What are the new Covid rules as pupils return to school?

Secondary school pupils in masks

Pupils are being asked to wear masks and test regularly once their back at school - Credit: PA

With schools reopening this week after the Christmas break, many are wondering how the Covid rules have changed.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said face-to-face teaching will continue and remain “the norm” as he outlined a series of Covid measures for schools.

He has also called upon former and retired teachers to return to bring additional support with a “Blitz” spirit. 

These measures are scheduled to be in place until January 26, when Plan B regulations are scheduled to expire, and will be reviewed.

When do pupils have to wear masks?

Secondary school pupils in England will once again be asked to wear masks in classrooms when they return for the new term. 

Face masks are already recommended in communal areas for older students and staff and some schools had measures in place throughout the autumn term. 

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In primary schools, staff and visitors will be asked to wear masks in communal areas.

How often should pupils do a test?

The Department for Education is encouraging secondary, college, and university students, as well as education staff, to test themselves twice each week and has set up a priority route for schools to order kits.

Mr Zahawi said secondary pupils will have to be able to access tests and all secondary schools were asked to provide on-site testing for students ahead of their return to the classroom.

Primary school pupils will not be asked to test regularly unless they have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive. 

Currently in England, if a person has tested positive for Covid or has symptoms, they can stop self-isolating after seven days if they receive two negative lateral flow test results on days six and seven.

Those who are unvaccinated and have close contact with positive cases must still isolate for 10 days.

Will there be social distancing?

Headteachers have warned that staff shortages in the new term caused by teachers isolating because of positive lateral flow tests will be “challenging” for some schools and could lead to more pupils learning online.

Mr Zahawi told Sky News on Monday that the “priority is to keep schools open”, and the Department for Education has suggested schools merge classes to keep face-to-face teaching in place.

The Department of Education is providing a further 7,000 air purifiers that were promised to schools, colleges and early learning settings to improve ventilation in teaching spaces. This will add to the 1,000 already announced and the 350,000 CO2 monitors.

Can pupils get the vaccine?

Those aged 12 to 15 are being encouraged to get fully vaccinated with two jabs and 16 and 17-year-olds are now eligible for a booster dose if they received their second vaccine more than three months ago.

Infectious disease expert Professor Neil Ferguson told the BBC that schools reopening is likely to cause an uptick in coronavirus infections, but they will be mild.

He said: “The Delta infections in the last few months have been really driven by school-age children and by the older age groups in the population.

“Omicron slipped in the middle in 18 to 45-year-olds really but it didn’t, as we heard, have much time to get into school children before schools shut and we expect to now see quite high infection levels, of mild infection I should emphasise, in school-age children."