From education to employment

Let’s get back to school and #BackToCollege

Student in a mask

@EducationGovUK’s #backtoschool and #backtocollege campaign launches as children and young people are set to return to early years, schools and colleges over the next few weeks 

Campaign encourages secondary students, #andcollege student and staff to get tested to minimise disruption to education over the autumn term.

Proportionate measures such as ventilation and hygiene remain in place from September to reduce disruption and risk.

Today (Thursday 26 August) the government launches its back to school and college campaign to set out the experience that students can ‘get back to’ from September, with restrictions such as bubbles eased to allow a full return to sport, music, drama, science experiments and being with their friends.

Schools and colleges are maintaining proportionate protective measures such as testing, ventilation and extra hygiene precautions that help keep children and staff safe and minimise disruption to face-to-face education.

Secondary schools and colleges are offering two tests on-site at the start of term, followed by continued regular testing at home. Students aged 16 and 17, as well as younger children aged 12-15 in certain eligible groups are encouraged to take up the offer of the vaccine.

The campaign features Matt Richards, gold medal-winning swimmer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, who draws on his own experience of regular covid testing as part of Team GB to encourage secondary and college students to continue testing from September.

The campaign also features Dr Ranj Singh, NHS consultant paediatrician and TV presenter who will reassure students and families about the return to school. Students and teachers appear across social, digital and radio adverts talking about everything they are looking forward to during the new school term.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“I know the return to school and college this September is a huge moment for students and education staff, who have all shown enormous resilience over the past 18 months.

“It is the point when our focus can shift away from the disruption of covid and on to learning, enrichment and recovery.

“I have every confidence that school and college staff, parents and students will continue to work together admirably, following pragmatic measures like testing and vaccinations to minimise disruption and keep children where they belong – in the classroom.”

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid said: 

“As students in England prepare to return to school they can look forward to a more normal year – seeing their friends, getting back to sports and activities, and of course learning.           

“As well as offering vaccines to 16 and 17 year olds in England, testing will remain an important part of keeping our young people safe as we go into the new school year. I urge parents to encourage their children to take regular tests, to help break chains of transmission and stop the virus spreading.” 

The campaign launches as pupils and students began returning to education in Leicester and Leicestershire yesterday (Wednesday 25 August) for the start of the autumn term.

Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency Jenny Harries said:  

“Around one in three people who have coronavirus have no symptoms, so it is vital that we continue rapid testing in schools to help uncover hidden cases of the virus at the start of term. 

“We encourage children to come into school to take their first tests in-person and then to continue testing twice a week from home. We will continue to work closely with schools to ensure that all children can get back to the classroom and enjoy learning with less interruptions. 

“We also encourage all children eligible for the vaccine to get their jabs when offered. Alongside testing, this will help to keep children in the classroom and their families safe.”     

Eighteen-year-old Matt Richards, Team GB gold medal-winning swimmer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics said: 

School gave me so much opportunity, and when I look back, I realise all the hard work was worthwhile. I’m only 18 so school has obviously been a massive part of my life so far, I made great friends there and it kick started my swimming career so I am really grateful for that. I’ve always known how important education is, and what a fantastic environment schools can provide to nurture young people. When Covid-19 happened, I had to make some key decisions and changes. Testing became part of my daily ritual, as well as a change in mindset to ensure that I kept everyone safe so I, and others, could train, perform and compete. The testing and the discipline of my friends, family and colleagues allowed me to train, to qualify for Team GB in the British Championships and to win Gold in the Olympics Games. Regular testing was essential then and still is now to ensure everyone is kept safe and not spreading the virus. The same goes for school. Make sure you test before you go back, and twice weekly – even if you don’t have symptoms – so you can get back to the things you love like competitive sports and school matches.”

Dr Ranj Singh, NHS consultant paediatrician and TV presenter said:

“As Covid-19 becomes a virus we learn to live with, delivering face to face education, without disruption is vital to support our children’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. There is a low risk of coronavirus in children compared to other ages groups, and the benefits of education continue to outweigh the covid health risk to children and students. Schools will have more flexibility when students return, however, it’s important that children carry on with good hygiene habits – for example, washing their hands when they arrive at school and before they eat, and sneezing into a tissue or elbow. Testing will also remain vital; all staff and secondary school and college students will be asked to test on returning to school (as well as testing twice weekly throughout September), which is equally as important, to help reduce Covid-19.”

Social and digital advertising will launch today alongside wider engagement with the teaching profession and local communications. The campaign will run until early September.

The launch of the campaign comes as the government invests £25 million in providing carbon dioxide monitors to state-funded education settings, helping them take action if they identify poor ventilation, or be reassured that ventilation is sufficient across their classrooms and staff rooms.

Parents are encouraged to visit for information and practical guidance to help them plan for their children’s return to school.

Leaflets explaining more about the safety measures in place will be made available over the coming days.

Schools received guidance in July setting out the measures they should implement from September, including maintaining increased hygiene and ventilation, but removing bubbles and face coverings.

The Department has also updated its guidance for schools on how to respond if they see an increase in cases. Any reintroduction of measures such as wearing of face coverings should not be taken lightly, only be for a defined period, and should account for the detrimental impact on the delivery of education.

Schools are expected to continue offering immediate access to remote education where young people test positive for the virus and need to isolate.

Grant funding will be available for schools and colleges to claim to provide internet connections to help disadvantaged pupils who may need to learn remotely. They will be able to claim up to £75 over three months to provide mobile dongles or broadband routers for pupils.

A small team of attendance advisers are also being recruited to work with local authorities and multi-academy trusts to provide advice, guidance and support on attendance where absence rates are higher than average. 

Sector Reaction to the #backtoschool and #backtocollege campaign

Commenting on the Department for Education’s campaign launch to mark the start of autumn term, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“We all want the return to school to be successful and the DfE emphasis on testing is important. This charm offensive from Government to parents relies on the notion that the removal of safety requirements will magically transform school and college life. However its admission last week that CO2 monitors will be needed, should be sufficient evidence that Gavin Williamson made a bad call when removing so many mitigations last term – and, once again, squandered the summer break. Sadly, CO2 monitors will not arrive soon enough, and only diagnose problems not solve them. 

“The school community, including parents, students and staff, constitutes millions of people and we must expect cases to start to rise when schools return, especially when mitigations have been removed.  

“We cannot pretend that schools are disconnected from society, we cannot ignore the fact that children and staff will have to self-isolate if they test positive, nor that a smaller number will miss more school because of longer Covid symptoms. The success of the vaccination programme has not yet eradicated the challenges facing schools and colleges. Nor, on its own, will a week of testing. 

“The Government’s own contingency framework sets a very high threshold for the numbers of cases sufficient to trigger extended safety measures. The DfE should be working with school and college leaders to do all that they reasonably can at the start of term to avoid reaching that point. Leaders will want to consider continuing with face coverings in secondary schools, social distancing where possible, and special arrangements for vulnerable staff. 

“Every school and college is different, but the goal this September is common to all: none of us want to see young people stuck at home. We believe they must be engaged in full on-site education and leaders, and teachers and support staff will do everything they reasonably can to make sure that remains the case. 

“That is our side of the bargain. But the DfE needs to do far more to uphold its end. As an absolute minimum we need to see a swift roll-out of the promised CO2 monitors and proper support and action from Government when problems are subsequently identified. 

“School and college leaders are tasked with a great responsibility as they return from the summer break. Teachers and support staff feel this, too. The danger is not that schools and colleges will be slow to act, but that Government is.” 

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“The start of a new school term is always a cause for optimism and excitement; pupils will no doubt be looking forward to getting back and seeing their friends and meeting new teachers. The last 18 months have shown us all what a crucial role schools play, not just in terms of learning but also that wider personal and social development.

“It would, however, be naïve to assume that things will be completely back to normal in September. Scientists are already predicting that Covid cases are likely to increase further when schools re-open and sadly we know that further disruption is inevitable.

“The key is that government does everything in its power to keep that disruption to a bare minimum. That means that at the very least they must ensure that we have a properly functioning test and trace system that parents can have confidence in; ensure a quick and effective public health response should additional mitigations be required in some schools, and provide financial support to ensure that all classrooms are properly ventilated.

“The government needs to do much more than issue warm words and hope for the best – it must do everything in its power to ensure that schools are kept as safe as possible so that as few children as possible miss out on education this year.”

Commenting as the Department for Education today (Thurs 26 August) reissues its ‘remote education direction’, giving legal force to the requirement for schools to offer immediate access to high-quality remote education where students need to self-isolate, Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“This is completely unnecessary and unhelpful. Schools have done an incredible job over the last 18 months to develop a remote learning offer from scratch, and throughout the pandemic they have had to balance this with providing face to face education as usual.

“There is no evidence that the government even used the last continuity order last year and we have no doubt it will serve little purpose again this year.

“The government would do far better to spend its time focusing on how it can support teachers and schools who could be asked to once again balance in-person and remote education this term.

“This must include properly resourcing schools for every eventuality in dealing with what has so far been a fast-paced and ever-changing situation. If more pupils do end up needing to learn from home this term, a grant of £75 will not go far in properly equipping them with internet connections to continue their education effectively.”

The Department is today reissuing its ‘remote education direction’, giving legal force to the requirement for schools to offer immediate access to high-quality remote education where students need to self-isolate. The grant funding for student internet access is demand-led, and schools can claim up to £75 over three months to provide internet connections, such as wireless routers, mobile and broadband access, for disadvantaged pupils who may need to learn remotely over the next academic year due to the pandemic. Costs higher than this may be approved where reasonable supporting information is provided. Full guidance to schools on reopening safely can be found here.

As pupils will potentially mix with lots of other people during the summer holidays, all secondary school and college pupils should receive 2 on-site lateral flow device tests, 3 to 5 days apart, on their return in the autumn term. Thereafter, students of secondary age and above should be encouraged to undertake twice-weekly testing at home, as set out in the guidance from July. 

Staff should undertake twice weekly home tests whenever they are on site until the end of September, when this will be reviewed. 

Since 16 August anyone that has had two vaccine doses two weeks previously, or under the age of 18.5 years of age will not be required to isolate if they come into close contact with a positive case. Instead, they will need to get a PCR test and isolate only if positive. 

The government’s Chief Medical & Scientific Officers agree that there is a very low rate of severe illness in children from current variants. 

In line with wider society, education and care settings are no longer required to operate a test and trace function. This responsibility is being taken up by NHS Test and Trace. 

Evidence to date suggests that cases in educational settings reflect community transmission, including social contact between children and families. There is limited evidence of ongoing transmission within educational settings. 

The campaign is being delivered as part of the government’s ‘Let’s keep moving…’ campaign, but includes new information and support.  

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