Primary schools may be advised to restrict attendance in the event of local Covid outbreaks, the government has said.
And secondaries might be asked to prioritise students in Years 10 and 12, as well as those in exam groups, if ministers take the decision to impose restrictions in their area, according to new guidance published today by the Department for Education.
The DfE has updated its contingency framework for schools to specify what action may be required as a "last resort" if there is "extremely high" prevalence of Covid-19, or if it is necessary to "minimise the impact from new variants of the virus".
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Background: The previous Covid contingency plans for schools
All decisions must have "explicit approval" from ministers, and will be made on an "area-by-area basis", the department said.
Updated guidance for schools in case of local Covid outbreaks
Under the previous version of the contingency framework, the DfE said primary schools should remain open to all, or "in the very unlikely event that evidence supports limiting attendance", only vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers should be allowed on site.
However, it has now said that ministers may advise primaries to prioritise places for pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2, should restrictions be necessary.
The updated guidance represents a shift towards prioritising all children in key stage 1.
When schools started to reopen back in June last year, it was pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 who were first in line.
Today's guidance states: "The default position for primary schools (including Reception classes) is to allow all pupils to attend.
"If attendance needs to be limited in primary schools, DfE may advise:
- that primary schools only allow vulnerable children, children of critical workers, children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 to attend; or
- that primary schools only allow vulnerable children and children of critical workers to attend
"In these circumstances, high-quality remote education should be provided for all other pupils."
The guidance for secondaries has also been updated to state that students in Years 10 and 12 should be prioritised alongside exam groups.
For secondary schools, implementation of the previous contingency framework meant they should "only allow vulnerable children, children of critical workers, pupils in Years 11 and 13 and other pupils due to take external exams this academic year, to attend".
But the new guidance states: "Where restrictions are required, DfE may advise:
- that secondary schools allow only vulnerable children and young people, children of critical workers, pupils in Years 10, 11, 12 and 13, and other pupils who were due to take external exams this academic year to attend; or
- that secondary schools only allow vulnerable children and young people and children of critical workers to attend
"High-quality remote education should be provided for all other pupils."
Last month a Tes survey revealed that most school staff wanted attendance rotas to be used when students returned to the classroom.