Thousands of children across England returned to schools in early September after almost six months away from classrooms due to the ongoing pandemic.
While the start of the new term has helped restore a sense of normality for youngsters, there are growing concerns schools could face closures once again, amid fears of a coronavirus second wave.
The UK’s Covid-19 threat level has now been moved back up to level four, with the chief medical officers warning on Monday 21 September of rising transmission rates, meaning more stringent social distancing measures could be on the way.
But what would a potential second wave mean for schools? Here’s what we know so far.
Will schools be forced to close again?
In response to concerned parents asking if children should be in classes after cases have been rising, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there are currently no plans to force schools to close.
Speaking on This Morning, Matt Hancock said he has no intention of stopping children going to school in the event of a second wave, and warned that families who ignore the government advice will be faced with a penalty unless they have a “good reason.”
Under current guidance it is illegal to withhold your child from school, except in a small number of exceptional circumstances, including if children are in a high risk group.
The government has vowed to do everything possible to keep schools open for pupils, allowing educational institutions to be exempt from the recently introduced ‘rule of six’.
Schools and other venues for education purposes are still permitted to operate and accommodate groups that exceed more than six people.
Mr Hancock said, "There are a number of exemptions, for school, because we want to protect education, for work, because workplaces already have Covid secure guidelines."
Public Health England has also said that children are just as likely to get coronavirus at home as they are in school, so the risk of remaining in classrooms is low.
However, the National Education Union (NEU) has warned that coronavirus testing in schools must be improved if they are to remain open and urged the government to take emergency measures.
In a letter sent to the Prime Minister on 20 September, the NEU outlined plans that should be taken in the event of a second wave, including a reduction in class sizes, delivery of broadband and laptops to children who don’t have them, and more clarity on next year’s exams.
When should children be kept off school?
Parents have been advised to only take their children out of education if they are experiencing the three main symptoms of coronavirus.
- A high temperature
- A new, continuous cough - this means coughing a lot, for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- A loss or change to sense of smell or taste - this means they cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal
Typical symptoms of a cold, such as a runny nose or a sore throat, are not considered symptoms of coronavirus, and as such, children do not need to be kept off school.
Any pupil who is experiencing any of the three main symptoms of coronavirus should be sent home from school to be tested, and should self-isolate for 14 days.
Track and Trace guidance states that children who test negative should not return to school before the end of their 14 day isolation because they may have the virus, but it cannot yet be detected by a test. As such, children could unknowingly spread the virus to others.
If a child is sent home due to a confirmed coronavirus case at their school - either in their ‘protective bubble’, or in the school generally - they must also self-isolate for 14 days.