In full: Your guide to September’s back-to-school plan

What teachers need to know about the DfE guidance on how all pupils can return to school full-time in September
2nd July 2020, 6:28pm


In full: Your guide to September’s back-to-school plan
Coronavirus Schools

Schools will face what could be their most difficult term ever when they reopen to all pupils in September.

The Department for Education’s guidance, published today, now means that all teachers know what is being expected of them. But heads are already warning that the challenge will be “mind-boggling”.

Here Tes helps you to get to grips with the guidance, with a digest of its essential elements. The guidance is intended to support schools for a return in September, and is split into five parts: 

1. Minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission

Schools must: 

  • Minimise contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring those who have coronavirus symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend school.
  • Ensure that pupils clean their hands regularly, including when they arrive at school and when they return from breaks. Supervise hand sanitiser use, given the risks around ingestion.
  • Ensure good respiratory hygiene by promoting the “catch it, bin it, kill it” approach. Face coverings are not required in schools where pupils and staff are mixing in consistent groups. However, face coverings are required at all times on public transport (for children, over the age of 11).
  • Introduce enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, using standard products such as detergents and bleach.

Related: Heads hit out over lack of cash for September opening

Guidance: ‘Extremely vulnerable’ teachers expected back in school

News: School Covid outbreaks won’t ‘generally’ mean closures

Bubbles and social distancing ‘will help’

The guidance says having pupils in bubble groups and social distancing are “not alternative options and both measures will help”, but the balance between them will change depending on: children’s ability to distance, the layout of the school, and the feasibility of keeping distinct groups separate while offering a broad curriculum (especially at secondary).

The guidance states:

  • Teachers should stay at the front of the class, and away from their colleagues where possible. Ideally, adults should maintain 2m distance from each other, and from children.
  • Schools should make small adaptations to the classroom to support distancing where possible. That should include seating pupils side by side and facing forwards, rather than face-to-face or side-on, and might include moving unnecessary furniture out of classrooms to make more space.
  • Schools should avoid large gatherings, such as assemblies or collective worship, with more than one group.
  • Movement around the school site kept to a minimum. While passing briefly in the corridor or playground is low risk, schools should avoid creating busy corridors, entrances and exits.
  • Schools should also consider staggered break times and lunchtimes (and allow time for cleaning surfaces in the dining hall between groups).
  • Use of staffrooms should be minimised, although staff must still have a break of a reasonable length during the day.
  • Schools should consider staggered starts or adjusting start and finish times to keep groups apart as they arrive and leave school.
  • Schools should also have a process for removing face coverings when pupils and staff who use them arrive at school, and communicate it clearly to them. Pupils must be instructed not to touch the front of their face covering during use or when removing them.
  • For individual and very frequently used equipment, such as pencils and pens, it is recommended that staff and pupils have their own items that are not shared.
  • Classroom-based resources, such as books and games, can be used and shared within the bubble; these should be cleaned regularly, along with all frequently touched surfaces.
  • It is still recommended that pupils limit the amount of equipment they bring into school each day, to essentials such as lunch boxes, hats, coats, books, stationery and mobile phones.
  • Schools must ensure they understand the NHS Test and Trace process and how to contact their local Public Health England health protection team.
  • If schools have two or more confirmed cases within 14 days, or an overall rise in sickness absence where the coronavirus (Covid-19) is suspected, they may have an outbreak, and must continue to work with their local health protection team, who will be able to advise if additional action is required. In some cases, health protection teams may recommend that a larger number of other pupils self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure - perhaps the whole site or year group.
  • It is a legal requirement that schools should revisit and update their risk assessments

2: School operations


The guidance says it may be necessary for schools to work with local authorities so that they can identify where it might be necessary to provide additional dedicated school transport services

Pupils on dedicated school services should be grouped together on transport, and, where possible, this should reflect the “bubble groups” that are adopted within school.

There should be use of hand sanitiser upon boarding and/or disembarking from buses, as well as additional cleaning of vehicles and organised queuing and boarding where possible. There should be distancing within vehicles wherever possible.

Other points include:  

  • Use of public transport by pupils, particularly in peak times, should be kept to an absolute minimum.
  • Schools should work with partners to consider staggered start times to enable more journeys to take place outside of peak hours.
  • Schools should encourage parents, staff and pupils to walk or cycle to school if at all possible.
  • Schools may want to consider using “walking buses” (a supervised group of children being walked to, or from, school) or working with their local authority to promote safe cycling routes.

Attendance and fines

The guidance states: “In March, when the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak was increasing, we made clear no parent would be penalised or sanctioned for their child’s non-attendance at school.

“Now the circumstances have changed” and parents may be issued sanctions from September, including fines.

The guidance adds: “Shielding advice for all adults and children will pause on 1 August, subject to a continued decline in the rates of community transmission of coronavirus. This means that even the small number of pupils who will remain on the shielded patient list can also return to school, as can those who have family members who are shielding.”

However, it states: “A small number of pupils will still be unable to attend in line with public health advice because they are self-isolating and have had symptoms or a positive test result themselves; or because they are a close contact of someone who has coronavirus.”

The guidance also states that schools should identify pupils who are reluctant or anxious about returning or who are at risk of disengagement, and develop plans for re-engaging them. This should include disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people, especially those who were persistently absent prior to the pandemic or who have not engaged with school regularly during the pandemic

School workforce

The guidance allows for “extremely clinically vulnerable” teachers and other staff to return to school.

It states that, following the reduction in the prevalence of the coronavirus and relaxation of shielding measures from 1 August, most staff will attend school.

“It remains the case that wider government policy advises those who can work from home to do so. We [the DfE] recognise this will not be applicable to most school staff, but where a role may be conducive to home working - for example, some administrative roles - school leaders should consider what is feasible and appropriate”

People who live with those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable can also attend the workplace, says the guidance.

It states: “As a general principle, pregnant women are in the ‘clinically vulnerable’ category and are advised to follow the relevant guidance available for clinically vulnerable people.

“People who live with those who have comparatively increased risk from coronavirus (Covid-19) can attend the workplace.

“Schools should ensure they have explained to all staff the measures they are proposing putting in place and involve all staff in that process.”

Other points include: 

  • Schools may need to alter the way in which they deploy their staff, and use existing staff more flexibly to welcome back all pupils at the start of the autumn term. Managers should discuss and agree any changes to staff roles with individuals.
  • It is important that planning builds in the need to avoid increases in unnecessary and unmanageable workload burdens. This could include a review of existing practices in this respect and schools may wish to draw on DfE’s workload reduction toolkit.
  • Schools should ensure that appropriate support is made available for pupils with SEND, for example by deploying teaching assistants and enabling specialist staff from both within and outside the school to work with pupils in different classes or year groups.
  • Teaching assistants may also be deployed to lead groups or cover lessons, under the direction and supervision of a qualified, or nominated, teacher (under the Education (Specified Work) (England) Regulations 2012 for maintained schools and non-maintained special schools and in accordance with the freedoms provided under the funding agreement for academies). Any redeployments should not be at the expense of supporting pupils with SEND.
  • Recruitment should continue as usual. It is recommended that schools continue to recruit remotely over the summer period. Interviewing remotely may be a new experience for many schools.
  • Schools can continue to engage supply teachers and other supply staff during this period.
  • Supply staff and other temporary workers can move between schools, but school leaders will want to consider how to minimise the number of visitors to the school where possible.
  • To minimise the numbers of temporary staff entering the school premises, and secure best value, schools may wish to use longer assignments with supply teachers.
  • Schools are “strongly encouraged”  to consider hosting ITT trainees because “demand for teacher training is high this year and, while it is understandable that schools will have prioritised other activity, there is a risk that insufficient training places will be available. 


The guidance states: “We expect that kitchens will be fully open from the start of the autumn term and normal legal requirements will apply about provision of food to all pupils who want it, including for those eligible for benefits-related free school meals or universal infant free school meals.”

School kitchens can continue to operate, but must comply with the guidance for food businesses on coronavirus.

Schools should consider resuming any breakfast and after-school provision, where possible, from the start of the autumn term.


The guidance states: “We also do not think schools will need to deliver any of their education on other sites (such as community centres/village halls) because class sizes can return to normal and spaces used by more than one class or group can be cleaned between use.

“If buildings have been closed or had reduced occupancy during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, water system stagnation can occur due to lack of use, increasing the risks of legionnaires’ disease. Advice on this can be found in the guidance on Legionella risks during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Once the school is in operation, it is important to ensure good ventilation. In classrooms, it will be important that schools improve ventilation, (for example, by opening windows).”

School trips

“We continue to advise against domestic (UK) overnight and overseas educational visits at this stage. See ‘Coronavirus: Travel guidance for educational settings’.

“In the autumn term, schools can resume non-overnight domestic educational visits…Schools should also make use of outdoor spaces in the local area to support delivery of the curriculum..

School uniform

The guidance states that some schools may have relaxed their uniform policy while only certain categories of pupils were attending.

But it states: “We would, however, encourage all schools to return to their usual uniform policies in the autumn term. Uniform can play a valuable role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone.

“Uniforms do not need to be cleaned any more often than usual, nor do they need to be cleaned using methods which are different from normal.

“Schools should consider how pupil non-compliance is managed, taking a mindful and considerate approach in relation to parents who may be experiencing financial pressures.”

3: Curriculum, behaviour and pastoral support

Guidance on curriculum includes that schools teach an ambitious and broad curriculum in all subjects from the start of the autumn term, but “make use of existing flexibilities to create time to cover the most important missed content”.

It states that schools should plan on the basis of the educational needs of pupils, stating that: “Curriculum planning should be informed by an assessment of pupils’ starting points and addressing the gaps in their knowledge and skills, in particular making effective use of regular formative assessment (for example, quizzes, observing pupils in class, talking to pupils to assess understanding, scrutiny of pupils’ work) while avoiding the introduction of unnecessary tracking systems.”

Other points include: 

  • Relationships and health education (RHE) for primary-aged pupils and and relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) for secondary-aged students, which become compulsory from September 2020, are taught by at least the start of the summer term 2021.
  • In exceptional circumstances, it may be in the best interests of a Year 11 pupil to discontinue an examined subject because the school judges that, for example, they would achieve significantly better in their remaining subjects as a result, especially in GCSE English and mathematics.
  • Schools should note that there may be an additional risk of infection in environments where you or others are singing, chanting, playing wind or brass instruments or shouting. This applies even if individuals are at a distance.

Physical activity in schools

Pupils should be kept in consistent groups, sports equipment thoroughly cleaned between each use by different individual groups, and contact sports avoided.

Outdoor sports should be prioritised where possible

Pupil wellbeing and support

The guidance states that pupils may be experiencing a variety of emotions in response to the coronavirus outbreak, such as anxiety, stress or low mood. Therefore, schools need to consider the provision of pastoral and extracurricular activities to all pupils designed to:

  • Support the rebuilding of friendships and social engagement.
  • Address and equip pupils to respond to issues linked to the coronavirus.
  • Support pupils with approaches to improving their physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Support resilience, mental health and wellbeing, including over anxiety, bereavement and sleep issues

Behaviour expectations

Schools should consider updating their behaviour policies with any new rules/policies, and consider how to communicate rules/policies clearly and consistently to staff, pupils and parents, setting clear, reasonable and proportionate expectations of pupil behaviour. This is particularly the case when considering restrictions on movement within school and new hygiene rules.

It is likely that adverse experiences and/or lack of routines of regular attendance and classroom discipline may contribute to disengagement with education upon return to school, resulting in increased incidence of poor behaviour.

4. Assessment and accountability


For state-funded schools, routine Ofsted inspections will remain suspended for the autumn term. However, during the autumn term, inspectors will visit a sample of schools to discuss how they are managing the return to education of all their pupils. These will be collaborative discussions, taking into account the curriculum and remote education expectations set out in this document, and will not result in a judgement. A brief letter will be published following the visit.

Primary assessment

The early years foundation stage profile, and all existing statutory key stage 1 and 2 assessments, should return in 2020-2021 in accordance with their usual timetables. This includes:

  • The phonics screening check.
  • Key stage 1 tests and teacher assessment.
  • The Year 4 multiplication tables check.
  • KS2 tests and teacher assessment.
  • Statutory trialling.

The introduction of the Reception baseline assessment has been postponed until September 2021.

However, the Standards and Testing Agency is reviewing requirements for the phonics screening check in Year 2 (following the cancellation of the 2020 assessment) and also arrangements for implementation of the engagement model (for the assessment of pupils working below the national curriculum and not engaged in subject specific study) and will provide an update to schools before the end of the summer term.


GCSEs and A levels will take place in summer 2021 but with adaptations, including those that will free up teaching time. 

There will also be an exam series taking place in autumn 2020, following the cancellation of summer 2020 exams,

Accountability expectations

Performance tables are suspended for the 2019-20 academic year, and no school or college will be judged on data based on exams and assessments from 2020. But there is no commitment to suspend them next year as well, as heads had wanted.

5: Contingency planning for outbreaks

The guidance states: “In the event of a local outbreak, the Public Health England health protection team or local authority may advise a school or number of schools to close temporarily to help control transmission.”

In such cases:

  • For individuals or groups of self-isolating pupils, remote education plans should be in place.
  • Where a class, group or small number of pupils need to self-isolate, or there is a local lockdown requiring pupils to remain at home, the DfE expects schools to have the capacity to offer immediate remote education.
  • Schools should “teach a planned and well-sequenced curriculum so that knowledge and skills are built incrementally, with a good level of clarity about what is intended to be taught and practised in each subject”.
  • Schools should provide frequent, clear explanations of new content, delivered by a teacher in the school or through high-quality curriculum resources and/or videos.
  • Schools should gauge how well pupils are progressing through the curriculum, using questions and other suitable tasks and set a clear expectation on how regularly teachers will check work

The guidance states that the government will also explore making a temporary continuity direction in the autumn term, to give additional clarity to schools, pupils and parents as to what remote education should be provided.

Curriculum maps for key subjects for year groups from Reception to year 9 will be published in July. They aim to provide support to schools in developing the ability to switch from classroom teaching to remote provision immediately in case of local lockdowns or self-isolation.

*This guidance does not cover early years, FE colleges or special schools (for which separate guidance is available).


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