This article breaks down what you need to know about the updates to the DfE’s ‘Schools COVID-19 operational guidance’ regarding the easing of certain coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions in step 4 of the roadmap out of lockdown, including the August update ahead of schools’ return for the Autumn term.

 The key points are as follows:

  • Key restrictions for schools have come to an end in step 4
  • ‘Bubbles’ and consistent groups have been removed from schools
  • [Updated] Face coverings still expected in some areas
  • Social distancing is no longer advised
  • [Updated] Test and Trace has been ‘significantly scaled back’ in schools
  • [Updated] The rules on self-isolation have changed
  • [Updated] Home asymptomatic testing for pupils and staff to continue until at least the end of September Enhanced hygiene and ventilation to continue for Autumn term
  • Protecting clinically extremely vulnerable pupils and staff

Read on to learn more about each key point.

 

 

Key restrictions for schools have come to an end in step 4

 

Some key coronavirus restrictions ceased to be in effect after the country entered step 4 of the roadmap out of lockdown on 19 July – this included certain restrictions that have been in place in schools.

The full guidance on restrictions can be found here and is applicable to:

  • Primary schools.
  • Secondary schools, including sixth forms.
  • Special schools, special post-16 providers, and alternative provision.
  • 16-19 academies.
  • Infant, junior, middle and upper schools.
  • Boarding schools.

Separate guidance is available for early years settingsfurther education colleges and providers, and special schools.

 

‘Bubbles’ and consistent groups have been removed from schools

 

Schools no longer need to use ‘bubbles’ in early years settings, schools and post-16 settings.

Alongside enabling flexibility in the delivery of curriculum, the lifting of this restriction also allows assemblies and lunches to resume as normal, i.e. mixing is permitted.

Schools should, however, make sure their contingency plans (also known as ‘outbreak management plans’) cover the possibility that in some local areas it may become necessary to reintroduce bubbles for a temporary period in order to reduce mixing between groups.

 

[Updated] Face coverings still expected in some areas

 

[Updated] There is no longer a legal requirement for pupils, staff and visitors to wear face coverings in communal school areas and classrooms.

People are still permitted to wear face coverings if they choose to or are advised by a healthcare professional.

[Updated] While the government has removed the requirement for face coverings from law, face coverings are still expected and recommended in enclosed and crowded places where people may come into contact with others they would not normally meet. This includes on public and dedicated school transport.

[New] Where there is a substantial increase in the number of positive cases in a school, the school may be advised by a director of public health to temporarily reintroduce the wearing of face coverings in communal areas or classrooms.

Schools should ensure their contingency plans cover the need to reintroduce face coverings temporarily in communal areas and classrooms by pupils, staff and visitors.

 

Social distancing is no longer advised

 

Pupils and staff no longer need to adhere to social distancing rules in communal areas and classrooms. Staggered starts and finishes in schools are not required.

If a school suffers an outbreak, it may be advised by a director of public health that social distancing measures are temporarily put back in place. Schools should ensure that their contingency plans cover this possibility.

 

[Updated] Test and Trace has been ‘significantly scaled back’ in schools

 

Schools are no longer responsible for Test and Trace close contact tracing. This has been taken over by the NHS Test and Trace service, who will now inform staff and pupils if they have been in close contact with a positive case and advise them to take a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

[New] In exceptional cases, schools may be contacted to help with identifying close contacts, but this will not be regular practice.

Schools will continue to have a role in working with local health protection teams (HPTs) in the case of a local outbreak. If there is an outbreak in a school, the NHS will contact the school and a director of public health may advise school leaders to temporarily reintroduce control measures.

 

[Updated] The rules on self-isolation have changed

 

From 16 August, there have been significant changes to the rules around self-isolation. Pupils under 18 will only need to self-isolate if they have tested positive for coronavirus, meaning that pupils in this category will not need to self-isolate if they are identified as being a close contact of a positive coronavirus case.

[Updated] Individuals who are 18 years old will be expected to follow the same self-isolation rules as those under 18, until six months after their 18th birthday when they must follow the same rules as adults – this is to give them enough time to get fully vaccinated.

[Updated] Starting in the Autumn term, staff will not need to self-isolate if they are identified as having close contact with a positive case as long as they:

  • Are fully vaccinated.
  • [New] Have taken part in, or are currently part of, an approved coronavirus vaccine trial.
  • [New] Are not able to be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Staff who have only had one dose of the vaccine, or who have not been vaccinated at all, will still need to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact. Staff whose second dose of the vaccine is close to 16 August will need to follow the self-isolation rules for unvaccinated adults until two weeks after their vaccination, at which point they can begin to follow the guidance for fully vaccinated adults.

In schools, the changes regarding self-isolation will come into effect from the start of the Autumn term.

 

[Updated] Home asymptomatic testing for pupils and staff to continue until at least the end of September

 

Testing remains important to reduce the transmission of infection within schools. Over the Summer, staff and secondary school pupils were advised to continue to test regularly if they were attending schools that remained open, e.g. for Summer schools.

Testing kits will still be widely available and can either be collected from a local pharmacy or ordered online.

All secondary school pupils should receive two on-site lateral flow device (LFD) tests, three-to-five days apart, on their return to school in the Autumn term. Schools can start testing as early as three working days before the start of term and can stagger the return of pupils across the first week to manage this if they wish. Pupils and staff should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, when the guidance on testing will be reviewed.

Secondary schools should retain a small asymptomatic testing site (ATS) on-site until further notice so they are able to offer testing to pupils who cannot test themselves at home.

[Updated] The guidance that primary-aged pupils do not need to test will remain in place; however, pupils who are starting secondary school in the Autumn term will be offered the same two tests as other secondary-aged pupils, and schools may choose to start testing Year 6 pupils earlier depending on local circumstances.

 

Enhanced hygiene and ventilation to continue for Autumn term

 

The current guidance on enhanced hygiene and ventilation will continue to remain relevant for the Autumn term.

Schools should continue to encourage frequent and thorough hand cleaning with soap and water, or hand sanitiser. The ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach should continue to be implemented.

Schools should also continue to identify any poorly-ventilated spaces as part of their risk assessments and take steps to improve the air flow. Mechanical ventilation systems should be adjusted to increase ventilation rates, and doors and windows should be opened to improve natural ventilation where possible.

 

Protecting clinically extremely vulnerable pupils and staff


All clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) pupils should attend school unless they are under paediatric or other specialist care and have been advised by their clinician or other specialist not to attend. Further information is available in the ‘Supporting pupils with medical conditions at school’ guidance.


CEV pupils and staff are advised to follow the same guidance as everyone else, but are encouraged to think particularly carefully about the additional precautions they can continue to take.
Key contractors and visitors should be made aware of the school’s control measures and ways of working to minimise the risks CEV pupils and staff are exposed to.


As social distancing measures have now ended, schools should be able to explain the precautions they have in place to keep CEV staff safe at work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published guidance on protecting vulnerable workers, including advice for employers and employees on reducing risks in the workplace.


The DfE states that it welcomes the support of schools in encouraging vaccine take up and schools should enable staff to attend booked vaccine appointments where possible, even during term time.

 

What’s next?

 

DfE (2021) ‘Schools COVID-19 operational guidance’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/schools-covid-19-operational-guidance> [Accessed: 19 August 2021]