Here are the social distancing measure in place as English pupils go back to school - and which year groups are being prioritised

Monday, 1st June 2020, 9:24 am
Updated Monday, 1st June 2020, 10:14 am

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in May that schools could reopen from 1 June, if a number of criteria were met.

Evidently, those criteria have been met, as English schools prepare to welcome back pupils for the first time in months this week.

The rules do not apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have the power to determine their own set of rules.

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The other three nations have opted to ease fewer restrictions than the PM has across England.

Here’s everything you need to know about the pupils expected to head back through the school gates:

When will schools reopen?

Schools are reopening today (1 June) in England, with government ministers convinced that infection rates are falling.

However, not all pupils will be expected to return to the school gates, and a staggered return systems sees only primary pupils in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 classes being asked back in the first instance.

On top of that, the reopening of schools has many local variations - spread out over the next couple of weeks and with many schools making their own arrangements over which year groups return and for how many days a week.

For the latest information on your child’s school, check its website or that of your local council.

Why are Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 being prioritised?

Secretary of State Dominic Raab said on BBC Breakfast there will be a "phased" approach to reopening primary schools, starting with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils.

But why is that?

Those particular years groups have the oldest and some of the youngest children in primary schools. Year 6 will soon be moving into secondary school and the Reception class and Year 1 are the youngest children in schools.

Pupils in Year 6 would normally be preparing to undertake their Key Stage 2 assessments were schools still open right now, so the focus on them could be designed to aid them in getting back on track with exams.

The Government’s official guidance states that prioritising those years will “ensure that the youngest children, and those preparing for the transition to secondary school, have maximum time with their teachers.

As for younger children in Reception and Year 1, it is widely agreed that children at that age have far fewer contacts and much smaller friendship groups than older students, which will help aid in social distancing.

But many teachers have expressed concern with regards to keeping younger children apart from one another, with one headteacher expressing concern about how social distancing could be managed.

Bryony Baynes, headteacher of Kempsey Primary School, told Metro: “How on earth are we to manage social distancing between reception and year one pupils when most of them are aged four and five?”

When might other years be able to return?

The Government say is is their “ambition” for all primary school children to return “to school before the summer for a month if feasible, though this will be kept under review.”

As for older school pupils, in his address, Mr Johnson spoke of the ambition for secondary pupils with exams next year to get “at least some time with their teachers before the holidays”.

“Secondary schools and further education colleges should also prepare to begin some face to face contact with Year 10 and 12 pupils,” say the Government’s guidelines, “who have key exams next year, in support of their continued remote, home learning.”

Will it be safe to reopen schools?

Raab told BBC Breakfast the Government “will make sure that we would have clear guidance about how [schools can be reopened] with social distancing, with hygiene.

The Government released updated guidelines for how schools might enforce social distancing between their pupils

The suggestions include class sizes of no more than 15, staggered break times as well as drop-off and pick-up times, one-way circulation or placing a divider down the middle of corridors, and the removal of soft furnishings and toys that are hard to clean.

However, not everybody is convinced, and the general secretary of teachers' union NASUWT said the profession has "very serious concerns" about children returning to school on June 1.

Patrick Roach told BBC Breakfast: "If you're dealing with five- and six-year-olds and 11-year-olds, how to ensure stringent social distancing in that context is a big challenge and Government simply haven't answered that challenge.

"Just in terms of risk assessments, parents will want to know that schools are going to be hygienic, they're going to be safe for their children to be in. And we still don't have any clear standards about what safe cleaning routines would be like within a school context and we need to have that."

Mary Bousted, National Education Union joint general secretary, said: “A study published last week by the University of East Anglia suggested that school closures are the single most effective way of suppressing the spread of the virus.

“We think that the announcement by the government that schools may reopen from June 1 with Reception and Years 1 and 6 is nothing short of reckless."

Will other parents be sending their kids to school?

The guidance on children returning to school is muddy, with constant changes being made by the Government making things difficult for teachers and school staff to implement.

Add to that the fact that the UK is still experiencing thousands of new coronavirus infections per day, and it’s easy to see why many parents are uneasy about sending their children back to the classroom.

In fact, a recent survey suggests that nearly half of parents will not be sending their little ones back to school in June.

A study from the National Foundation for Educational Research revealed 46% of parents will keep children at home, and 25% of teachers are likely to be absent because of health issues.

When do schools go back in other areas of the UK?

As mentioned, the rules on schools reopening do not apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have the power to determine their own guidance.

In Wales schools are not going back on 1 June with no fixed date set, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland, schools go back from August.