LONDON (Reuters) - All pupils in England will be expected to return to school in September as part of government plans unveiled on Thursday, which include dividing students into separate groups to limit the spread of COVID-19.
At present, only some students in certain year groups and the children of key workers are at school, depending on the area and set-up.
Schools will be asked to maintain distinct student groups, known as bubbles, which strive to not mix with pupils in other bubbles. They could be the size of a class or a year group.
This makes it easier to pinpoint who needs to self-isolate if there is a positive case and will keep that number to a minimum, the education ministry said.
Officials acknowledge younger children will not be able to maintain social distancing and that could be challenging for everyone when using shared facilities such as dining halls, toilets and playgrounds.
Seating arrangements should be changed so pupils are all facing forwards rather than face-to-face.
OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
Assemblies involving more than one group of pupils should be avoided. Use of staff rooms will need to be minimised.
STAGGERING START TIMES
Schools should consider asking pupils in different “bubbles” to follow separate start and finish times but break times and free periods may be cut to ensure this does not reduce teaching time.
IF THERE IS A POSITIVE CASE
Small groups of students and staff may need to self-isolate for up to 14 days. If there are two or more cases in a two-week period, a greater number of pupils might have to stay home.
FINES FOR NON-ATTENDANCE
“Unless there is a good reason for absence, then we’d be looking at the fact that we would be imposing fines on families,” education minister Gavin Williamson said on Monday.
RESPONSE FROM NATIONAL EDUCATION UNION (NEU)
“The practical difficulties involved in arranging this separation of year group bubbles are immense and will not be possible in many schools,” said NEU Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney.
Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alison Williams
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