This article breaks down what you need to know about the November 2021 update to the DfE’s ‘Schools COVID-19 operational guidance’. The changes primarily relate to the protection measures that have been introduced due to the Omicron variant.
The key points are as follows:
- [New] Close contacts of Omicron cases must self-isolate regardless of age or vaccination status
- [New] Face covering advice has been reintroduced
- [New] PCR tests are required after arriving in the UK from abroad
- [New] Schools need to consider whether planned international trips should go ahead
- [New] Secondary schools should test pupils on-site in January
Read on to learn more about each key point.
[New] Close contacts of Omicron cases must self-isolate regardless of age or vaccination status
People who are identified as a close contact of a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron coronavirus (COVID-19) variant will be required to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status or age, and asked to book a PCR test. They will be contacted directly by their local health protection team or NHS Test and Trace to tell them what they need to do.
Further actions for schools may be advised by a local Incident Management Team investigating suspected or confirmed Omicron cases.
The self-isolation rules for close contacts of coronavirus cases that are not confirmed or suspected Omicron cases remain the same, i.e. they do not need to self-isolate if they:
- Are fully vaccinated.
- Are below the age of 18 years and 6 months.
- Have taken part in, or are currently part of, an approved coronavirus vaccine trial.
- Are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons.
Instead, they will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace to inform them that they are a close contact and advise them to take a PCR test.
[New] Face covering advice has been reintroduced
The DfE is advising that staff, adult visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above should wear face coverings in communal areas and when moving around the premises inside, unless they are exempt – face coverings do not need to be worn in classrooms.
Face coverings should also be worn by pupils in Year 7 on dedicated school transport. From 30 November, it will be mandatory for face coverings to be worn by people aged 11 and over on public transport, unless they are otherwise exempt – fines will be given to people who fail to wear face coverings on public transport.
[New] PCR tests are required after arriving in the UK from abroad
All people arriving into the UK from abroad will need to self-isolate and get a PCR test by day two after their arrival. Isolation can only end once a negative PCR result is received. Unvaccinated arrivals who are over 18 must continue to follow the existing, testing and isolation rules. Anyone arriving from a country on the red list must enter quarantine.
The DfE guidance states that parents travelling aboard need to consider the impact on their child’s education which may result from any requirement to quarantine or isolate upon their return.
[New] Schools need to consider whether planned international trips should go ahead
The DfE has recommended that schools consider whether to go ahead with any planned international school trips at this time, following the introduction of stricter testing measures when returning to the UK. Schools should refer to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office travel advice and the guidance on international travel before booking and travelling.
[New] Secondary schools should test pupils on site in January 2022
The DfE has told secondary schools to prepare to test pupils on site when they return after the Christmas holidays in January. Secondary school pupils should take one test on site as they return to school; after this they should continue to test at home in line with current government guidance.
To enable the testing to take place in January 2022, schools need to order sufficient test kits by 30 November 2021.
Ofsted has confirmed that secondary schools will not be inspected during the first week back to school in January unless there are urgent concerns.
Staff in all schools should take one self-test at home either the evening or morning before they return in January.
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DfE (2021) ‘Schools COVID-19 operational guidance’
DfE (2021) ‘26 November – Coronavirus – Update to all early years, children’s social care, schools and further education providers’ [Email communication: 26 November 2021]