Explanation of the Covid back-to-school rules – testing, masks and when children return

Millions of schoolchildren in England will return to the classroom from next Wednesday 1 September.

And it will look very different from the last 18 months of education devastated by the Covid virus, in which masks and bubbles were abolished and schools closed.

But with experts warning of another wave this fall and most children not being vaccinated, next week will not be a sudden return to normal.

While children are at a very low risk of Covid, there are concerns that they could spread the virus and spread it to the wider community.

In Scotland, where schools return two weeks earlier than England, daily cases have already risen from around 1,500 per day to more than 5,000.

distance Boris Johnson He sees lockdown measures as a complete last resort, and schools are told not to send pupils home en masse unless they have no other choice.

Instead, schools will operate through a lengthy “emergency framework” that was quietly posted on the government’s website earlier this month.

It has a range of options for what schools can do if cases increase, to avoid forcing millions of students back to learning at home.

Here’s what we know.

When do children return to school?

Many council areas in England will restart their schools on Wednesday 1 September.

But in secondary schools, pupils can start classes after only a week due to the need to test everyone at the beginning of the new semester.

While exams can start three days before class to advance the game, secondary candidates have also been told that they can “arrange” arrivals in the first week.

covid test

Secondary school pupils in England will be tested twice on the school grounds before lessons begin.

Then, students and staff will be required to test themselves at home twice a week throughout the month of September. It could happen after September but this is under review.

Even if it is stopped from September 30, testing may be ramped up again if there is a local outbreak.

Chertsey High School pupils undergo lateral flow tests for Covid-19


Getty Images)

The directive states that contingency plans should take into account “the possibility of increased use of the test by staff, and where the test is already offered to them, to pupils and students.

“This could include advice about more frequent testing, or reintroduction of asymptomatic test sites (ATS) (where they have been discontinued).”

“The government has again asked high schools to in effect convert themselves into coronavirus testing centers,” said Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of School Principals.

“The reality is that there is very little in the way of providing meaningful support to these schools, and therefore most of them will have to redeploy existing staff to oversee these complex arrangements.”

There is no need for primary school pupils (those in grade 6 and under) to take a test during the summer period.

covid vaccine for children

All people between 16 and 17 years of age can receive the vaccine, and are encouraged to get their first dose before the onset of fall. They do not need parental consent.

However, government advisers are still deciding what to do about the youngest children between the ages of 12 and 15.

Currently, only those in certain vulnerable groups between the ages of 12 and 15 are allowed to get it. If it is approved for everyone, then the parents will have the final say on the approval.

Ministers want the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) to make a decision within days, but they will only go at the scientific pace.

16-year-old Lottie Bird gets an injection at the Covid-19 vaccination clinic at the Reading Festival


Palestinian Authority)

How will schools decide when things go wrong?

Guidance says schools can seek public health advice when five children or staff “who are likely to have been in close contact” – or 10% of a smaller group – have tested positive for Covid in a 10-day period.

This is not a legal limit but it is a recommended point at which schools take some action below.

face masks

Face masks are not required in primary schools and nurseries, and were removed in high schools last semester.

But high schools hit by the outbreak this fall may “temporarily” have to require students, staff and visitors to wear face coverings again in classrooms and corridors.

Transparent face coverings are recommended as a way to help some pupils, while the guidelines state that those who cannot wear them – such as some students with disabilities – should not be denied education.


‘Bubbles’ were excluded – pupils were separated into distinct groups.

This means that gatherings are allowed to resume and pupils are allowed to mingle with each other during their break times.

But contingency plans should “cover the possibility that in some localities it may become necessary to re-“bubbles” for a temporary period, to reduce mixing between groups.

“Any decision to recommend reintroduction of ‘bubbles’ will not be taken lightly and will need to take into account the harmful impact they can have on education delivery.”

Children taking a lateral flow test at Outwood Academy in Woodlands, Doncaster


Palestinian Authority)

Even if bubbles are inserted, it is still unlikely that all members of the bubble will be sent home if one member tests positive.

More on this below.

Who should not go to school in the event of a Covid outbreak?

Ministers are desperate to prevent pupils from missing school in the event of an outbreak, with guidance said last week: “Attendance restrictions should only be considered as a last resort.”

This means that pupils will generally only be told to stay home if they develop symptoms (“however mild”), or test positive for Covid-19. Schools should offer them distance education.

Children in contact with people infected with the Covid virus no longer have to self-isolate, unless of course they are positive. This also applies if the test result is positive, for example, but your 13-year-old who lives with you does not.

These close people do not need to wear face masks at school, but it is “expected and recommended” that they are worn on school buses.

The closure of all or part of the school should only be considered in “extreme” cases “if there is a significant increase in the number of positive cases”. This will be in tandem with the local directors of public health.

Until then, closures should be “at the minimum number of schools or groups possible, and for the shortest possible period of time,” the directive says.

What do I do if I am on vacation?

Although children do not have to self-isolate upon return from an amber country or green list, they must quarantine for 10 days in a hotel if they have been to one of the 62 places on the red list.

The guidelines state that all students must comply with these travel bans, even if it means missing school.

However, Britons are also being told not to travel to Red List countries at all, and the guidelines urge parents to “take into account the impact on their children’s education” when making travel plans.

Airport staff wear personal protective equipment in Thailand, which has been placed on the red list


AFP via Getty Images)

Contact Tracking

Close contacts will now be identified via the NHS Test and Trace – as schools are no longer expected to do the work themselves.

However, the guidance states that school contacts will only be traced if “someone specifically identifies the individual as a close contact”.

“It is likely that this will be a small number of individuals who will be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the nature of close contact.

“You may be contacted in exceptional cases to help identify close contacts, as is currently happening in the management of other infectious diseases.”

Cleaning, windows and doors open

While the stricter measures have been phased out, schools are still required to clean regularly and open internal windows and doors to help air flow through the school.

This is tricky as winter approaches, as the guidelines also state to “maintain a comfortable learning environment” – in other words, turn on the heating.

Schools are required to pay special attention to events such as school plays which often have poor airflow and crowds.

School trips and parent evenings

School trips and parent’s evenings can continue, as can open days, transfer and tasting days, and school plays.

But all of these events will be limited or canceled under contingency plans if that school suffers from a COVID outbreak.

school meals

Schools must provide meal options for all pupils attending school, including free school meals for those who qualify because of low income.

Schools should also continue to distribute lunch parcels to students who do not attend because of COVID symptoms or a positive test result.


Shielding is paused, all children and defender staff can go to school, and protection will only be fully activated by the national government.

However, the guidelines indicate that if there is a major outbreak or a new variant that “poses a significant risk to individuals on the protected list of patients, ministers can agree to reintroduce protection.”

“Protection will be considered as well as other measures to address people’s residual risk for SPL, once broader interventions are taken into account.”


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