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Staggered return to schools for mainstream secondary school and college pupils in England

Thursday 17th December 2020

The Government has announced that all mainstream secondary school pupils and college students in England will stay at home for the first week of the new term after the Christmas break.

This means that children and young people in mainstream schools aged 11-18 will have their lessons taught remotely from 4 January, and they will return to school or college on Monday 11 January.

Mainstream schools will however be open for the start of term on 4 January for vulnerable children and children with parents or carers who are key workers. Children and young people with Education Health and Care (EHC) plans are included in the "vulnerable" category.

Please note that secondary school aged children who attend special schools are expected to return to school for the start of term as usual on 4 January.

Children and students in exam years (years 11 and 13 ) will also return on 4 January.

Free coronavirus tests should be made available to all secondary school pupils and college students, along with their teachers, from the first week of January. The testing is being offered to minimise cases and transmission of the virus following return of students after Christmas. Anyone who tests positive at this point will be asked to isolate in the usual way.

You can read the latest government guidance about this here.

Who does this announcement apply to?

This applies to children and students aged between 11-18 currently attending mainstream secondary schools and colleges in England.

Testing will also be available to young people up to 25 if they have an Education, Health and Care plan and are at college.

Secondary aged children who attend special schools and alternative provisions are expected to return to school for the start of term as usual on 4 January.

Will my child have to have a Covid-19 test in order to return to school or college on 11 January? 

All children of secondary school age should be offered tests for Covid-19. Schools will test twice, one lateral flow test, and a second test three days later. If your child tests positive they will be asked to self-isolate and book a PCR test through the NHS in the usual way.

However, testing will not be mandatory for children and young people without Covid-19 symptoms. Children who do not undergo a test will be allowed into school for classes from 11th January. However if your child does not have a test, they may be placed in a smaller bubble to limit potential transmission.

What if my child is returning to school on the 4 January because they are vulnerable or I am a key worker or they attend a special school - will they have a Covid-19 test then?

Schools should have the tests available for the 4 January. This means they should be able to offer testing for children and staff who return on the first week of term on 4 January. However this will be down to individual schools and local arrangements so you will need to talk to your child's school or college about this.

Testing is not a requirement of returning to school and all children, tested or not, will be expected to be back at school on 11 January.  

My child has an EHC Plan but I don't want them to return on 4th - what will happen?

Attendance is compulsory for children aged 5-16. If you are concerned about your child returning to school on 4 January you should discuss it with your child's school who may agree to remote learning.

What about children in early years' settings, nursery or primary school?

Children who attend early years settings, primary school aged children, children in exam year groups (year 11 and 13), vulnerable and critical workers' children will all attend school or college in person from the start of term on 4 January.

If my child doesn't have a Covid-19 test because their condition means they can't or they refuse the test for example, will they have to continue to stay at home?

No. The government has made it clear that testing is not mandatory. A negative test result is not required before a child is allowed back on 11  January.

All children are expected to be back at school on the 11 January even if they haven't been tested.

How long will it take to get the test results? Will it be immediate?

The tests are lateral flow tests, so results will be available immediately. The test will be repeated 3 days later.

What is a lateral flow test and how will it be done?

It is a swab test where a swab is placed in the nose of the back of the throat.

Schools will be sent test kits and will normally do the tests at the school.

Will teachers and other school or college staff be tested too?

Yes all staff in secondary schools and colleges should be offered the tests.

Does this apply to independent schools too?

Yes independent special schools will be sent testing kits for the start of January in the same way.