North Yorkshire schools face 'bumpy' return to classes with new Covid tests and face mask rules

Secondary schools and colleges face a "bumpy" return to classes next month as the mass Covid testing of students and stricter rules on face masks are introduced, a North Yorkshire education boss has said.

Friday, 26th February 2021, 1:21 pm

Stuart Carlton, corporate director of children and young people's service at North Yorkshire County Council, said while he was confident that the return of primary schools would go "fairly smoothly," the situation at secondaries would be "a bit more complicated".

All schools and colleges are going back from 8 March with headteachers able to decide a phased return during that week. There will be voluntary mass testing in secondaries only with three initial swabs in school followed by home test kits being sent out to students twice a week.

Secondary school staff and students will also be advised to wear face coverings in all areas - including classrooms - where social distancing cannot be maintained. It's a big change as previously students only had to wear them in communal areas.

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All schools and colleges will make a phased return to classes from 8 March.

Speaking at a meeting of North Yorkshire's Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee today, Mr Carlton said: "We would encourage as much mass testing and home testing as we can, but it's not dependent on a child returning to school.

"Things will be a little bit bumpy but the main thing for me is that it's compulsory children are in school. That's where we need them - it's so important for their education and well-being"

Mr Carlton also said he was "fairly concerned" about the new guidance on face masks which will mean students in "nearly every classroom" will be required to wear a covering for most of the day.

"That's a big ask," he said.

"We could have children who have to put a mask on to get on the school bus at 8am who may well be wearing it all day through to 5pm. That is a long time."

There are exceptions to the rule for when wearing a face covering would affect students' ability to take part in "exercise or strenuous activity" such as PE, or for anyone who doesn't wear a mask for health reasons.

Mr Carlton added the testing programme and rules on face masks, as well as local infection rates, would be reviewed by the government during the Easter half-term.

In primary schools, government guidance says there will be no requirement for face masks or the testing of pupils, but staff will continue with home testing.

It comes as the exams watchdog Ofqual has this week confirmed GCSEs and A-levels cancelled by the pandemic will be replaced by grades decided by teachers.

Last summer, thousands of A-level students had their results downgraded from school estimates by a controversial algorithm, before Ofqual announced a U-turn which allowed them to use teachers' predictions instead.

The new arrangements come after a consultation into how best to assess pupils after months of school and college closures.

Schools can determine grades this summer by using a combination of mock exams, coursework and essays, with results to be published earlier in August to allow time to appeal.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter