Ministers are launching a campaign to persuade parents in England that it will be safe for their children to return to face-to-face lessons next month.
The #BackToSchool campaign will highlight extra protective measures being put in place across secondary schools and colleges ahead of pupils’ return – including mass asymptomatic Covid-19 testing.
It came as the Government faced criticism from education unions for not prioritising school and college staff returning to “crowded” classrooms in the next phase of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
The majority of pupils – apart from the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – have been learning from home since the lockdown began in January.
The campaign, launched ahead of schools reopening from March 8, will highlight the importance of face-to-face education for pupils’ social and emotional development and academic success.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We know the benefits that being back in school or college brings to young people’s education, development and wellbeing.”
He added: “The campaign launching today has details of the extra testing capacity and the strengthened safety requirements in place.
“I hope parents, carers and pupils will visit the campaign site and be reassured that we have a range of protective measures in place so we can go back to school safely.”
Over the first two weeks of term, pupils in secondary schools and colleges will be asked to take three rapid Covid-19 tests on site and one at home.
After the initial testing has taken place in a supervised environment, students will carry out twice-weekly tests at home.
Secondary school pupils are also being advised to wear face coverings in classrooms where social distancing cannot be maintained until Easter.
But face coverings and Covid-19 tests in secondary schools and colleges will not be compulsory, the schools’ minister Nick Gibb has confirmed.
“Staff, parents and pupils can feel reassured by scientific evidence that shows that with Covid precautions in place transmission in schools is low.
“Additional measures and the introduction of rapid mass testing for all staff and secondary school students offers further reassurance in the measures taken to maximise safety.
“As we know that infection rates in schools reflect transmission in the wider community it’s essential we all play our part to protect schools by keeping our contacts to a minimum and following restrictions outside the school gates.”
But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has warned that the full reopening of face-to-face education could be “a little bumpy” due to the logistics of mass testing.
He said schools are working hard to put in place the preparations needed – including a system of asymptomatic Covid-19 tests on their return.
But he added: “This is a logistically challenging and complex task and it will generally mean that there will be a staggered start with students coming back in phases to enable testing to take place before they enter the classroom.
“Government guidance also recommends that students in Year 7 and above should wear face coverings in classrooms, and this also presents additional challenges.
“All of this means that the full reopening of face-to-face education may be a little bumpy, but everybody is doing everything possible to make it go as smoothly as possible.”