How will local lockdowns affect schools in England?

Tables and chairs spaced for physical distancing in a classroom as the Charles Dickens primary school in London prepares to safely welcome back pupils in September. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

Questions answered on what the new lockdown ‘tiers’ mean for teaching in schools and colleges

Q: According to the government’s guidance issued on Friday evening for schools in England, how will future lockdowns affect them?

A: The new guidance lists four levels of lockdown “tiers”, which are most likely to be local ones such as those in Leicester. The categories range from tier one, the lowest, in which all schools would remain open, to tier four, in which remote learning would be in place for all pupils other than the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils. But unlike the national lockdown from March, alternative provision and special needs schools would remain fully open.

Q: What is the big change?

A: In effect the guidelines offer more precise actions that can be taken in the event of local lockdowns, mainly affecting secondary schools and colleges. It also means secondary school leaders will need to prepare for a greater likelihood of remote learning by their pupils.

Q: How would primary and secondary schools be treated differently?

A: Pupils and staff at secondary schools would have to wear masks from the lowest lockdown tier, but only in corridors and other shared areas where physical distancing cannot take place. In tier two, secondary schools and further education colleges would shift to a rota system for attendance, other than the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils who can attend full time. Primary schools would not require pupils to wear masks, and would only close to most pupils at tier four.

Q: How would the rota system work?

A: In tier two, secondary schools would switch to fortnightly rotas for most pupils, combining two weeks in school and two weeks of remote learning. The aim is to allow time for Covid-19 symptoms to appear, although the DfE says weekly rotas can be used if necessary. In tier three, most students would have remote learning with the exceptions of children of key workers and vulnerable pupils, and those pupils in year groups designated by the Department for Education – most likely those in years 11 and 13 studying for exams. Schools are expected to organise pupils into “bubbles” based upon how likely they are to mix outside of school.

Q: What about pupils on free school meals?

A: The DfE said schools “should continue to provide free school meals” to eligible pupils even if they cannot attend, by preparing or delivering meals or food parcels.

Q: Would further education and sixth form colleges be affected?

A: Yes, although colleges are given more discretion in tier two over how many pupils they can admit at a time. By tier three, colleges will also have to provide remote learning for most students, and mask-wearing for those attending will be mandatory.

Source: The Guardian