CLASS sizes could be reduced to 15 pupils and parents will not be fined for failing to send their children to school when they reopen next month, the Department for Education has confirmed in new guidance.

It comes after the Prime Minister announced on Sunday that pupils in reception, year 1 and year 6 will return to primary school at the start of June, should progress continue to be made on the spread of coronavirus.

However, the National Education Union called the plans "reckless".

Who is going back, and when?

In new plans released to set out how the government plans to get schools back up and running, the DfE have underlined Boris Johnson's announcement. They say that, from the start of June:

  • Reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils will return to primary school.
  • Nurseries and other early years providers, including childminders will begin to welcome back all children.
  • Secondary schools, sixth forms and further education colleges will be asked to offer "some face-to-face support" to assist in the remote education of year 10 and 12 pupils.
  • These are "conditional" on the continued suppression of the spread of the virus, according to the Prime Minister.
  • Vulnerable children of all ages - who have been allowed to continue to go to school alongside the children of key workers - are encouraged to attend school as normal, and indeed, are being urged to go back to school now if they are not currently.
  • However, those who are "clinically extremely vulnerable due to pre-existing medical conditions" - those who were asked to shield for three months in March - are not expected to attend. Those who live with someone clinically extremely vulnerable should only attend school "if stringent social distancing can be adhered to and if they are able to understand and follow those instruction".
  • Parents will not be fined for refusing to send their children to school at this stage, the DfE guidance sets out.

Why have these year groups been chosen?

The government say that these are very important years. Pupils in reception and year 1 are just setting out on their education and are learning the fundamentals, whilst year 6 pupils are about to transition to secondary school.

They add that there is "moderately high scientific confidence" that suggests that younger people are less likely to become unwell if they catch coronavirus.

Year 10 and 12 pupils are being prioritised because "they are preparing for key examinations next year, and are most at risk of falling behind due to time out of school or college".

However, this is not a return to full timetables, just support for learning at home.

What measures will be in place to ensure they are safe?

Class sizes will be reduced to no more than 15 pupils and desks will be spaced "as far apart as possible" to try and reduce contact between people. However, the government admit that "early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain two metres apart from each other and staff".

Instead the following measures should be implemented by schools:

  • Avoiding contact with anyone with symptoms
  • Frequent hand cleaning and good respiratory hygiene practices (such as 'catch it, bin it, kill it')
  • Regular cleaning
  • Minimising contact and mixing

This could include classes being isolated - lunch breaks will be staggered so once pupils get to school, they don't mix between classes.

"It is still important to reduce contact between people as much as possible, and we can achieve that and reduce transmission risk by ensuring children, young people and staff where possible, only mix in a small, consistent group and that small group stays away from other people and groups," the DfE guidance says.

On top of this, timetables could change, lessons could take place outdoors, assemblies as well as drop-off and collection time staggered and school bus travel reduced.

Only one parent will be allowed to take their child to school and pick them up, and they won't be allowed to gather at the gates.

In school, one-way systems could be brought into force, or barriers placed down the middle of wide corridors.

What about face coverings?

The government have advised that wearing face coverings could, in some circumstances, stop the transmission of the virus. However, this is not recommended in schools, because of the extended periods of time that children will be there.

What about testing and self-isolation?

The normal rules apply: if a child has the relevant symptoms, they will be sent home and asked to self-isolate for seven days, and household members for 14 days.

Testing will be available for staff and students if they display symptoms after attending school. If they test negative, self-isolation can end and they can return to school. If they test positive, the rest of the class or group should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 14 days. Their household members will not need to self-isolate themselves, unless the child develops symptoms.


However, the plans have been labelled as "reckless" by the National Education Union.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary, said: "The National Education Union want schools to move to a wider opening as soon as it is safe to do so, but it is not safe yet. This timetable is reckless.

"This timetable is simply not safe. Staff in schools and colleges are asking today for the evidence behind the decision to select some year groups.

"Education staff do not feel reassured that the Government is taking these steps with public health in mind. Heads have been inundated with questions and queries from their staff and from parents.

"The Government has stoked teachers' anxiety and triggered real confusion because the announcement is inconsistent on the importance of social distancing and how or whether it can be achieved in schools.

"This is not fair to anyone and it is not safe to put out a timeline until the public safety test has been met. This first sketch for schools must be immediately re-drawn, alongside unions and the profession."