The Secretary of State for Education gave a one-off briefing from Downing Street as he revealed the plans for how schools will welcome back children to classrooms in September.
The Government plans that all pupils will be able to return to school in September – when some will have gone almost six months without attending lessons since the lockdown measures were introduced in March.
Around 1.6 million nursery and school children have already returned to the classroom since June 1 and from July 20 restrictions will be lifted to allow early-years settings to return to normal group sizes at those schools still open before the summer holidays.
Attendance at school for all ages will once again be mandatory from September – meaning parents could face fines if they decide to keep their child off school.
How will schools work?
Schools are being advised to keep classes or whole year groups in “bubbles”. Primary schools are encouraged to have bubbles that include a whole class, while secondary schools are likely to need bubbles that consist of an entire year group so that a full range of subjects can be delivered.
Schools have also been advised to stagger start and finish times, break and lunch, to keep groups apart and avoid pupils congregating in busy corridors, entrances and exits.
Students will be asked to sit at forward-facing desks and large gatherings, such as assemblies or collective worship with more than one group, should be avoided.
But the Education Secretary said he wanted breakfast and after-school clubs to resume – despite coronavirus guidance aimed at preventing children from different year groups mixing.
Speaking to the press, Mr Williamson insisted that pupils would not be taught a “watered-down curriculum”, but would be returning to what he described as a “broad and ambitious” curriculum, with exams set to go ahead in 2021.
What if there’s a coronavirus case in school?
Mr Williamson has said that all schools will be provided with a limited number of testing kits that they can give to parents collecting a child who has developed symptoms.
If a school has two or more confirmed cases within a fortnight the whole school, or all pupils in a year group, may have to self-isolate at home.
In case of local lockdowns schools are expected to have a strong contingency plan in place for remote education by the end of September.
How should pupils get to school?
Parents, staff and pupils will be encouraged to walk or cycle to school if at all possible – and schools have been told to consider using “walking buses” to reduce the use of public transport.
However, Mr Williamson suggested that school buses could be segregated to ensure pupils remained in their “bubbles”.
Meanwhile, deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries has urged parents to “control their teenagers” outside of school and said a second peak of the coronavirus remains “quite a possibility”.