Nearly 90% of secondaries and colleges to open to more pupils from Monday

Nearly nine out of ten secondary schools and colleges in England will open to more pupils from Monday, according to a survey by the Association of School and College Leaders
It is the next step in easing the education lockdown triggered by the coronavirus epidemic, and will see the start of face-to-face contact for Year 10 and 12 pupils, who take GCSEs, A-levels, and other important qualifications, next year.

This follows the wider opening of primary schools to reception, Year 1, and Year 6 pupils from 1 June.

Government guidance stipulates that no more than a quarter of the total cohort of eligible secondary pupils should be in school or college at any one time, and institutions have had to implement a raft of safety measures to protect the health and wellbeing of staff and children.

The survey of 833 secondary school headteachers, college principals, and trust leaders found:
  • 88% of secondary schools and colleges are planning to open to more pupils from Year 10 and/or Year 12 from Monday. The main reason for not opening to more pupils from 15 June is local concerns about the reproduction rate of the virus, with wider opening potentially commencing from 22 June instead.
  • 62% expect to bring in all the eligible pupils, other than those who are shielding or self-isolating.
  • 26% expect to bring in some eligible pupils, but not all of them, mainly because a proportion of parents have indicated that they do not intend to send in their children. Other reasons include problems with transport arrangements, as government guidance advises the use of public transport is kept to a minimum.
Government guidance on secondary school and college provision from 15 June is unspecific about what institutions should offer, saying only that it should involve some ‘face-to-face contact’.

Unsurprisingly, the model of provision therefore varies with schools and colleges making decisions based on how best to support the wellbeing and learning of pupils, while keeping the cohort size to no more than a quarter, within the context of available space and staffing.

Many are planning weekly, or more than weekly contact sessions, for all eligible pupils, while others have a mixed model with different arrangements for Year 10 and Year 12 pupils, or prioritising more contact for pupils who have struggled with remote learning. Others are providing review sessions for all pupils, with extra support as required, while some are building the frequency of contact sessions over time.

Respondents were asked about any issues which have proved problematic. Many reported that the complexity of implementing the government guidance and quotas has been challenging, with several saying the guidance has lacked clarity. A number called for information about government plans for September.

The wider opening of schools and colleges extends the emergency provision which has continued throughout the lockdown for the children of key workers and for vulnerable children, and which will continue alongside the new arrangements.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools and colleges have moved mountains to support children through the coronavirus pandemic with emergency provision, remote learning, and now bringing in more children, in extremely challenging circumstances.

“This is akin to something between a military operation and an exercise in mathematics. There are many practical safety measures to put in place, as well as allocating small groups of eligible pupils to available teachers, while ensuring no more than a quarter of the cohort is on site at any time.

“School and college staff deserve great credit for all they have done over the past few months, and all they are doing now.

“What is important now is that the government works with the profession, as a matter of urgency, on a national plan for the recovery of education, with a particular focus on what happens from September, and how we support the learning and wellbeing of all children disrupted by this crisis.

“It is essential that this plan is developed as soon as possible in order to give schools and colleges time to prepare for this vital mission.”