'Full attendance' in schools next term as 2m rule eased

Teaching unions are set to discuss the easing of social distancing restrictions at a DfE meeting this afternoon

Catherine Lough

Boris Johnson 2m rule

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced today that social distancing measures will be eased, allowing primary and secondary schools to return in September with "full attendance".

He also said the 2m social distancing rule will be relaxed, with the public expected to observe a distance of "1m-plus" where 2m is not possible, taking "mitigations to remove the risk of transmission".

Restaurants, pubs, libraries and campsites will all be allowed to reopen over the summer, subject to rules being drawn up.

On schools, he said: "Primary and secondary education will recommence in September with full attendance and those children who can already go to school should do so because it is safe."

And he added: "Wraparound care for school-age children and formal childcare will restart over the summer.''

Today's announcement is expected to be discussed at a meeting between teaching unions and Department for Education officials this afternoon.

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Headteachers have previously said that the idea of ending the 2m rule to allow more pupils to return to school was a "red herring".

Coronavirus: The challenges of reopening schools

Bigger obstacles, they say, are the requirement for pupils to stay in smaller groups, or "bubbles" and the availability of staff.

There was no mention of classroom bubbles in Mr Johnson's speech earlier today.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested bubbles could be expanded to include "the whole class" but has not expanded on what exactly this might look like.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said today that social distancing measures had particular implications for secondary schools, but that this was related to the need for bubbles and strict hygiene measures rather than the 2m rule.

He said: "In secondary, we have a group of 30 in their tutor group, all of whom go off to different teachers. We can't parachute in the maths teacher to teach all the different subjects."

Mr Barton added: "Where social distancing is significant for secondary schools, it isn't so much about what happens within the school but beyond the school." For example, whether children coming to school would be required to abide by social distancing on buses.

And Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "We haven’t been consulted, but that’s nothing new – we don’t expect to be. If they reduce it from 2m down to 1m, it will mean in most schools you can have more pupils back in a classroom, but it doesn’t alter the fact that the vast majority of classrooms in England’s schools will not accommodate a full class of 28 to 30 pupils with 1m distance.

“If 1m distancing goes on for a long time, looking at the September start, all the same issues apply – you still need more classroom space…and in secondary the issues around social distancing and around bubbles, they are really complex because of option choices and because many classes are set for different subjects.’

Dr Bousted said she was expecting the Department for Education to release further guidance about implementing Mr Johnson's announcement in schools later this week, but that "we really need the detailed guidance out sooner rather than later".

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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