Timetabling bubbles: FAQs from the government guidance

What does the new government guidance mean for school timetables? We take a look at how implementing bubbles could work

Tes Editorial

Coronavirus schools

This article was originally published by the Tes Editorial Team on 02 July 2020 on tes.com/news. 

As UK schools prepare to reopen fully in September, the government has issued guidance as to how this return should be managed following coronavirus closures.

Here, we’ve pulled out the key points that will impact timetabling when schools reopen in September:

What is the new guidance?

The latest piece of government advice, entitled “Guidance for full opening schools”, is designed to help all UK schools prepare for reopening fully at the start of the autumn term.  

What does it mean for timetabling?

The take-home message from the guidance is that schools should do what they can to “balance and minimise any risks from coronavirus (COVID-19) with providing a full educational experience for children and young people”.

To minimise risk, schools are advised to reduce “the number of contacts between children and staff”.

This means schools being asked to create teaching bubbles to keep any potential contamination to a minimum. 

While schools should continue to offer a broad curriculum, it's acknowledged that catching up on core subjects may be seen as more important than other, non-core exam subjects. 

How do we group children?

The guidance recommends schools “assess their circumstances and if class-sized groups are not compatible with offering a full range of subjects or managing the practical logistics within and around school, they can look to implement year-group-sized bubbles”.

For upper secondary schools it states: “At key stage 4 and key stage 5, the groups are likely to need to be the size of a year group to enable schools to deliver the full range of curriculum subjects and students to receive specialist teaching.”

For primary and lower secondary it states: “In the younger years at secondary (key stage 3), schools may be able to implement smaller groups the size of a full class.” This advice for KS1 to KS3 is recommended where possible.

Do siblings need to be in the same bubble?

No. When siblings fall into different groups, it’s not necessary to keep them together.

“Siblings may also be in different groups. Endeavouring to keep these groups at least partially separate and minimising contacts between children will still offer public health benefits as it reduces the network of possible direct transmission.”

Do staff need to remain in the same bubble?

No. According to the guidance, staff are able to move across different classes and year groups if required.

“Where staff need to move between classes and year groups, they should try and keep their distance from pupils and other staff as much as they can, ideally 2 metres from other adults.”

What subjects do I need to teach?

The guidance states that the curriculum taught should remain “broad and ambitious”, however it advises schools to make use of “existing flexibilities” to cover any missed content in core subjects.

KS1 to KS3 – in these phases, the guidance recommends prioritising the most important elements in each subject area, for example.

For KS4 and KS5 – students should be taught all exam subjects, however, the guidance states that in “exceptional circumstances” it may be that subjects can be dropped if “they would achieve significantly better in their remaining subjects as a result, especially in GCSE English and mathematics”.

Do I need to stagger start and finish times?

If possible, schools should stagger the arrival and departure time of different groups.

Can I shorten the school day to allow for staggered starts?

No, if the only way you can stagger starts is by reducing teaching time this shouldn’t be used as an option.

“A staggered start may, for example, include condensing / staggering free periods or break time but retaining the same amount of teaching time, or keeping the length of the day the same but starting and finishing later to avoid rush hour.”

Can I use supply teachers or specialist support staff?

If timetabling effectively means using supply teachers or more specialist support staff, the guidance states that this is allowed.

These staff members can move between schools.

“They should ensure they minimise contact and maintain as much distance as possible from other staff. Specialists, therapists, clinicians and other support staff for pupils with SEND should provide interventions as usual.”


This article was originally published by the Tes Editorial Team on 02 July 2020 on tes.com/news.