The issues we are now facing in education have never been encountered before, and indeed all areas of society face difficult challenges. The reopening of schools and all education settings must be led by medical and scientific evidence to ensure that it is done in a way that is safe for our pupils, our staff and wider society. The health and well-being of the children and young people in our care and all our staff is our primary concern.
These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are intended to provide parents and carers with the latest information on the return to school. Where these FAQs refer to schools, this also includes pre-school unless stated otherwise. The plans for the return to school are subject to change as we respond to the latest public health advice therefore, these FAQs will be updated when new information is available.
It is important to remember that all schools are different. Schools have been given guidance that sets out practical things they can do, based on what has been shown to work, but every school will do what works best for them. Schools must do what best meets the needs of their pupils, staff and the physical circumstances of each individual school.
If a parent has a specific concern or question about a particular issue relating to their setting they should, in the first instance, make contact directly with the school Principal, Leader, Management Committee or the Board of Governors.
When will children and young people return to school?
The start of term will be 24 August 2020 for Primary 7, Year 12 and Year 14 pupils and for vulnerable children across all year groups. All other pupils will return on their normal start dates, which may vary depending on the school. Your child’s school will tell you when your child should return to school.
Some children may not be able to start back because they have serious health conditions and have been advised to shield and not attend school. Schools will make arrangements for them to learn online or by other remote learning.
It may not be possible for all Special Schools to follow this pattern therefore Special Schools will have the flexibility to develop their own starting models but should aim to have some children returning to school from 24 August 2020. Guidance on Vulnerable Children and Young People remains relevant and can be accessed here. Children at key transition points or who are identified as being particularly vulnerable may be prioritised if all children are not able to return immediately.
Why are only certain groups returning to school on 24 August 2020?
Primary 7 is an important year as children prepare to leave primary school and enter post-primary education. This is a major change in their educational journey. Year 12 and Year 14 are key examination years. Other jurisdictions (e.g. England, Scotland and Wales) are all bringing similar cohorts back earlier in August for similar reasons.
Why not wait until 24 August before planning the return of schools if there is still a risk of the virus spreading?
Schools need time to plan for the return to school and the arrangements they are making are based on current medical and scientific advice.
Will my child be in school every day when they return to school?
The intention is to get as many pupils back to classroom teaching as quickly as possible in September 2020. Some schools will be able to accommodate all pupils, but there will be circumstances where, due to small classrooms and other limitations, this may not be possible.
What home learning will be available when my child is not in school?
Some schools will need to combine classroom-based teaching and learning methods within school with a range of remote learning.
There are many ways to blend face-to-face classroom time and out-of-class learning. There is no prescribed, one size fits all approach. The nature of provision will vary across schools who will have the flexibility to plan and provide remote learning that is suitable for their particular circumstances.
Is there a minimum requirement for delivery of face-to-face classroom time?
While our guidance on the New School Day recognises that circumstances may vary between schools, under social distancing arrangements primary schools have been asked to plan for a minimum provision of 40% in school teaching contact time for all children with the balance by remote learning.
What information is available to help me support my child’s learning at this time?
A range of resources are available for parents to support their children’s learning and can be found here.
What about children of key workers?
How can working parents properly support part time learning?
We recognise the link between childcare provision and parents being able to return to work.
Therefore, from 29 June, the definition of keyworker no longer applies for access to childcare. This will assist childcare providers to return to full capacity by enabling more providers to reopen and more parents to access registered childcare.
All the relevant information in relation to Covid-19 and childcare, is available here.
A range of resources are available for parents to support their children’s learning and can be found here.
Will every school operate in the same way from the start of term?
Every school is different, every classroom is different. Therefore, there will be variances in how schools approach the return to school. Some schools will be able to safely bring back all pupils immediately, whilst others will need to follow the guidance on minimum class time and implement blended learning.
The number of pupils any one school can accommodate will differ from school to school. Capacity will depend on a number of factors including: layout of rooms, number and size of larger shared rooms (such as halls and canteens), specialist equipment, additional adult support and available outdoor space.
A separate return to school plan may be put in place for children with SEN to enable them re-engage with the school day and environment as smoothly as possible. A joint Health and Education process, will continue to be supported by the established regional oversight group. DE, PHA, HSCB, EA, Special Schools Leadership Group are represented on this group and work in close liaison with relevant DoH colleagues.
What will happen if I don’t send my child to school?
We really want every child to attend school – whether that is in school itself or remotely learning at home. If a pupil is required to attend school either physically or remotely and does not attend and does not complete work / assignment as required, an unauthorised absence will be recorded by the school.
What extra support will be provided for vulnerable children and children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) to return to school?
Children and young people who need extra help may be considered as a particular group and return to school at a different date arranged with their parents/carer. Your school will tell you about this if needed.
Schools may also ask for what changes you think should be taking place to keep your child safe and ready to return to learning.
In order to ensure as many children and young people as possible are able to return to learning in special schools, there will be a few changes to the normal school day. This may include only attending schools for a few days a week with learning at home an important part of the new school day.
Planning is underway to deliver the necessary support services to schools and special schools such as pupil support services, language and communication, nursing and occupational therapy for school restart. It should be noted, initially, that the full range of service provision may not be offered as set out in an individual’s plan or statement of SEN but will be delivered on a best endeavour duty.
What protective measures will be in place in schools?
We have worked closely with the Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health and the Public Health Agency in developing guidance for the return to school. Information on the scientific evidence in relation to Covid-19 can be found here.
Teachers and pupils will be advised to wash their hands as soon as they arrive at school and regularly through the day. For some children it may not be possible for them to do this independently, therefore their assistant or teacher should help and follow the guidance on personal protection equipment (PPE) as appropriate.
We would ask for your help in supporting your children with the changes we all have to carry out:
- They should be encouraged to wash their hand regularly.
- They should be discouraged from touching their eyes, face, nose and mouth, putting hands/fingers into their mouths.
- They should be shown how to cough into their elbow if they don’t have a tissue / paper towel.
- If they have a tissue/paper towel they should be encouraged to use it and then dispose of it safely into the nearest bin.
Will Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) be needed in schools?
PPE will only be required in a very small number of cases, such as working with pupils who require intimate care needs and administering medication.
Will my child need to wear their school uniform when they return to school?
The wearing of a school uniform is for the school to decide. Schools are encouraged to consider the views of parents, pupils and the school community and to show flexibility around the issue of school uniforms in these extraordinary times.
Will social distancing be applied in schools?
The decision of the Executive is that adults / adults and the pupils they’re working with should remain 2m apart in line with Public Health Agency guidelines but that this should be reduced, for planning purposes, to 1m between pupils.
Where social distancing cannot reasonably be applied, schools can consider organising pupils, and their adult assistants into small groups (protective bubbles). Where protective bubble measures are used, social distancing, in particular between the adult staff working with such groups should also be maintained as much as possible.
“Protective bubbles” operate by limiting interactions between children and, as a consequence, limiting opportunity for transmission of the virus.
Will there be more cleaning of schools?
A normal summer clean will have been undertaken before the new school term.
What will happen if my child starts to display symptoms of Covid-19 while in school?
If your child becomes unwell while in school with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature / fever or anosmia (a loss or a change in your normal sense of smell, which can also affect your sense of taste) in an educational setting they must be sent home and advised to follow the guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.
Public Health Agency, COVID-19: Information for the public can be found here.
Will my child be left unaccompanied if he/she is awaiting pick up?
A child awaiting collection will be moved, if possible, to a ventilated room. Appropriate adult supervision will be provided as required.
When can I drop off/pick up my child at school?
In order to avoid mass gatherings of people at the school gate, schools may have to restructure drop off and pick up times. Schools will take all things into consideration such as a number of siblings in one family, using multiple entrances if these are available and/or staggering drop off/pick up times. Parents should not enter the school buildings during these times unless required
My child uses home to school transport. Will this still be available?
Current social distancing guidelines will considerably reduce the capacity of each school transport vehicle. While we are seeking to maximise the number of pupils that can be safely transported, continued social distancing on vehicles would mean that it is unlikely that all eligible pupils will be able to be provided with a place on a vehicle at the beginning of the new school year. The Department and the Education Authority are working as quickly as possible to minimise disruption to families and schools.
We would strongly encourage parents to consider alternatives to using public transport for transporting their children to school and where possible use active options such as walking or cycling.
Guidance from the Department will issue in the near future with more detailed operational guidance also being published by the Education Authority which will include areas such as travel for pupils with SEN, social distancing on public transport, and wearing of face coverings whilst traveling to school.
What are the plans for lunches and school meals?
The EA catering service is considering a range of options for provision of school meals, including free school meals when schools reopen and guidance will issue as soon as possible.
It is intended that catering services will continue to provide meals as usual although choice may be limited. Social distancing requirements and any changes to the school day will also have implications for catering, such as limited seating capacity. Whilst the challenges to catering will be substantial, it is anticipated that catering will operate in every school and provide meals to pupils wishing to avail of the service as required.
Can a lunch be brought from home?
Is there a backlog of statutory assessments for SEN?
Throughout the pandemic, the SEN Statutory Operations service in the Education Authority has remained a critical service and has operated under ‘best endeavours’ to continue to progress and facilitate children moving through the assessment process - particularly focussing on those children waiting longest.
Although some assessment work had to be suspended due to its face-to-face nature, the EA are making best endeavours to progress existing referrals and accept new ones, for example deferred Educational Psychology assessments are to be carried out at the start of the new term.
Will the classroom assistant be the same?
Each school will face its own challenges to reopen safely. Some classroom assistants may not able to return to work immediately and schools will be able to provide information as regards the particular circumstances for your child.
When will access to external support and therapies be available?
Online support will continue to be available for some services and therapies such as speech and language. Face-to-face support and therapies will be delivered in line with PHA and government guidance when it is safe to do so and resources are available. The full range of service provision may not be offered initially as set out in an individual’s plan or statement of SEN but will be delivered on a best endeavour duty.
What if there is a second wave of the pandemic – will vulnerable children and those with SEN be able to go to school?
If my child displays increased levels of anxiety, or refuses to go back to school, will they get any help?
All children and young people, and particularly those with SEN may need additional support to enable them settle back into school as seamlessly as possible with minimum amount of trauma. Parents will need to share these concerns with their schools and any others such as changes to mobility, behaviour etc. Schools will build and support social and emotional recovery using a range of educational tools and skills.