Back to school in Britain: The do's and don’ts of a new term

Social distancing and face mask requirements have largely gone

Pupils will take Covid tests but the intention is to avoid closing classrooms. AP
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Pupils in the UK are returning to school for the new academic year with most Covid restrictions being dropped after months of disruption.

Many social distancing measures have been abandoned in the search for a better school experience but there are fallback plans in case of new outbreaks.

Sage, the group of scientists advising the government on Covid measures, warned “it is highly likely” high levels of the virus will be seen in schools in England by the end of the month.

The return to school comes after a recommendation that healthy children aged 12-15 are not routinely vaccinated against Covid.

A final decision has yet to be made, however, as senior health figures will be asked to consider wider social issues and not just the science.

Will pupils be tested for Covid?

Secondary school pupils in England will be asked to take two lateral flow tests a week.

Any student testing positive will be contacted by the NHS Test and Trace and asked to isolate.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland pupils are being asked to take community-based or at-home tests.

In all four UK nations, pupils at home will be encouraged to take lateral flow tests.

What happens when a pupil tests positive?

A pupil stands at a Covid testing station at a secondary school in Sheffield. AP

Children testing positive should isolate at home for 10 days.

Pupils named as close contacts of the child will take a PCR swab test but will not be asked to isolate unless they also test positive.

The system is intended to avoid entire classes being sent home after the first positive test.

What happens to social distancing and face masks?

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, social distance decisions are now made by head teachers, as national guidance has been relaxed.

Heads will make decisions depending on the crowd control elements they can implement.

In Scotland, teachers are required to keep a 1-metre distance from pupils and colleagues.

Rules on face coverings are also being relaxed but the home nations are adopting different speeds.

In England and Wales, from the start of term, face masks are recommended only for crowded spaces, perhaps corridors, and school buses.

In Scotland, face masks will stay in place until at least the end of the month, while in Northern Ireland, face masks will be compulsory in classes for at least six weeks.

What happens if there is a school outbreak?

For England, the Department for Education says temporary measures can be implemented, such as "bubbles" or outside assemblies.

Face mask rules may also change if there is an outbreak.

Updated: September 06, 2021, 12:08 PM