Pupils are returning to schools and colleges in England today as the country begins its journey out of lockdown.
For most pupils, it will be their first time in the classroom since before Christmas, with all but vulnerable children and children of key workers having to learn online for the last two months.
Pupils will be returning to the classroom throughout the week, with schools being given discretion on how to stagger the return of pupils over the week to facilitate testing. In secondary schools and colleges, pupils will take three initial lateral flow tests on-site before then being provided with two tests to use at home each week.
Around 57 million lateral flow tests have been delivered to schools and colleges in England, with testing seen as a key tool in working towards the lifting of lockdown measures.
Students in secondary schools and colleges are being asked to wear face coverings until Easter in any situation where social distancing is not possible.
Speaking on Sunday ahead of schools reopening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said;
“The reopening of schools marks a truly national effort to beat this virus. It is because of the determination of every person in this country that we can start moving closer to a sense of normality – and it is right that getting our young people back into the classroom is the first step.”
“We are being cautious in our approach so that we do not undo the progress we have made so far and I urge you all not to give up on your efforts to keep your families and others safe. Get the vaccine, get tested, and remember that we are all in this together.”
In a statement ahead of schools reopening, Dr Mary Bousted, the Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union praised the efforts of school staff, but criticised the Government;
“Schools and colleges will welcome pupils and students back on Monday 8th March. Teachers, leaders and support staff have done a magnificent job simultaneously educating pupils remotely and in school. At all times education professionals have done everything they could to support and protect children and young people. Leaders have had to cope with government incompetence on a huge scale – from repeated versions of guidance to rescuing and operating a track and trace system.”
Dr Bousted added;
“We all hope that this is the last lockdown. But government has not done enough to ensure this properly. Ministers had two months to make schools and colleges safer but failed to put the necessary measures in place to achieve this. Whilst everyone hopes that things will go well, we are clear whose responsibility it will be if they do not We will hold the Government to account.”
Some teachers and union leaders have raised concerns over difficulties in gaining consent for Coronavirus testing, while some have also argued that greater protections against the virus are needed in classrooms.
Coronavirus case rates in the UK are currently at their lowest levels since last September.
The current Coronavirus case rate per 100,000 people in England is 69.9, down from over 600 at the start of lockdown.
As well as schools reopening from today, some other lockdown measures are also being relaxed. While stay at home lockdown restrictions remain in place, a person can now partake in exercise and recreation outdoors with one other person from outside their household bubble.
Further lockdown restrictions are set to ease at the end of the month, with the planned lifting of stay at home restrictions on 29 March.