School and childcare updates: Coronavirus

Updated – 1 December 2020

From Wednesday 2 December Newcastle will be placed under 'Very High Alert' Tier 3 Covid restrictions.

Schools, colleges and universities, along with childcare and early years providers, will remain open and Covid-secure measures will continue to be in place to help keep people safe.

Below are the answers to some of the questions you may have:

Is it safe for schools to remain open?

We would like to reassure parents and carers that all steps have been taken to ensure that schools are as safe as they can be.  While some aspects of school life have changed, it’s really important that children are back in the classroom to continue their education and also to see their friends and teachers.

The Chief Medical Officers for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have said that children have a lower risk of being seriously ill from coronavirus and that there is no evidence that children transmit the disease any more than adults.

However, there will still be some risks while the virus remains in the community and therefore, in line with national guidance, schools have put in place a number of procedures and have made changes to how things work.

We have supported schools in carrying out their own individual risk assessments to determine what safety measures they need and in putting those measures in place to help minimise risks for children and staff.  This has been done in line with national guidance and all key areas have been considered, including transport, cleaning programmes, handwashing and social distancing.

These practices and procedures are now very well-established in schools across the city and we are confident that all steps have been taken to make schools as safe and Covid-secure as possible.

 

 

What safety measures are in place?

There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach that will work for every school so the measures in place differ from one school to another.  However, every school has standard systems and procedures as well as those that will meet their own set of requirements based on their individual circumstances and following a school risk assessment.

This takes into account issues such as the size and layout of the building and the numbers and ages of pupils.   When children and staff arrive at school, they are required to wash their hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser for at least 20 seconds. Handwashing is also encouraged throughout the day. 

Schools are fully cleaned daily and areas in the school that are frequently touched, such as door handles, are cleaned more often.   Measures also include staggered start and finish times and different lunchtime and break time arrangements for different groups of children.  All schools contacted parents to make them aware of the arrangements they have in place prior to pupils returning in September.

If you have any questions please contact your child’s school directly and they will be happy to provide further information.

 

 

How will social distancing work in schools?

To minimise the number of people children will come into contact with, children may be kept in smaller groups, or bubbles, based on their class or year group.   Schools have procedures in place so that separation between groups, or bubbles, can be maintained during the school day.

It’s recognised that it may not be appropriate to expect younger children to practice social distancing and therefore class bubbles are likely to be used mostly in primary schools to help to minimise wider contact between pupils.

Older students in secondary and middle schools may be required to observe the 2m social distancing where possible, particularly when moving between classrooms.

You can check with your child's school if you would like further information on their arrangements.

 

Do all children have to wear face coverings in school?

Government guidance, announced in November, is that students and staff in years 7 and above must wear a face covering in communal areas of school where social distancing cannot be maintained. This includes areas other than classrooms. 

In Newcastle, secondary and middle schools had already put this in place as part of their own measures and this requirement continues for pupils in these schools.

This requirement does not apply to younger school children and pupils with special educational needs or disabilities may also be exempt.

 

Does my child have to follow the school’s procedures for wearing face coverings and using hand sanitiser?

From November 5 government guidance is that it will be compulsory for face covering to be worn by students and staff in years 7 and above in communal areas of school where social distancing cannot be maintained.

This and other measures in place within schools, including the extra hand washing requirements, are there to keep students, their families, their teachers and their communities safe.

If everyone does their bit and sticks to these safety measures, schools can help to restrict the spread of infection both within school and within the wider community.

This also reduces the risk of whole school closures and the resulting disruption to families.

We therefore require all students (unless exempt) to abide by these measures in the interest of everyone’s health and wellbeing.

 

My child attends a special school – what arrangements are in place there?

Like all schools, special schools have carried out their own risk assessment to determine what measures are needed to protect and keep pupils safe.  Any measures that are in place also take into account the individual needs of each pupil.

The Special Educational Needs Disability (SEND) Team and our SEND transport providers have worked together to make sure children with SEND can travel safely to and from school each day.

Your child’s school will have been in touch with you to discuss your child’s needs and the arrangements that are in place in school.

If you have any questions or concerns please contact your school and they will be happy to discuss this further.

 

Will my child still be able to attend before and after school clubs?

Before and after school clubs and childcare can continue to operate in all tiers and are exempt from the limits placed on gatherings.

Schools can run breakfast and after school clubs but will need to take steps to ensure they are run in line with guidance on protective measures.  This may mean that some out of school clubs may have to operate differently so please check with your school for any changes in arrangements.

You can help to minimise any risk of infection by only using the same out of school activities or limiting the number of clubs that your child attends.

 

Will my child still be able to go to a childminder before and/or after school?

Early years settings and childminders can continue to operate.

All childcare providers, including childminders, have been asked put in place measures to ensure the safety of the children they are looking after.  This includes ensuring children wash their hands more often, extra cleaning of frequently touched areas and may include using separate rooms for children of different ages.

You should speak directly to your childminder about the measures they have in place, including any changes to drop off and pick up procedures that you may need to follow.

 

What happens if there is an outbreak at my child’s school?

If a child becomes ill while at school with suspected coronavirus symptoms the school will follow set procedures to keep them isolated from others until they can be collected safely and taken home.  

Parents and carers will be advised to arrange to have their child to  tested and you must inform the school of the result.  If your child is awaiting the result of a test they should remain at home and should not attend school.

 If the test is positive you will be required to follow the public health guidance for your child to self-isolate at home for 10 days from the start of symptoms.

Schools will notify the local health protection team of any positive cases and action will be taken to identify those in close contact and determine what further action is needed.  This could include sending people home to self-isolate if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

All schools are aware of the procedures that must be followed and action will be taken quickly, managed by the health protection team, to minimise the risk of further infection.

To help prevent any outbreak, it is vital that you do not send your child to school if they are awaiting a test result, have tested positive in the last 10 days or have suspected coronavirus symptoms, which include a high temperature, a new and continuous cough and a loss of sense of taste or smell.

 

There has been a positive case in my child’s school. Why have only some children been told to stay at home?  Shouldn’t everyone in that class / year group / bubble be sent home?

Schools are working hard to ensure they can remain open and safe for pupils as they understand how disruptive it can be for families when children cannot attend.

This is why arrangements are in place to ensure schools are as Covid-secure as possible and avoid the need to send home a whole class or year group in the event of a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus.

The decision over which pupils and staff are advised to self-isolate is taken following very detailed discussions involving the school and the Public Health England health protection team.

They take into account which other people have been in close contact with the person who has symptoms or has tested positive, but this does not automatically include everyone within that bubble, class or year group.

The purpose of having schools split into bubbles is to minimise the extent to which the virus could spread if one person becomes infected.

It is one of a number of measures in place within schools to help reduce the risk of the virus being passed on. Other steps include:

  • regular hand washing
  • the use of face coverings in communal areas in schools with children in Year 7 and above
  • extra cleaning, with a focus on frequently touched areas such as door handles, and
  • additional measures to support good hygiene and social distancing based on the individual circumstances of each school, including the size and layout of the building.

It is not the case everyone within a bubble will be at risk or need to self-isolate if one member of that group has the virus. This would only apply to close contacts and this is determined based on specific public health definitions. 

It is important to note that the main route of transmission is occurring in the community rather than within schools. Cases of transmission within schools are low.

If your child is identified as being a confirmed close contact with a person who has tested positive you will be notified and advised of the correct procedure to follow.

If you have other children, they will not be required to self-isolate unless they have also come into close contact with someone who has symptoms or has tested positive.

Unless you are notified that your child is required to self-isolate they should continue to attend school.

 

Can my child socialise with friends outside of school if they stay in their school bubble?

The class or year group bubbles that are set up in school apply only to school and not to wider community or social settings.

School bubbles are in place, alongside a range of other Covid-control measures, to help minimise the extent to which the virus could spread should there be a positive case within school.

Outside of school, Tier 3 restrictions will apply from Wednesday 2 December. This means you must not meet people socially indoors or in most outdoor venues if they are not part of your household or support bubble. 

In outdoor public spaces, such as parks, beaches and the countryside, the rule of six applies, which means you must not gather in a group of more than six people.

 

Will I be fined if I don’t send my child to school?

The government has made it clear that attendance in school from September 2020 is mandatory and parents have a legal duty to ensure their children attend.  Councils do have legal powers to take action against parents who fail to ensure their child’s attendance without a valid reason.

Please speak to your school if you have any concerns about your child attending school.

 

What is the safest way to travel to school?

Wherever possible people are encouraged to walk or cycle to school.  We are continuing to develop new temporary cycling and walking routes as part of the emergency Covid recovery measures that were put in place following the easing of lockdown restrictions.

We’re also committed to developing low traffic neighbourhoods and will be seeking feedback from families and schools about which areas and streets that are used as part of people’s journeys to school could benefit from this.

We strongly encourage people to avoid driving to school as this creates congestion, leads to poor air quality and potential road safety issues.  However, if you do need to use the car please try to drive for part of the journey and drop off or park away from the school gates before walking the remaining distance.

 

Is it safe to travel by bus?

Nexus and bus operators have been working hard to ensure they can offer safe and secure bus transport for pupils and the wider travelling public.  This includes having extra vehicles available and measures in place to allow for social distancing.

On busy routes additional buses will be used so that pupils can travel separately to other members of the public.  Members of the public are also advised to avoid travelling at times when school services are operating where possible.

Parents are urged to plan their journeys in advance and pupils over the age of 11 are reminded that they must wear a face covering while travelling on the bus unless they are exempt on medical grounds.  

Pupils using public transport must also have the correct change for their fare.  Seating arrangements on dedicated school transport will mean pupils will be sitting in groups that mirror their year group bubbles in school wherever possible.

For further details and advice visit www.nexus.org.uk/covid-secure.

 

Is it ok to use the Metro?

Metro services are operating to a reduced winter timetable but trains are still running frequently during the day.

There is enhanced cleaning of carriages and in Metro stations, as well as hand sanitiser points at the busiest stations.  Passengers are asked to maintain social distancing while using the services and are advised to use contactless payment or Pop smart travel cards instead of cash.  Pupils travelling to school using the Metro who are aged 11 or older are also required to wear a face covering unless they are exempt on medical grounds.

You can find more advice on travelling by Metro at www.nexus.org.uk/covid-secure.

 

My child normally travels to school or college by train. Will they still be able to use rail services?

Local train services are operating and we advise people to check for the times that services are running.  Anyone aged 11 or older is required to wear a face covering on trains and other public transport unless they are exempt on medical grounds confirmed by their doctor.

You can find further information, including advice on travelling by train and links to local operators, at www.nexus.org.uk/covid-secure/rail.

 

What transport arrangements are in place for children who attend special schools?

Children who attend special schools continue to receive transport that meets their needs and requirements.  In many cases, the number of children travelling together is reduced to ensure there is appropriate social distancing.  This means children may make separate journeys to school, with additional vehicles provided to support this where needed.  There are very rigorous cleaning processes in place to ensure that the vehicles used are as safe as they can be when carrying children.

Information and guidance about our Covid-secure SEND transport has been updated and is available here.

 

Where can I find out more?

Your school will be able to provide more information about the arrangements that are in place to help keep your child safe.  You can find the government advice and information for parents here

For information and advice on using public or school transport visit www.nexus.org.uk/covid-secure.

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