Class sizes should be split in half with a 15 pupil limit and corridors should operate a “one way” system, the Government’s new coronavirus guidance for schools says.
When primary schools begin their phased reopening next month, the beginning and end of the day will be staggered to avoid congestion at the gates, according to advice published on Monday by the Department for Education.
Children will be expected to spend their break times and lunch with the other children in their class, to ensure that they are only mixing within their group of 15 pupils plus their teacher.
If a child displays Covid-19 symptoms and tests positive, the rest of their class as well as their teacher would need to self-isolate and they would all be offered free tests.
Headteachers will be encouraged to make the most of the space in their school building to accommodate the smaller class sizes, by holding lessons in sports halls, assembly halls and libraries.
The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said it has a “high degree of confidence” that coronavirus is less severe for children than it is for adults. The group has a “moderately high degree of confidence” that children under the age of 11 are less susceptible to catching it.
he Prime Minister told schools to prepare for Reception, Year One and Year Six pupils to return from June 1.
The “ambition” is for primary schools to be open for all year groups by mid-June so children can have a month of lessons before the summer holidays, according to the Government’s recovery strategy.
Students in Year 10 and Year 12, who are mid-way through their GCSE and A-level courses, should also be allowed to have “some” face to face contact with teachers before the summer break.
The announcement prompted a backlash among teacher unions, with Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union claiming that the plans were “nothing short of reckless.”
Meanwhile, headteacher union chiefs told their members that ultimately it is their decision whether or not to reopen.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said that if heads and their governing bodies feel it is unsafe to reopen, then they can decide to stay closed to the majority of their pupils.
Parents will not be fined for failing to send their children to schools if they are worried about coronavirus during lockdown, officials confirmed.
Instead, families will be able to choose whether to keep their children at home even when schools are open for their age group.
A Government official said that the focus will be on encouraging parents to send their children back to school rather than forcing them to.
Ordinarily, children are only allowed to miss school if they are too ill to go in or if they have advance permission from their headteacher.
Parents can be issued with £60 fines if their children are absent with no good reason, which doubles to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days. If it is not paid after 28 days, parents face prosecution by their local authority.
There are no plans for schools to fully reopen, the recovery strategy says, citing modelling by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) which says that this would lead to a “resurgence” of the virus and a second wave that “could be larger than the first”.
On Monday, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organisation, said that governments need to consider three factors when considering how to safely reopen schools.
“First, a clear understanding about current Covid transmission and severity of the virus in children is needed,” he told a press conference in Geneva.
“Second, the epidemiology of Covid-19 where the school is geographically located needs to be considered. Third, the ability to maintain Covid-19 prevention and control measures within the school setting.”