After another week of homeschooling, many families are relieved to hear that there is finally a date for kids to go back to school after lockdown in the UK.
Homeschooling is difficult enough during a pandemic, but add to that parents who are also working from home with kids and it’s near impossible for anyone to stay focused.
Although there are plenty of free online resources to help with homeschooling and even broadband discounts for families to help provide internet access for all, it doesn’t replace the stable and productive environment of a school classroom for learning.
When will kids go back to school after lockdown?
Kids will go back to school on March 8 2021, it has now been confirmed.
In announcing the roadmap out of lockdown, Boris Johnson said that “pupils and students in all schools and further education settings can safely return to face-to-face teaching” from early March, “supported by twice-weekly testing of secondary school and college pupils.”
Families, including those in childcare and support bubbles, will be encouraged to get tested regularly as well to try and prevent infections from rising.
Alongside a return to the classroom, breakfast and after-school clubs will be able to open, as will all other children’s activities including sport. These will begin again “where necessary to help parents work”, the prime minister said.
“All the evidence shows that classrooms are the best places for our young people to be. That’s why I’ve always said that schools would be the last to close and the first to reopen.”
Students on university courses who require practical teaching in specialist facilities or onsite assessments will also return, it was announced. But all other students will have to continue learning online, pending a review by the end of the Easter holidays.
This move was announced for the first time in last lockdown review, where Boris Johnson laid out the initial plans for lifting lockdown and reopening schools. He said at the time, “If we achieve our target of vaccinating everyone in the four most vulnerable groups with their first dose by 15 February – and every passing day sees more progress towards that goal – then those groups will have developed immunity from the virus by about three weeks later, that is by 8 March.”
The target February met was met and surpassed, meaning children will be able to get back into the classroom “with other economic and social restrictions” scrapped “thereafter as and when the data permits”, the prime minister said.
“As we are extending the period of remote learning beyond the middle of February, I can confirm that the government will prolong arrangements for providing free school meals for those eligible children not in school – including food parcels and the national voucher scheme – until they have returned to the classroom. We can also commit now that, as we did this financial year, we will provide a programme of catch up over the next financial year.
“This will involve a further £300m of new money to schools for tutoring and we will work in collaboration with the education sector to develop, as appropriate, specific initiatives for summer schools and a Covid Premium to support catch up.”
Previously, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said there was “certainly hope” that schools could return by Easter. The prime minister’s official spokesperson also said that the PM wanted schools to reopen as soon as possible, but the ministers would be following the science on the issue.
It came after the education secretary has revealed that schools would have two weeks notice before pupils are required to return to school.
At first, the government’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said the government was considering a regional approach to schools opening. Similar to the tiered lockdown system last year, schools would reopen if they were located in areas with lower coronavirus cases. However, this idea appears to have been scrapped as all schools across the country will be able to return on March 8.
Will mass testing be available in schools when they go back?
Mass testing will be available in schools when pupils go back, with all staff, secondary and college-aged students tested regularly.
Before their return to the classroom, all secondary and college students will have to take three tests within the school’s own facility, followed by regular rapid testing twice a week at home. While primary school children won’t be tested, their teachers and those teaching in secondary schools and colleges will continue to take two rapid Covid-19 tests per week at home.
University students will also be given the same twice weekly testing on campus, according to the Department for Education.
Throughout this time, staff and students in secondary schools and colleges “are advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing cannot be maintained and as a temporary extra measure”.
Nurseries and childminders will be able to stay open while the lockdown lifts, along with other wraparound childcare services for primary and secondary school children. To ensure this is safe, the department has said, “All staff at private, voluntary and independent nurseries will have access to tests to use twice weekly at home, building on the testing already available to maintained nursery schools and school-based nurseries.
This mass testing plan was first announced in January and it was criticised by education experts, including Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. He called the plan, which requires children to get tested frequently as an alternative to self-isolation, “very confusing” and said it would “send out a mixed message to pupils, parents and staff about what is safe.”
The plan was also halted initially, before the children were set to return, after a report suggested that lateral flow tests (rapid tests) would cause harm to students and staff. However, other scientists including regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, Professor Sir John Bell, and the interim chief medical advisor from Public Health England, Dr Susan Hopkins, pushed back on the report. They said that the lateral flow tests would help in the battle against Covid-19 in schools, as the tests had already worked to identify 27000 infected people in the UK who would otherwise not have had to self-isolate.
The tests have also been described as easy to use and fast-acting, making them an essential tool for all students during the pandemic.