In response to the emerging coronavirus pandemic, England’s schools closed their doors in May. Now we’re approaching September, many parents and students alike are asking, “When are the schools going back?”
The question of when English schools will go back has been the subject of headlines across the country in recent weeks, with debates being held by health and education experts to decide on the safest route back to school for pupils in England and whether there needs to be a ‘trade-off’ with some leisure activities.
As Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary told Times Radio, “It’s really, really important that we don’t write off a generation of Covid children – they need to be back in class; the whole of our futures depend on this.”
And while, as charity Young Minds explains, returning to school might be anxiety-provoking for some, it’s likely that the return will have huge benefits for the majority of children. They say, ‘The routine, structure and play with other children will be beneficial to most children, especially those children from more vulnerable households.
‘It is easy to assume that children will have difficulties returning to school, but many children will likely manage the transition without any significant problems.’
So when do English schools go back and what do the experts say about how we can keep children safe?
When do children go back to school in the UK?
Across the UK, not just in England, schools will be expected to return by September at the latest with Scotland’s schools going back in August. The return is compulsory for all students, including those with special educational needs and disabilities and those who have been shielding during the lockdown.
This year, schools will return on or around Wednesday, September 2 2020. For exact term dates, visit the school’s website or head over to your local council’s website for more information.
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In June, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned that parents who didn’t send their children back to school in September would face fines. He said, “We do have to get back into compulsory education and obviously fines sit alongside as part of that”.
It’s an approach that’s been criticised by many educators and professionals, with the leader of the ASCL head teacher’s union arguing that it’s not the right approach as “there will be many frightened and anxious parents out there.”
However, in recent weeks Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been sure to make the return to schools a ‘national priority’. Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said, ‘Now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so.’
Now, guidelines have been released by government detailing plans for schools to reopen in the coming weeks. As part of the new changes, to help prevent the spread of infection in schools, children and their teachers will be required to wear face masks in areas of schools across the UK.
School term dates 2020/2021
Autumn term 2020
School begins on Wednesday September 2 2020 for all children across England and Wales.
Half term: Monday October 26 to Friday October 30 2020.
Term ends: Friday December 18 2020.
Spring Term 2021
The new school year begins Monday January 4 2021.
Half term: Monday February 15 2021 to Friday February 19 2021.
Term ends: Wednesday March 31 2021.
Summer term 2021
The summer term begins on Monday April 14 2021.
Half term: Monday May 31 to Friday June 4 2021.
Term ends: Friday July 23 2021.
What are the recommendations for class sizes in UK schools?
While social distancing guidelines in schools are firmly in place, according to the guidelines released by the government, schools are under no obligation to reduce their class sizes.
As the government states, “We also do not think schools will need to deliver any of their education on other sites (such as community centres and village halls) because class sizes can return to normal and spaces used by more than one class or group can be cleaned between use.”
However, the guidelines also suggest that schools should ‘look to maximise the use of their site and any associated available space, such as rooms in an associated place of worship for schools with a religious character, if feasible.
‘We do not, however, consider it necessary for schools to make significant adaptations to their site to enable them to welcome all children back to school.’
How can the school keep children safe?
While some are keen to return to school in September, many teachers, pupils and parents have raised concerns about how schools can keep children safe. Most recently, Boris Johnson has been urged to dramatically improve the test and trace system that England is using, before schools are due to return.
Sir David King, who worked as a chief scientific advisor to the government, said that the system was ‘disastrous’ and with the current system, schools were ‘nowhere near’ ready to go back.
The Prime Minister has also been encouraged to consider enforcing regular testing for both pupils and teachers, regardless of whether they have symptoms, to further improve the system in preparation for when English schools do go back next month.
Hannah Tranah, Childcare Development Manager for nursery group Storal Learning, says that if regular testing doesn’t happen then it ‘will be important to have a strict stay at home policy for any children displaying symptoms of a cough or fever.’
She also says, ‘Other measures might include staggering mealtimes and staggering the start and close of the school day.’
Amongst these, the government guidelines also stipulate some of the ways that schools will keep children safe when they return in September.
These safety measures include:
- All those with symptoms will be required to self-isolate.
- Enhanced cleaning of school premises.
- Emphasis on hand washing and respiratory hygiene.
- Maximised distancing and group contact within the school, which will depend on the school’s circumstances but could including grouping children together, avoiding contact between groups, forward facing desks, staff maintaining distance between pupils and other staff as much as possible.
These measures, being put into place for when English schools do go back, are revised plans that were previously in place in the summer term so children shouldn’t be too phased by them when they return to school for the new academic year.
How will the new safety measures affect children at school?
These measures could create major changes in the ways that schools teach students, edtech founder of Tassomai.com and education expert Murray Morrison tells GoodtoKnow. He says, “Inevitably the way students are taught will be affected by the likelihood of further lockdowns and disruption to the day-to-day of school life. I suspect there will be greater onus put on students to practise what they are learning at home through personal study, either via education technology or old fashioned books.
“Teaching time will be more precious than ever, so students will be expected to do their bit to avoid lesson time being wasted unnecessarily repeating material.”
To help support children through these changes, Murray suggests that parents take a very close interest in what they are being taught and what the learning expectations are from them. He advises, “Make sure that they are organised, testing themselves all the time on knowledge and working out where they need more practice.
“Even if you’re not that strong in the subject yourself, if you as a parent can be something of a project manager for your child, you’ll really help them stay on top of their learning – whatever strange circumstances are thrown their way.”
Hannah from Storal Learning also says that it’s important for parents to have an open conversation with their children about what will happen each day, the measures that will be in place and what will be expected of them to reduce any oncoming anxiety about returning to school.
She says, “Children pick up on what is happening to the important individuals around them so it is important to be honest about the pandemic but keep fears manageable and explained in a context understandable for their age, balanced with real world advice and solutions. if they seem worried, ask them why and get them to confront their fears.”
With parents, teachers and pupils alike all having diverse opinions over the return to school in September, it seems as though only time will tell how effective the new safety measures will be and what effect they will have on reducing the spread of the virus.