The start of the academic year isn’t far away now, and all children and young people in Devon will be required to go back to school, but things will be a little different to normal this year.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this autumn term might feel especially strange or worrying, and for many children it will be their first time back in the classroom since lockdown began or indeed their first day at school ever.
Our schools are experienced at managing risk and we have been working with them to make lots of changes in line with government guidelines to help keep staff, children and their families safe.
Going to school is an essential part of a child’s social, emotional and academic development and, for them, the benefits greatly outweigh the risk posed by coronavirus.
We’ve gathered some useful information resources in this bulletin to help you and your child prepare for September, including what safety measures will be in place, changes to school transport and how to support your child’s mental health.
In this update:
- Why are all children going back to school?
- School return dates and safety measures in schools
- Information on clubs, childcare support and free school meals funding
- Information on school transport and travelling to school safely
- Supporting your child’s mental health and tips to help your child prepare
- Useful resources and links
Why are all children going back to school?
The government’s plan is that all children and young people, in all year groups, will return to school and college full time from the beginning of the autumn term.
This is because the prevalence of coronavirus (COVID-19) has decreased since schools and colleges restricted their opening in March. The NHS Test and Trace service is up and running and it is now understood about the measures that need to be in place to create safer environments in schools.
It’s really important for children and young people that they return to school and college, for their educational progress, wellbeing, and wider development.
So, school and college attendance will again be mandatory from the beginning of the new academic year. That means there’s a legal duty for parents and carers of compulsory school-age to send their child to school regularly.
Where children are not able to attend school because parents are following medical and/or public health advice, their absence will not be penalised.
Check your return date
Teachers and staff have been working hard to implement the necessary steps so they can welcome all pupils back in the autumn term. However, it’s important to note that this year all pupils may not be asked to return on the first day of term. Some schools may ask pupils to return one year group or class at a time so that they can get used to any new arrangements.
All children should have been given a return date within the first two weeks of term, though there may be a few exceptional cases. Your school will have told you about the plans they have made for pupils to return, and you might have received this information directly from the school, or it will be published on their website.
If you have not received information from your school, please contact them directly.
What safety measures will be in place?
Each school will have their own arrangements and will let you know about the measures they have put in place to help keep everyone safe. This could include:
- introducing a one-way system
- marking the floor to support social distancing
- putting up signs to remind everyone to wash their hands and cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing
- creating ‘bubbles’ or groups of children and teachers by class, or year group
- having different start and finish times, break times and mealtimes throughout the day to manage the flow of children through the school.
The government have also published guidance for parents and carers, which sets out how everyone can help make schools and colleges as safe as possible.
Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) should also refer to the separate guidance for full opening of special schools and other specialist settings.
If you have concerns about your child returning to school or college, because you consider they may have other risk factors, please do not hesitate to discuss with your school or college.
New advice on face coverings in education
The Government has announced new advice regarding the use of face coverings in education.
They’re not recommending that face coverings are necessary in education settings generally, because of the systems and controls that schools have in place to mitigate risk. But where schools and colleges are in areas where the transmission of the virus is high, additional precautionary measures are recommended, including the wearing of face coverings by adults and pupils.
In those areas where there is local intervention (ie in local lockdown), pupils aged 12 and above and school staff should wear face coverings when moving around, such as in corridors or communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain.
They don’t think it will usually be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, because of the protective measures in place in the classroom and because wearing them could inhibit teaching and learning.
It will be up to the schools and colleges in those areas of local restrictions to inform staff, pupils and parents of the requirement to use face coverings in those circumstances.
Not forgetting, some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings, and those exemptions will apply in education settings.
On your bike!
Walking or cycling has always been a great way to get to school and now with social distancing measures reducing the capacity of public transport, the government is encouraging parents and children and young people to walk or cycle wherever possible.
Bikeability has some really useful information including tips for cycling safely during the coronavirus pandemic and cycling skills for families.
National charity ‘Cycling UK’ has advice on starting cycling and their website is packed with tips and videos for beginners and more experienced cyclists on riding in traffic, family cycling, fixing bikes and much more.
Changes to school transport
The government has produced school transport guidelines for when all pupils return in September and we’ve been working with schools, colleges and transport operators to help them plan for this. We have also created our own guidelines
Social distancing guidance applies to passengers on public transport, but not to passengers on dedicated school transport, (which are not open to the general public). This is because the government believes the overall risk to children and young people from coronavirus is low; they do not mix with the general public on those journeys, and the home to school transport carries the same group of students and young people on a regular basis.
To help keep everyone as safe as possible, we’re asking pupils aged 11 years old and over to wear a face covering when travelling on school transport, unless they are exempt from wearing one.
Children will also be asked to sit in their year groups on larger vehicles wherever possible, with the youngest students sat at the front. Schools can draw up seating arrangements if they wish, and to be on hand at the end of the school day to assist students.
We’re also providing around 70 extra buses across the county at peak times, which will be dedicated to school and college students, so there’s extra capacity for social distancing measures on public services. Full details of these additional services can be found on our Travel Devon website.
For more information on home to school transport in light of COVID-19, visit our website.
Tips to help your child prepare for school
Children will have had very different experiences while at home, in terms of learning and personal experience, than the ones they would have had in school.
As we approach their return to school, it’s a good idea to try to create a supportive environment, with structure, routine, and familiarity in the lead up to September.
Here are a few things you can do to make their return to school as comfortable and as safe as possible:
Friendships and school. Your child may have remained in contact with school friends either in person or on line over the holiday, but for some their pre-lockdown social circle may have shrunk a little, and returning to school may feel a little daunting. So encourage positive talk about school. Ask them what they are looking forward to, and if they’re worried, encourage an approach like ‘if this happens, you could…’
Talking to your child about how they are feeling about going back to school and try not to make assumptions. Ask them if they are worried about anything, but also if they’re feeling positive. No matter how your child feels, let them know that it is completely normal.
Reassuring your child. Returning to school will present some changes, so talk about ways that they can stay safe at school, such as washing their hands. Reassure them that the school will put measures in place to keep them safe. If you are feeling anxious, try not to pass anxiety on to your child.
Thinking ahead. As well as reflecting on what has happened, it’s also important for children to have an sense of excitement and positivity about the future.
Try not to leave shopping for uniform or stationary to the last minute if possible. Know what they need and whether you have it, (and whether it still fits!). Being ready for day one will add to that sense of calm!
Think about how your child will get to school. Can they walk or cycle, or do they need transport (see our advice about school transport above).
Help your child return to their normal sleep routine in the weeks before school starts again. The Mental Health Foundation has a useful ‘How To’ guide on improving sleep on their website.
Give your child your full focus when they return from their first day back. Don’t ask too many questions, but be attentive and positive. They’ll probably be tired, so plan a relaxing evening.
Seeking support if you need it. Starting school again at any time is always a challenge, let alone this September. But if your child experiences difficulties while they’re at school, please contact your child’s school to make them aware, so that you can work together to support your child. If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, speak to the school and your GP.
Not putting pressure on yourself. It might take a little while for children to get used to the change, and that’s normal. There’ll be ups and downs. Try your best to support, reassure and comfort them, without putting pressure on yourself to make it better.
Supporting your child’s mental health
Starting a new school year can be a worrying time for any child, let alone during a global pandemic, and while the prospect of going to school in September will be exciting for many pupils, some might feel anxious. That’s perfectly normal. Lots of children will feel the same way.
Start to talk to your child about the daily routine that they were once so familiar with. It doesn’t have to start as a conversation about worries, but these might arise as you talk. These discussions are often good to have while you are doing something else, like playing with Lego, drawing, cooking or travelling in the car rather than sitting face-to-face as that can feel quite intense.
Talking about the things your child is looking forward to is another way of exploring any worries they may have. The Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Time for Us’ pack to help manage those worries.
You could go through some of the changes they may expect at school and think about ways they can re-establish their connections with friends and teachers.
Reassure children about the safety measures in place to keep them safe and remind them that they can also help prevent germs spreading by washing their hands with soap and coughing or sneezing into their elbow and giving everyone extra space.
Above all, it’s really important to focus on the positives. Asking what they enjoy about school and what they’re looking forward to is a good way to start.
Changes to breakfast, after school and holiday clubs
Schools can offer breakfast, after school and holiday clubs if they are able to. They will need to meet the guidance on protective measures so may need to run clubs differently to usual and it will rely on staff availability. Please contact your child’s school or look at their website for details.
Out of school settings (such as holiday clubs) can open to children and young people of all ages if they can meet the guidelines, which are outlined on the government’s website.
Free school meals and funding
All children automatically get free school meals if they’re in reception class, year 1 and year 2.
If you get certain benefits, your child can get free school meals even if they aren’t in these year groups. To make a quick application, where your eligibility can be assessed and an outcome given instantly, please visit the Free School Meal Portal.
Any child that is found to be eligible for free school meals will also attract additional funding for their school, this is known as pupil premium funding, which can be used to support your child in school or with the costs of uniforms or trips. Pupil premium funding can’t be paid directly to parents or carers, but it makes a big difference to schools and eligible pupils.
If you wish to apply for free school meals or pupil premium you must carry out a free school meal application via the Citizen’s Portal (link as above).
Don’t forget to apply for 30 hours funded childcare
Working parents with three and four year olds could get up to 30 hours funded childcare. You’ll need to apply now to claim from September. If you’re already claiming, don’t forget to reconfirm your eligibility every three months. Check the government website for full eligibility criteria to find out if you can claim.
All parents get up to 15 hours funded childcare per week for their three and four year olds.
You could also access funded childcare for your two year old if if you receive certain benefits or they have an Education, Health and Care Plan.
- The Children’s Commissioner has produced a guide aimed at answering children’s questions about coronavirus, informing them on how to stay safe and protect other people and how to help them make the best of their time at home.
- Mencap has produced an easy read information sheet about coronavirus. This would be particularly useful for children, young people or adults whose understanding is improved with visuals and when information is given in bitesize chunks.
- e-Bug is a free educational resource for classroom and home use and makes learning about micro-organisms, the spread, prevention and treatment of infection fun and accessible for all teachers and students.
- NHS Every Mind Matters website has lots of useful information about looking after your children’s mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Young Minds offers advice about mental health for children and young people up to the age of 25. They also have a Parent Helpline on 0808 802 5544.
- Childline offers a confidential telephone counselling service, so your child can speak to someone anonymously. They can call 0800 1111 any time, free of charge, have an online chat with a counsellor, check out the Childline message boards.