also recommended for youngsters spotted wearing old or damp ones. Primary school children are not required to wear them.

Hygiene and cleaning

The guidance insists a “robust hand and respiratory hygiene” regime is in place, with children encouraged to clean their hands when they arrive at school, return from breaks, use bathrooms, change classrooms and before eating. Hand sanitiser stations should be commonplace, with possible supervision “given risks around ingestion”.

Staff will also supply and promote the use of tissues as part of the “catch it, bin it, kill it” technique to control germs.

“Enhanced cleaning” regimes will be introduced in which surfaces students touch regularly, such as desks, door handles, books and playground apparatus are cleaned with bleach and detergents.

Toilets should also be cleaned regularly. Pupils must limit equipment they bring to school, carrying in bags just essentials “such as lunch boxes, hats, coats, books, stationery and mobile phones”.