Don't use community halls to boost space, schools told

DfE informs primaries they should not take back extra pupils if they need more funding, staff or classrooms to do so

Amy Gibbons

Coronavirus: Primary schools have been told not to take back additional pupils if they will require extra funding or classroom space to do so

Community spaces such as village halls should not be used to expand school capacity this term, the government has said.

Primary schools may choose to open to more pupils outside of the priority year groups, but only if they "do not require additional funding, staff or classrooms to do so", according to new guidance from the Department for Education.

The government has said there is "no expectation" for primaries to welcome back more pupils outside of nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 if they do not have capacity.

Related: Government 'wants more primary pupils back this term'

School reopenings: National plan 'needed to create more school space'

Coronavirus: Planned summer return for all primary pupils ‘dropped’

The DfE guidance states that primary schools should only welcome back additional children if:

  • They have already made provision available for children of critical workers, vulnerable children and children in nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, and have ensured as many as possible are able to attend (especially for those who would particularly benefit from being in school because of other disadvantage).
  • They can accommodate more children while still following the approaches set out in the protective measures guidance and their own risk assessment.
  • They do not require additional funding, staff or classrooms to do so,

"If schools have access to space on other school sites (for example, local secondary schools, if that is feasible alongside the secondary offer), they may use this, taking care to ensure children stay in allocated groups," the guidance states.

Coronavirus: DfE guidance for reopening primary schools

"However, other community buildings (such as village halls) should not be used to expand capacity this term, while they remain closed in line with the government's roadmap."

It adds that primaries can hold face-to-face meetings with pupils not returning to school before the end of term, so long as they follow safety guidelines.

"This time can be used to check in on pupils, and ensure they are supported before a planned return to school from September," the guidance states.

"Where this happens, this contact needs to be in line with the current guidance on protective measures."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We welcome the opportunity for primary schools to invite back more pupils. In truth, most schools will have limited capacity to bring back more pupils while restricting class sizes to no more than 15 in distinct and consistent groups.

"However, some school leaders have indicated that they would like to be able to do this. It is helpful that the government is allowing schools the flexibility to prioritise which children they think will most benefit from time in school, if they are able to offer this.

"We are also pleased that the government has listened to our suggestion that all schools and colleges should be able to invite pupils in for a one-off 'check-in' session before the end of term.

"This will help teachers to get a clearer sense of how pupils have found learning from home, to check on their wellbeing, and to plan further teaching.

"However, these changes do not make up for the lack of a long-term, strategic plan for education over the coming months.

"What we really need is the government to join with the profession, as a matter of urgency, in developing a national plan to bring more children back to school as soon as possible, and provide support to help children catch up with missed learning. We need a coherent strategy both for the immediate future and beyond."

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: "I want to make sure as many pupils as possible can get back into the classroom and be reunited with their friends and teachers before the summer, to support their wellbeing and education.

"We have a range of protective measures in place in schools to reduce the risk of transmission and I would like to encourage primary schools to invite more children back if they can maintain those existing guidelines.

"I would encourage parents to take advantage of a place if they are eligible, and I'd like to thank teachers and staff for all their hard work as we take the next step in our phased and cautious approach to returning all children to school."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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