Covid: Schools told to plan for more remote learning

Department for Education also asks schools to draw up plans to bring back virus testing sites and reintroduce face masks

John Roberts and Amy Gibbons

The DfE have told schools to prepare to restrict attendance, reintroduce testing and bring back masks in classrooms in case it is decided this is needed in their areas

Schools have been told to ensure they have plans in place to restrict attendance and reintroduce asymptomatic testing sites in case this is needed in their local area to combat Covid.

They have also been told by the Department for Education (DfE) to plan for the need to reintroduce masks in classrooms and for the need to bring back shielding.

The department has published an updated framework today for managing Covid in schools.

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In an email bulletin sent this afternoon, schools have been told to ensure they have management plans outlining how they would operate if any of the restrictions in the new contingency framework document were to be introduced in their area.

The updated framework also sets out how councils and public health directors can make decisions to introduce Covid safety measures at a single school or cluster of schools but, where there is a need to address Covid across an entire area, decisions will be taken by ministers.

The new framework tells schools to ensure they have plans in place for:

  • Reintroducing asymptomatic testing sites.
  • Reintroducing mask-wearing in communal areas and/or classrooms.
  • Limiting residential visits, open days, transition days and performances.
  • Limiting attendance to primary school pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.
  • Limiting attendance to secondary school students in Years 10, 11, 12 and 13, as well as vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

The document also says that schools should plan for the reintroduction of shielding but says that a decision to bring this back can be done only by the national government.

In a daily bulletin sent to schools, the DfE says: “We have updated the contingency framework following the government’s announcement on enhanced response packages to tackle the Delta variant in some areas.

“The contingency framework describes the principles of managing local outbreaks of Covid-19 in education and childcare settings. It covers all types of measures that settings should be prepared for, which includes those that may be recommended as part of an enhanced response area.

“All education and childcare settings should have outbreak management plans outlining how they would operate if any of the measures described within the contingency framework were recommended in their area for any reason.

“Secondary schools and colleges should ensure their outbreak management plans cover the possibility that it is advised that face coverings should temporarily be worn more widely in settings in their area and that asymptomatic testing sites (ATS) may be required.”

It also says that additional guidance has been issued to the directors of public health advising that they work in partnership with schools and colleges before reinstating ATS.

Schools had previously been told, earlier this year, that they must not implement any of the Covid containment measures without “explicit agreement” from the DfE but the new framework sets out how this can be done at local level if it only involves a small number of schools.

The contingency framework document has been updated after the government announced enhanced Covid support for schools in Birmingham, Blackpool, Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Liverpool City region and Warrington.

In these areas, the government is providing supervised in-school testing, and discretion to reintroduce face coverings in indoor communal areas and classrooms in schools, if directors of public health decide it is appropriate.

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John Roberts and Amy Gibbons

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