What are the new Coronavirus rules for children returning back to schools?

With schools across the region either already welcoming students back or preparing to start their term, there are new Coronavirus rules in place for children and young people returning back to the classroom.

A Teesside headteacher says new Covid testing measures should improve the student experience this term.

  • Gemma Knox, Principal at Freeborough Academy:

What are the Covid rules in schools as pupils return for the autumn term?

Bubbles and social distancing

In all areas of the UK, bubbles are no longer required meaning the end of entire year groups being forced to self-isolate because of a single Covid-19 case.

This also means assemblies can return, the restrictions on mixing during breaks have gone and social distancing requirements have been eased.

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The government is trying to persuade parents, secondary school pupils and college students to take part in voluntary asymptomatic Covid-19 testing.

England's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said the easing of restrictions and the return of schooling which is “closer to normality” is welcome but warned that parents and children should not “throw caution to the wind” and encouraged pupils to take a test twice a week.

England's Department for Education (DfE) guidance states that secondary school and college students in England should be tested twice on-site on their return, with lateral flow tests carried out between three and five days apart.

The guidance then says pupils should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September when the policy will be reviewed.

The government will also take over all test and trace requirements from schools and the NHS will contact the affected family directly, rather than going through the school.

Only if the pupil themselves tests positive for Covid will they need to self-isolate and miss school.

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Pupils in England and Wales are no longer required to wear masks on-site, although some schools have chosen to keep some mask requirements.

With the prediction that cases will rise when pupils will return, the leader of the largest teaching union in the UK has called on Mr Williamson to support schools to “consider face coverings from day one of term” alongside social distancing where possible.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said current safety requirements are “not sufficient” to prevent a rise in cases.

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Hygiene and ventilation

With most mandatory requirements now gone, the government has increased its emphasis on optional guidance, particularly around hygiene.

The new guidance advises regular and thorough hand washing as well as keeping the school as clean as possible.

Doing as much as possible to increase ventilation - particularly when parents are going to in to school buildings - is also being encouraged.

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A first Covid-19 vaccine dose is currently being offered to all 16 and 17-year-olds, and 12 to 15-year-olds with specific underlying health conditions and those who are household contacts of someone who is immunosuppressed.

Although the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has yet to advise on broadening the rollout to all 12-15 year olds the government is drawing up plans to carry it out if they do.

The NHS is preparing to deliver a school-based programme that will be supplemented with other delivery models where necessary to ensure full coverage across the country.

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The NHS is "ready" to vaccinate over-12s in schools, the Education Secretary has said, adding he is hoping for the rollout to begin in the "very near future."

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson insisted children would be returning to "a pre-pandemic sense of what education was like" when they go back to school in the coming days, despite very few of them having been vaccinated against coronavirus.

The government has been criticised for not offering coronavirus vaccinations to over-12s during the summer holidays ahead of their return to classrooms, which is expected to cause a new spike in Covid-19 infections.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that if the JCVI recommends that 12 to 15-year-olds should be offered the vaccine “we need to be ready to hit the ground running."

It comes after a new study of 7,000 children aged 11-17 - the largest study yet on Long Covid in children, found huge numbers could suffer.

It suggested as many as one-in-seven children who get coronavirus could have symptoms - including headache, tiredness and a loss of taste and smell - almost four months later.

Mr Williamson, who has previously said children would require parental consent before being vaccinated, said over-12s will have an additional layer of protection once they've been jabbed.

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