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School face masks, bubbles, isolation and more explained in new government Covid advice

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The summer holidays are almost over, and it’s nearly time for kids to head back to school.

Since last term, though, lockdown has ended, meaning there’ll be a number of changes for pupils, parents, and staff for the coming school year.

The government’s Department for Education has now issued its updated advice to school leaders to prepare them for the coming year. Here are all the biggest changes.

READ MORE: Teenager, 17, issues stark Covid-19 warning after spending four days in hospital with blood clot

School Covid rules for the new term

Bubbles are gone

Bubbles – keeping children in consistent groups to help stem the tide of coronavirus – are no longer. This means schools will no longer need to stagger entry times or lunch hours, and assemblies can now resume.

However, schools may be asked to reintroduce bubbles temporarily if an outbreak takes hold in a local area.

Isolation rules relaxed

Classes, years, teachers, and pupils will no longer need to self-isolate if a pupil tests positive, and schools won’t need to do their own contact tracing.

Instead, contact tracing will be led by the national test and trace system, with close contacts of infected individuals traced in the usual way. That may include other children in the class, for example, but they will not be asked to isolate.

This is in accordance with the rules across the country which state that contacts under the age of 18 or who are fully vaccinated do not need to self-isolate. Instead, they’ll be advised to take a PCR test.

Again, more stringent isolation measures could be reintroduced at a later date if local leaders or central government deem it necessary to get on top of an outbreak.

Face masks are no longer necessary

“Face coverings are no longer advised for pupils, staff and visitors either in classrooms or in communal areas,” the DfE says, in line with the rules on face masks across the country. However, the government still recommends face masks be worn on public transport, including dedicated school or college transport.

The DfE also says a director of public health may, in the case of a local outbreak, advise schools to reintroduce face masks for pupils, staff, and visitors, unless exempt, in communal areas or classrooms. It says people should consider using transparent face coverings in order to aid people who rely on lip reading or facial expressions for communication.

In this circumstance, the government warns that “no pupil or student should be denied education on the grounds of whether they are, or are not, wearing a face covering”.

Regular testing continues

The government says staff and secondary school pupils should continue to use lateral flow tests twice a week until at least the end of September, when this policy will be reviewed.

This should include two LFTs taken three to five days apart at the beginning of the term, to detect any mixing and transmission from the summer holidays. Schools can stagger the return of pupils in the first week to account for this.

If an LFT is positive, the individual should self-isolate and get a PCR test. If negative, this overrides the LFT result and they can return to school.

How about clinically extremely vulnerable children?

Clinically extremely vulnerable children should continue to attend school in-person unless their doctor or other medical specialist advises them otherwise, the government says.

What if my child develops Covid-19 symptoms?

As with the rules for the wider population, a child with Covid-19 symptoms should self-isolate and get a PCR test. Schools are permitted to turn pupils away from school if they have symptoms.

Can I keep my child out of school?

No. The Department for Education says: “School attendance is mandatory for all pupils of compulsory school age and it is a priority to ensure that as many children as possible regularly attend school.” The only exceptions are if a child is advised by a doctor or medical specialist not to attend, or if they are self-isolating due to a positive test or Covid-19 symptoms.

Is remote learning finished?

The government has told schools to maintain their ability to teach remotely for the coming academic year. While the days of full lockdowns and entire schools learning remotely are hopefully behind us, the ability to do so remains important as kids may need to self-isolate for the reasons listed above.

Will school trips happen again?

School trips, including abroad, are now permitted again.

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