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What do the government's plans for the Education sector's reopening really mean?

03 July 2020 Client Blogs

Yesterday evening, Gavin Williamson, the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, announced the government’s plans and guidance for the Education sector to reopen in September. The news, although very positive for the sector as a whole, does still raise concerns about children’s and staff’s safety.

Nurseries, early years providers and childminders have been welcoming back children since the beginning of June. From the beginning of September, schools and Further Education College will be expected to do the same, with attendance being mandatory from the start of the new academic year.

As expected, guidelines are still in place to minimise contact where possible. For nurseries and other early years providers, the limit on bubble sizes has been lifted, but classes are still expected to be separated to minimise the risk of spreading cases, should they occur. Schools and Colleges are advised to do the same, especially between year groups, by separating classes and limiting the movement of classes through corridors at the same time.

Schools may also consider staggering their teaching hours and class times to minimise the number of students and teachers in the school at any one time. Teachers are also expected to distance themselves from each other and older students as much as possible.

Special guidance for SEN schools and other providers have also been outlined by the government.

What does this mean for the sector?

The full reopening of schools is a positive move for the sector which has been hugely disrupted since the lockdown began in March. The closure of our schools and colleges meant that a huge proportion of staff were placed on furlough or had contracts ended and many will have also been made redundant. But now that preparations for September will be underway, we expect to see more jobs in the Education sector across the board.

The UK economy has been hit severely by the pandemic, which has raised concerns about recession, the effects of which are already being seen through high unemployment. Jobs in all sectors are less widely available than this time last year.

As a result, we expect that both young and adult learners will focus on their education, developing existing skills, upskilling to meet the demand for certain jobs and in some instances retraining for career moves. For Further Education colleges, this should have a positive effect on enrolment numbers which in turn increases the need for teachers to meet the demand.

An increase in College course attendees should also increase the need for support staff and cleaners in the school to ensure that the highest standard of safety is maintained for staff and pupils.

How great is the risk?

The greatest concern is of course the risk to the wellbeing of staff and pupils. The pandemic is not yet over and schools, colleges, parents and pupils will be understandably concerned about the risk of contracting the virus caused by increased contact to others.

According to the government, the risk of contracting the virus in schools and colleges is low and they are confident the measures outlined in their plan will help minimise that risk as much as possible. For example, regular cleaning and handwashing should be practiced. Schools will also be provided with a limited number of home test kits for those who would normally not have access. This, they hope, will help identify new cases early on so that the spread can be controlled. However, this doesn’t take into consideration the potentially higher quantity of pupils and teachers that will be present in the next academic year, as well as the risk of a second wave.

The government outlined that in the case of contraction, the person affected and small groups of young people and staff will be asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days. A mobile testing unit may also be sent to test others who have been in contact with the person who has tested positive. Testing will focus on the immediate class, then the year group, followed by the whole school if necessary.

The true risk to the everyone’s health and wellbeing will be unclear until schools do open again in September. Education organisations now need to focus on planning their return, how distancing can be maintained and the measures that need to be taken to keep their staff and pupils safe whilst ensuring the highest level of education.

Luckily, the experiences of the last few months have shown that the Education sector is resilient and able to deal with challenges despite adversity. A blended-learning model has already been put into effect. Anecdotal evidence from many of our clients within the sector has labelled the model as a success, meaning this model could continue to be used from September to ensure everyone’s safety without interrupting the vital education of learners.


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