Back to school: Everything parents need to know – new term Covid rules for pupils

BBC News: Gavin Williamson grilled on ventilation in schools

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After an incredibly disruptive 2020/21 school year, plans are in place to keep pupils safe and prevent large numbers being sent home due to coronavirus. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told BBC News the aim was for children to have a “much more normal education experience” this school year.

So what are the rules?


In England, all secondary-school pupils are being asked to take two lateral-flow tests at school, three to five days apart.

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

Across the UK, ongoing twice-weekly voluntary lateral-flow testing for pupils at home will be encouraged.


If pupils test positive, they must isolate at home for 10 days.

The child – or their parents – will be asked to provide details about close contacts.

Children named as close contacts will be asked to take a polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) swab test.

But this term, unless they test positive themselves, they will not have to self-isolate, in the hope this will avoid whole classes being sent home.

Social distancing

Social distancing rules in schools have been largely relaxed.

The responsibility for the mixing of students has largely been handed to headteachers to make common-sense decisions.

Depending on the layout and size of their school, some will decide to keep some of their one-way systems and crowd-control measures.

In Scotland, however, more restrictions are being maintained until the end of September.

On school premises, all staff must stay at least 1m (3ft) from pupils and colleagues.


Face coverings are no longer routinely advised for staff or pupils in schools in England and Wales, although they are still recommended in crowded spaces such as school buses.

But in Scotland, face coverings are required at least until the end of September.

In Northern Ireland, they are required in class for the first six weeks of term at least.


Ventilation is another aspect being widely considered to control the virus – while this is easy enough in summer months when doors and windows can be left open, plans are rapidly underway to manage ventilation in colder terms.

The Department for Education has pledged to provide 300,000 carbon dioxide monitors to schools in England from September to help identify where airflow is limited and viruses may more easily spread.

The Welsh government is funding a £6m programme to increase air circulation and purity.

Some 30,000 CO2 sensors and 1,800 ozone disinfecting machines will be made available.

Prof Catherine Noakes, a specialist in airborne infections, said ventilation could reduce airborne risk of coronavirus by up to 70 percent, but won’t stop close contact transmission.

She said monitors will help schools realise which areas are poorly ventilated, so they can take action.

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