This week the government announced its plan to manage Covid over the next few winter months and this includes some new rules for schools including giving up the right to order closures, changes to testing and the vaccination roll-out for 12-15 years olds.
Here’s our guide to the measures that will be IN and OUT for schools during the winter term.
Forcing schools to stay open
This is a power that ministers are said to be keen to retain when the powers taken through the Coronavirus Act are reviewed before the end of September.
Twice weekly testing – for now
The return to school has included tests twice a week for seconday pupils; initially in the school settings and subsequently at home. However, it’s still not clear if this will continue. Sajid Javid, Health Secretary, told the House of Commons on Tuesday that he believed no final decision had been taken on whether schoolchildren without Covid symptoms would be required to undergo regular testing beyond September.
Vaccinations for 12-15 years olds
Three million children aged between 12 and 15 will be able to get their first shot of coronavirus vaccine from next week. The UK’s four chief medical officers (CMOs) have said they should be offered a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the UK's vaccine advisory body, refusing to give the green light to vaccinating this age group on health grounds alone.
The government will drop a range of powers taken through the Coronavirus Act, including the right to “direct the temporary closure of educational institutions and providers" in England.
Isolation for close contacts
In August, the isolation guidelines changed and anyone who is under 18 or fully vaccinated is no longer required to do the 10-day isolation period unless they develop symptoms. The new guidelines also state that there is no longer a requirement to get a PCR test if you are classed as a close contact and are asymptomatic and have completed a negative Lateral Flow. There is, according to the new guidelines, no need to isolate whilst you wait for the results so long as you are asymptomatic and are negative on a Lateral Flow.
School bubbles were scraped in England with the update in August in an effort to avoid large-scale disruption in schools.
Mask Wearing and Social Distancing
Mask wearing and social distancing were removed as part of the most recent phase for lockdown easing for schools. However, in the winter plan, Boris Johnson has said that these measures may need to be reviewed and reintroduced.