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Students to return from 8th March. What you need to know

From Monday 8 March, schools and colleges will open to all pupils  with asymptomatic COVID-19 testing in place. University students on  practical courses will also return on Monday 8 March. The return of all  pupils is a priority in the Government’s roadmap for the easing of  restrictions and recovery from the impact of coronavirus pandemic.

The reopening of education settings to all is being prioritised due  to the significant and proven impact caused by being out of school to  the mental and physical health and wellbeing of children and young  people.

We have strengthened existing protective measures in schools,  colleges and universities with adults and students in year 7 and above  to wear face coverings in all indoor settings, including classrooms as  an extra temporary precaution.

Which education settings are opening on 8 March?

Primary school children, secondary school pupils and college students  as well as university students on practical courses who need access to  specialist facilities and equipment will all return on Monday 8th March.

All secondary school and college students will take three COVID-19  tests as they return to the classroom from the 8 March at existing  school testing facilities. Schools and colleges will have discretion on  how to stagger the return of their students over that week to allow them  to be tested on return. After an initial programme of three tests in  school or college, students will be provided with two rapid tests to use  each week at home.

What about higher education students whose courses are not practical?

We will review, by the end of the Easter holidays, the options for  timing of the return of remaining students.  Students and providers will  be given a week’s notice ahead of any further return.

Twice weekly testing will continue to be available for all on campus.

What about special schools and alternative provision?

Special schools, special post-16 providers, and alternative provision  have remained open to vulnerable children and young people, including  those with Educational Health Care Plans, and to the children of  critical workers.

Because of this, many settings have continued to offer face to face  provision for the vast majority, if not all, of their pupils and  students.

From 8 March, we expect students in all year groups to be attending in line with the wider return to face-to-face teaching.

What about wraparound childcare, early years and nursery provision?

Wraparound childcare will be open to parents who need to access it to  work, attend education or seek medical care, and to vulnerable  children. Early years and nursery provision has remained open to all  throughout the lockdown.

How has the approach been guided by scientific evidence?

We have and continue to take the safety of all education staff  extremely seriously, and our guidance for all education settings has  been based on the best medical advice.

Public Health England continues to advise that the existing range of  safety measures in place in education settings remains appropriate.

We have strengthened existing protective measures and staff and  students in secondary schools and colleges are advised to wear face  coverings in all areas, including classrooms, where social distancing  cannot be maintained as a temporary extra measure, as the twice weekly  at home testing regime is set up.

What’s changed since schools were closed to most pupils in January that makes you think March is the right time to reopen them?

Schools closed to most pupils during the third lockdown to help  reduce overall social contacts across the country whilst the NHS  experienced significant pressure, not because schools were considered a  high-risk setting to staff or pupils.

The consensus view from SAGE continues to be that missing out  on classroom-based education has severe impacts for children and young  people, with clear evidence that further time out of schools and  colleges is detrimental for cognitive and academic development,  learning, health and wellbeing.

Evidence from the Public Health England-led Schools Infection Study  continues to show that infection rates in schools mirror infection rates  in the wider community, suggesting schools are not the main driver of  infections.

The Schools Infection Study (SIS) by  PHE, ONS and LSHTM also showed that COVID-19 infection rates in schools  among staff and pupils mirrored infection rates in the wider community.

PHE’s Surveillance in Schools study (sKIDS) suggests that transmission in primary schools is extremely low and outbreaks are rare.

Warwick University recently published research on school transmission  rates in schools which found there is no clear evidence of schools  being a ‘significant driver’ of infections. Warwick University research  also suggests that cases in schools amongst teachers and students seemed  to reflect and follow those in the community, rather than preceding  them, suggesting it is cases in the community driving infections in  schools, rather than vice versa.

The flexibility we are providing in the first week of return for  secondary schools and colleges to allow testing of staff and students,  alongside strengthened safety measures, should reassure families and  education staff that extra measures are in place alongside the existing  bubble system, enhanced hygiene and COVID-19-secure precautions.

Will attendance be mandatory?

School attendance will be mandatory for all pupils from 8 March. The usual rules on school attendance apply.

Schools and colleges will have discretion on how to phase the return  of their students over that week to allow them to be tested on return.

Will you provide additional funding/support to help pupils and students catch up?

The government has committed to helping children and young people  recover learning lost as a result of the pandemic. We will also  be outlining further measures as part of our Catch Up programme.

In June 2020 we announced a catch-up package worth £1bn, including a  ‘Catch Up Premium’ worth a total of £650m to support all schools to make  up for lost teaching time and £350m for the National Tutoring Programme  to help disadvantaged pupils to catch-up on lost learning.

In January 2021 we also committed to a further programme of catch up  which will involve £300m of new money to early years, schools and  providers of 16-19 further education for high-quality tutoring.

We will work in collaboration with the education sector to develop  specific initiatives for summer schools and a Covid Premium to support  catch up; and to develop a long-term plan to make sure children and  young people have the chance to make up their learning over the course  of this Parliament.

What you need to know about testing

Why are we testing?  

Testing in schools and colleges is already well-established, as recent figures show more than four million tests have been conducted since 4 January 2021.

As many as one in three people who contract the virus show no  symptoms, so could be spreading the disease unknowingly. Asymptomatic  testing will help to identify positive cases more quickly and break the  chains of transmission. Those who test positive will self-isolate,  helping to reduce transmission of the virus.

Alongside asymptomatic testing, secondary schools and colleges should  also continue to put in place a range of protective measures to  minimise the risk of infection spread. No test is perfect, but the speed  and convenience of Lateral Flow Device tests supports detection of the  virus in asymptomatic individuals who would not otherwise be tested.

How and where will the testing happen?

  • Secondary school and college students will take COVID-19 tests as they return the classroom from the 8 March.
  • Schools and colleges will have discretion on how to phase the return  of their students over that week to allow them to be tested on return.
  • After an initial programme of 3 tests in school/college, students  will be provided with two rapid tests to use each week at home.
  • Staff in secondary schools will also be supplied with test kits to self swab and test themselves twice a week at home.
  • Schools should offer pupils tests three to five days apart to manage  the number of pupils passing through the test site at any one time.

Will testing be mandatory and will consent be needed?

  • Testing is voluntary but strongly encouraged. If consent is  provided, pupils will be asked to self-swab at the on-site ATS and after  30 minutes they should be informed of their results.

Will testing stop outbreaks?  

  • As many as one in three people who contract the virus show no  symptoms (they are asymptomatic), so could be spreading the disease  unknowingly. Asymptomatic testing will help to identify positive cases  more quickly and break the chains of transmission.
  • LFD tests produce results much faster than PCR tests. Testing staff  and pupils twice per week, 3-4 days apart starting on Sunday evenings,  will also increase confidence that positive cases are being identified  quickly. Those who test positive will then self-isolate, helping to  reduce transmission of the virus.

Extra testing is going to find more positive cases and close  contacts, resulting in increased absences from school. How will this be  managed? 

It is important that positive cases and their close contacts isolate  to break the chains of transmission. Testing regularly will help keep  everyone safe. Students will be able to participate in remote learning  from home until they can return to the classroom.

We will continue to support the development of high quality remote  education, including through The Get Help with Technology scheme, which  has so far provided over a million laptops and tablets to help  disadvantaged pupils and students access remote education.

What about testing for early years staff and staff and students in wider FE settings (not colleges)?

The asymptomatic testing programme in education currently covers all  staff at school-based nurseries and maintained nursery schools.

We are now expanding home testing kits to staff in all  private, voluntary and independent nurseries, who will start to receive  deliveries of Lateral Flow Device (LFD) home testing kits to offer to  all their staff for twice weekly testing from next month.

This is a significant development that will help to identify positive  cases more quickly and break the chains of transmissions. Childminders  continue to have access to community testing facilities for asymptomatic  testing.

Home testing will be available for Independent Training Providers and Adult Community Learning Providers by the end of March.

What about vaccinations for teachers/staff?

Staff and students who are in the Phase 1 priority groups determined  by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) should  have been offered their first vaccination dose

The JVCI will provide advice on the next phase of the vaccine  rollout. The Government is committed to offering every adult a dose of  the vaccine by 31st July.

Source – Gov.uk

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