Education Leads at Cambridgeshire County Council have been reviewing updated government guidance around the re-opening of schools for all year groups in September, and are confident the necessary measures will be in place to welcome back all pupils.
The guidance, announced last week by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, sets out the steps primary, secondary (including sixth forms), infant, junior, middle, upper, school-based nurseries and boarding schools need to take to ensure all pupils can return to formal education after the summer.
In line with the announcement, schools will be asked to implement a new Public Health England-endorsed ‘System of Controls’, which build upon the protective measures that have been in place throughout the pandemic, helping to reduce the risk of transmission.
Other updates include revised guidance on how schools manage their social ‘bubbles’ to minimise contact between pupils and staffing groups. The size of these bubbles may now increase to incorporate whole classes or even year groups, provided there is clear separation between these groups and others. The increase will allow teachers to work with more children, meaning no child should miss out on lessons.
Staggered start and ending times will help ensure bubbles are not mixing, with each school able to apply flexibility in a way that works for staff, parents and children.
They will also be given freedom to adapt the curriculum, to ensure they can address any gaps in skills and knowledge of those pupils who have not been able to attend through the lockdown period.
Schools will be asked to revisit their risk assessments, giving careful consideration to what adaptations they may need to make to their buildings or teaching practices to safely accommodate their returning pupils.
Keyworker parents and those of vulnerable children who kept their children out of school through the lockdown have not been fined, but under the new guidance powers will be reinstated from September, giving schools the option to fine parents if they think a child’s absence is not justified. Both Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council will be working with school leaders to consider their position on this going into the new school year.
Most schools across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have remained open throughout the lockdown period for vulnerable and key worker children, and are confident they can scale up their operations to allow for the safe return of more year groups.
Jonathan Lewis, Director of Education for Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council, said: “I welcome the latest announcement from the Education Secretary. It helps set out a clear roadmap that we will continue to follow to put us in the best position possible to welcome back all pupils after the summer break.
“Most of our schools have remained open throughout the pandemic, so we are experienced at this by now and are on track. We are working with all schools at a local level to ensure it works for them.
“We consult with Public Health experts every day, and have a good picture of how the virus is being contained across our region, and we share this information with schools. Thankfully we have only seen a very small number of positive cases, but these have been well contained and actioned immediately, and we have seen that social bubbles do work in reducing the risk of transmission. It hasn’t stopped us working up our contingency plans, though.
“The NHS Test and Trace process is embedded in all our schools. We are working with schools and producing straight-forward guidance so parents are completely clear on how it works, and how they can protect themselves. Anyone who may need a test will have access to one, quickly.
“Our schools are committed to providing a full educational offer, but they will be adapting what they teach and how, so children can catch up in a methodical and beneficial way.
“I want our parents and children to feel confident about returning to school in September. Our school and academy leaders are taking every step possible and putting every measure in place to uphold the safety and wellbeing of everyone within the school environment.
“We want to see our pupils back, so they can continue to receive a high-quality education that promotes their development and prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life. We have missed them.”
Cllr Simon Bywater, Chairman of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Children and Young People’s Committee, said: “Our School and Local Authority colleagues have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic, and I know we are already ahead of the guidance in terms of our processes and adaptions. Rest assured, our schools are taking all the steps necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff, pupils and parents.”