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Coronavirus: Will schools be able to reopen in June?

Image copyright Getty Images Plans are being made for how schools will start to reopen.However, there is disagreement in England over whether children might be returning too soon, and how schools can be made safe.Can schools reopen next month?A decision will be made on 28 May as to whether nurseries and primary schools will reopen…

pupils in class

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Plans are being made for how schools will start to reopen.

However, there is disagreement in England over whether children might be returning too soon, and how schools can be made safe.

Can schools reopen next month?

A decision will be made on 28 May as to whether nurseries and primary schools will reopen in England on 1 June.

Local councils and teaching unions are asking ministers to reconsider.

The plans are for nursery and pre-school, and Reception and Years 1 and 6 at primary school to resume next month. At secondary school and college, Years 10 and 12 would return first. This is just a tiny fraction of the regular school population.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that schools in Scotland will open on 11 August – the beginning of the autumn term.

Schools in Wales will not reopen on 1 June, while those in Northern Ireland may not restart before the summer holidays.

How safe is it to reopen schools?

There are differing views on this.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove says England’s schools are safe to reopen, but did say: “You can never eliminate risk.”

However, at least 11 councils have expressed concern, and teaching union NASUWT is “unconvinced” it is “appropriate or practicable”.

Young children so far appear to be at low risk of becoming very ill from coronavirus.

How will schools reopen?

The Department for Education has issued guidance to schools in England.

It says they should:

  • Have classes of no more than 15 children with one teacher, and be kept apart from others, similar to Denmark’s “protective bubble” approach
  • Stagger break and lunch times, and arrival and departure times
  • Clean more frequently, and reduce the use of shared items and outdoor space

In addition, children will be discouraged from taking home things like books.

Scottish schools will use what the first minister described as a “blended model”, combining part-time study in class, with some learning at home.

Wales’s education minister has said schools will only return when “it is the right time and it is the right thing to do”.

In Northern Ireland, the education minister said “practical measures” like PPE for staff, social distancing at mealtimes and safety for school transport needed to be arranged.

Who is responsible for reopening schools?

Since they were closed in March, schools have been responsible for providing places for vulnerable children and children of key workers in England.

Local authorities are responsible for supporting schools and trusts to ensure that they can accommodate these pupils, plus eligible year groups, for a 1 June reopening.

They are also responsible for monitoring demand and capacity, supporting residential special schools and assessing the risks to pupils.

Do I have to send my children to school?

At present, it is not compulsory for key worker parents to send their children to school, and there are no fines for those who have not taken up the places available to them.

It is expected that this temporary arrangement – where usual sanctions do not apply – will continue for all parents of any year groups going back in England during the summer term.

What about disadvantaged children?

As of 14 May, about 231,000 children are attending school in England – representing 2.4% of pupils who normally attend.

That includes 73,000 children classed as vulnerable by schools. The Department for Education estimates this figure represents about 14% of all vulnerable pupils.

The government is urging teachers and local authorities to encourage more youngsters from these backgrounds to go to classes each day.

What’s happening in other countries?

Schools in Denmark have reopened, as have some in Germany, and in France, although those in the Republic of Ireland, Italy and Spain will stay shut until after the holidays.

How are children currently being educated at home?

Schools have tried to continue a limited curriculum online, relying on parents and guardians to supervise.

To support home learning, the BBC has also launched a major programme of expanded educational content on its BBC Bitesize service, including regular daily lessons in English, Maths and other core subjects.

What about exams?

Summer exams have been cancelled in England, Wales and Scotland. This includes GCSEs and A-levels in England and Wales, plus primary school Sats national curriculum tests in England. In Scotland, Highers and Nationals will not be going ahead.

Exam watchdogs have been working together on alternative arrangements.

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CoronaVirus translator

What do all these terms mean?

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  • Antibodies test

    A medical test that can show if a person has had the coronavirus and now has some immunity. The test detects antibodies in the blood, which are produced by the body to fight off the disease.

  • Asymptomatic

    Someone who has a disease but does not have any of the symptoms it causes. Some studies suggest some people with coronavirus carry the disease but don’t show the common symptoms, such as a persistent cough or high temperature.

  • Containment phase

    The first part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, which involved trying to identify infected people early and trace anyone who had been in close contact with them.

  • Coronavirus

    One of a group of viruses that can cause severe or mild illness in humans and animals. The coronavirus currently sweeping the world causes the disease Covid-19. The common cold and influenza (flu) are other types of coronaviruses.

  • Covid-19

    The disease caused by the coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. It primarily affects the lungs.

  • Delay phase

    The second part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, in which measures such as social distancing are used to delay its spread.

  • Fixed penalty notice

    A fine designed to deal with an offence on the spot, instead of in court. These are often for driving offences, but now also cover anti-social behaviour and breaches of the coronavirus lockdown.

  • Flatten the curve

    Health experts use a line on a chart to show numbers of new coronavirus cases. If a lot of people get the virus in a short period of time, the line might rise sharply and look a bit like a mountain. However, taking measures to reduce infections can spread cases out over a longer period and means the “curve” is flatter. This makes it easier for health systems to cope.

  • Flu

    Short for influenza, a virus that routinely causes disease in humans and animals, in seasonal epidemics.

  • Furlough

    Supports firms hit by coronavirus by temporarily helping pay the wages of some staff. It allows employees to remain on the payroll, even though they aren’t working.

  • Herd immunity

    How the spread of a disease slows after a sufficiently large proportion of a population has been exposed to it.

  • Immune

    A person whose body can withstand or fend off a disease is said to be immune to it. Once a person has recovered from the disease caused by the coronavirus, Covid-19, for example, it is thought they cannot catch it again for a certain period of time.

  • Incubation period

    The period of time between catching a disease and starting to display symptoms.

  • Intensive care

    Hospital wards which treat patients who are very ill. They are run by specially-trained healthcare staff and contain specialist equipment.

  • Lockdown

    Restrictions on movement or daily life, where public buildings are closed and people told to stay at home. Lockdowns have been imposed in several countries as part of drastic efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.

  • Mitigation phase

    The third part of the UK’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus, which will involve attempts to lessen the impact of a high number of cases on public services. This could mean the NHS halting all non-critical care and police responding to major crimes and emergencies only.

  • NHS 111

    The NHS’s 24-hour phone and online service, which offers medical advice to anyone who needs it. People in England and Wales are advised to ring the service if they are worried about their symptoms. In Scotland, they should check NHS inform, then ring their GP in office hours or 111 out of hours. In Northern Ireland, they should call their GP.

  • Outbreak

    Multiple cases of a disease occurring rapidly, in a cluster or different locations.

  • Pandemic

    An epidemic of serious disease spreading rapidly in many countries simultaneously.

  • Phase 2

    This is when the UK will start to lift some of its lockdown rules while still trying to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

  • PPE

    PPE, or personal protective equipment, is clothing and kit such as masks, aprons, gloves and goggles used by medical staff, care workers and others to protect themselves against infection from coronavirus patients and other people who might be carrying the disease.

  • Quarantine

    The isolation of people exposed to a contagious disease to prevent its spread.

  • R0

    R0, pronounced “R-naught”, is the average number of people who will catch the disease from a single infected person. If the R0 of coronavirus in a particular population is 2, then on average each case will create two more new cases. The value therefore gives an indication of how much the infection could spread.

  • Recession

    This happens when there is a significant drop in income, jobs and sales in a country for two consecutive three-month periods.

  • Sars

    Severe acute respiratory syndrome, a type of coronavirus that emerged in Asia in 2003.

  • Self-isolation

    Staying inside and avoiding all contact with other people, with the aim of preventing the spread of a disease.

  • Social distancing

    Keeping away from other people, with the aim of slowing down transmission of a disease. The government advises not seeing friends or relatives other than those you live with, working from home where possible and avoiding public transport.

  • State of emergency

    Measures taken by a government to restrict daily life while it deals with a crisis. This can involve closing schools and workplaces, restricting the movement of people and even deploying the armed forces to support the regular emergency services.

  • Statutory instrument

    These can be used by government ministers to implement new laws or regulations, or change existing laws. They are an easier alternative to passing a full Act of Parliament.

  • Symptoms

    Any sign of disease, triggered by the body’s immune system as it attempts to fight off the infection. The main symptoms of the coronavirus are a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath.

  • Vaccine

    A treatment that causes the body to produce antibodies, which fight off a disease, and gives immunity against further infection.

  • Ventilator

    A machine that takes over breathing for the body when disease has caused the lungs to fail.

  • Virus

    A tiny agent that copies itself inside the living cells of any organism. Viruses can cause these cells to die and interrupt the body’s normal chemical processes, causing disease.

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