The government has launched its #BackToSchool campaign to reassure parents and students that schools and colleges are ready for their return on March 8.
Education has remained a national priority throughout the pandemic, and the return to face-to-face teaching has been set as the first step of the Prime Minister’s roadmap for leaving lockdown, due to the significant and proven impact caused by being out of school to the health and wellbeing of all children and young people.
All students will begin returning to the classroom on March 8, backed by a robust testing programme for secondary schools and college students and all staff – a process which is already well-established with more than four million tests conducted across schools, colleges and universities since January.
Returning to face-to-face education at school or college – or at university for students taking practical courses – is the first of four steps set out in the roadmap and is one of the limited number of reasons that people are allowed to leave their house, as the Government’s ‘Stay at Home’ message remains in place.
The #BackToSchool campaign highlights the benefits of being back in school or college for young people and sets out the testing available to primary and secondary settings. It works in parallel with two wider Government campaigns: one on Test & Trace – to encourage regular asymptomatic Covid testing by everyone who has to leave home for essential reasons – and one urging people to ‘keep going’ with essential behaviours as restrictions are eased.
Radio and social media adverts will launch today (Saturday 27 February) and run until March 14, alongside wider engagement with the teaching profession and local communications.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“We know the benefits that being back in school or college bring
sto young people’s education, development and wellbeing. My sincere thanks goes to staff working in education and childcare who have been going above and beyond to make sure their pupils continue receiving a high-quality education.
“The campaign launching today has details of the extra testing capacity and the strengthened safety requirements in place. I hope parents, carers and pupils will visit the campaign site and be reassured that we have a range of protective measures in place so we can back to school safely.”
Professor Viv Bennett CBE, Chief Nurse and Director of Maternity and Early Years, Public Health England:
“We have always advised that schools should be the last to close and first to open. It is vital for children’s wellbeing that we get schools open again.
“Staff, parents and pupils can feel reassured by scientific evidence that shows that with Covid precautions in place transmission in schools is low.
“Additional measures and the introduction of rapid mass testing for all staff and secondary school students offers further reassurance in the measures taken to maximise safety.
“As we know that infection rates in schools reflect transmission in the wider community it’s essential we all play our part to protect schools by keeping our contacts to a minimum and following restrictions outside the school gates.”
The return to the classroom is backed by more than six in 10 adults in England (63%), while more than 80% of adults in the UK support the use of face coverings in secondary schools, according to polls carried out by YouGov this week.
The #BackToSchool campaign will support the wider opening of settings, reiterate the importance of face-to-face education for pupils’ social and emotional development as well as their academic success – both of which are issues parents say they worry about with their children learning remotely – and set out the extra protective measures in place.
Interim research published this week by the Department for Education, in collaboration with Renaissance Learning and the Education Policy Institute, demonstrates the scale of lost learning between March and September 2020. It underlines why the return to the classroom is a national priority and underlines the need for additional targeted support announced on Wednesday: a new £700 million package, focusing on an expansion of one-to-one and small group tutoring programmes, as well as supporting the development of disadvantaged children in early years settings, and summer provision for those pupils who need it the most.
Schools, nurseries and colleges have remained open to vulnerable children throughout the latest lockdown, including those with Education Health and Care Plans or with social workers, in recognition of the key role education staff play in protecting and caring for these pupils.
Bobby Seagull, maths teacher at Little Ilford School in London, said:
“I know that, like me, teachers are looking forward to having pupils back in the classroom, spending time together and catching up face-to-face instead of over video. Getting back to school safely is vital not just for young people’s academic success but also for their social skills, their wellbeing and their mental health – so I hope everyone will check the information in this campaign and be reassured at the extra precautions being put in place.”
In addition to the twice-weekly testing, Public Health England continues to advise that the existing range of safety measures in place in education settings remains appropriate – including bubble groups, staggering start and finish times, increasing ventilation and hygiene, regular testing and maintaining distance between adults where possible.
Staff and students in secondary schools and colleges are advised to wear face coverings in all areas, including classrooms, unless social distancing can be maintained. This is a temporary measure until Easter and will be kept under review as with all measures.
Teachers should continue to be sensitive to the additional needs of their students, such as those who are deaf or rely on facial expressions to communicate, in deciding whether it is appropriate to wear a face covering. Published guidance offers more information on this, including advice on wearing clear face coverings.
Parents are encouraged to visit gov.uk/backtoschool for information and practical guidance to help them plan for their children’s return to school.