From autumn, it has been revealed that entire year groups will be expected to remain in separate ‘bubbles’ as the Government unveils how it plans to have all pupils back in the classroom in September.
In secondary schools, this could result in up to 240 pupils per group, who would be expected to socially distance from other year groups, with separate, breaks, lunch and start and finish times in place.
In the event of a pupil testing positive for coronavirus, it could also mean that the entire group would then be sent home and expected to self-isolate for 14 days.
In primary schools bubble groups are expected to increase from the current maximum of 15 pupils, to a whole class of 30 pupils.
According to the Government’s proposals, if a pupil shows coronavirus symptoms, a parent or guardian will be expected to quickly collect their child.
According to the guidelines, “while waiting, the child should be kept 2 metres away from the supervising teacher and if that is not possible, in the case of a young child or one with complex needs, staff should wear full PPE – disposable gloves, a disposable apron, a fluid-resistant surgical face mask and in some cases eye goggles”.
According to the guidance, secondary school pupils will be expected to maintain 1 metre distancing but it has been acknowledged that primary school children will not be expected to do so.
Classroom layouts will change, with all pupils facing forward rather than sitting at circular tables and teachers will be encouraged to maintain social distancing at the front of the class.
Schools will be asked to put in place regular hand-washing routines although the guidance stops short of requiring either temperature checks or masks for staff and pupils.
Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson has stated that parents will no longer have the option to decide whether they wish their children to return to school, with compulsory attendance once again the norm, with fines for not compliance.
It has also been suggested that there could be fewer GCSE subjects offered, in a bid to focus on helping pupils to catch up with core subjects such as English and maths.
Whilst schools work to adapt to the ‘new normal’ in the classroom, it is understood that Ofsted is not planning to carry out routine inspections, for the autumn term at least.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “We’ve said we want to see all children back at school in September – returning to full primary and secondary class sizes in a safe way.”
Samantha Randall, an employment law expert, said: “Notwithstanding the DfE’s proposal to have all children back in school in September, headteachers and governors have a delicate balancing act to perform, to ensure that the school meets its duties as an employer.
“In particular, staff with pre-existing health conditions who are deemed clinically vulnerable will need to be considered.”
The latest Government guidance states that if clinically vulnerable individuals cannot work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest available on-site roles, enabling them to stay 2 metres away from others. If they have to spend time within 2 metres of others, an employer should carefully assess whether this involves an acceptable level of risk.
The guidance also states that particular attention should also be paid to people who live with clinically extremely vulnerable individuals.
There is also an implied duty that an employer will take reasonable care for the health and safety of employees. The implied term of mutual trust and confidence will also be relevant.
Where the breach of an implied term amounts to a fundamental breach of contract, the employee may elect to resign and claim constructive dismissal.
Where an employee is pregnant there are additional health and safety duties including:
(a) Risk assessments in respect of the employee or their child.
(b) To alter an employee’s working conditions/hours of work to avoid any significant risk or if this is not reasonable, to offer suitable alternative work on terms that are not substantially less favourable.
As the guidance and law is constantly evolving, if you are experiencing any concerns in relation to health and safety or employment law, please contact us.