SCHOOLS are reopening in England today in the first step towards lockdown being totally lifted.

Primary and secondary pupils are returning to classrooms for the first time in months after a brutal second coronavirus wave.

Classrooms have been declared safe and teachers told they are at no greater risk of catching the virus than those working in any other job.

Rapid testing will be vital to managing the risk posed by schools reopening, although parents have been told entire classes won't be sent home if just one pupil tests positive for the virus.

Primary aged pupils won't need to wear masks to school as open doors and windows has been deemed more effective in age groups where masks are more likely to be removed, fiddled with or worn incorrectly.

But teachers are said to be furious that they haven't been prioritised in the next round of jabs and there was even talk last week of a last minute strike plot drummed up by teachers unhappy at having to return to the classroom.

Follow our schools reopening live blog below for the very latest news and updates as kids return to the classroom…

  • Sarah Grealish

    LATERAL FLOW TESTS

    Pictured: Erin Horn looking in a mirror while taking a Lateral Flow Test as children arrive at Outwood Academy in Woodlands, Doncaster in Yorkshire.

    Pupils in England today return to school for the first time in two months as part of the first stage of lockdown easing.

    Credit: PA:Press Association
  • Sarah Grealish

    HOW WILL TESTING WORK?

    Students in England will be tested for Covid-19 three times in the first two weeks of school.

    After that, they’ll be given two tests each week to use at home. These will be lateral flow tests, which involve taking a swab of the nose and throat.

    The sample is then inserted into a tube of liquid and gives a result within 30 minutes.

    Testing is voluntary and children will only be tested in school if a parent or carer has given consent.

    The Government recommends, however, that anyone “going to a school or college premises,” or anyone who shares a bubble or household with someone who is “should also get tested”.

  • Sarah Grealish

    CATCH-UP CRISIS

    Children are facing a catch-up crisis after losing out on 109 days of face-to-face learning.

    Education Secretary Gavin Williamson hinted that summer holidays could be slashed in favour of a five-term year and school days extended, in the biggest reform since the Second World War.

    The Labour party have suggested instating a spate of breakfast clubs to help bring kids up to speed.

    Despite the latest developments in the attempt to plug the gaping hole in children’s education, experts have warned it will take billions of pounds and many years to rectify.

    But the head of the Oxford vaccine effort was confident, yet cautious, that the current figures are heading in the right direction.

  • Sarah Grealish

    SLEEPY KIDS WILL STRUGGLE

    SLEEPY schoolkids face a struggle to re-adjust to school routines after becoming used to new freedoms during lockdown, according to a report.

    Research among 2,000 parents found the average child has been going to bed an hour and a half later than their usual bedtime over the past 12 months.

    And one in 10 aren’t getting tucked in until two hours later – with 44 per cent of mums and dads believing their children are now used to going to bed late.

    But four in 10 kids regularly oversleep, having less reason to jump out of bed bright and early each day.

    Sleep deprivation has left many children ‘frazzled’ and ‘restless’, with parents hugely concerned that getting them back into a healthier, stricter routine, will prove a titanic struggle.

  • Sarah Grealish

    SCHOOLS TO STAY OPEN EVEN IF R RATE RISES

    A HEALTH chief says schools should remain open even if the R rate rises – because the Covid vaccine is cutting the link between surging cases and deaths.

    Public Health England’s Dr Susan Hopkins, a leading Government adviser, was quizzed this morning on whether kids heading back to class tomorrow will cause R to rise.

    And she acknowledged cases could spike – but said schools shouldn’t close again.

    “We will watch and wait and look carefully,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr. “That’s why we’re doing so much testing.

    “It’s to try and find those cases that may have asymptomatic infections, and so reduce the risk of transmissions in and around the school environment and keep the R rate at the lowest rate possible.”

  • Sarah Grealish

    RETURN TO SCHOOL COULD CAUSE INFECTIONS

    CHILDREN returning to school is “absolutely necessary” but will inevitably lead to an increase in coronavirus infections, according to the head of the Oxford vaccine team.

    The university’s Professor of vaccinology, Sarah Gilbert, explained that despite the continually falling cases across the country, it would be reckless to be “too optimistic”.

    It comes as thousands of students finally return to classrooms today for the first time since January.

    The highly-anticipated return to education centres has been shrouded by fears it will send the R rate rocketing again, as Gilbert suggested.

    “We’ve got kids going back to schools, and that’s absolutely necessary. But there may well be a slight increase in transmissions as a result of it.

    “But if we can get the transmission rate down really low, then then we can cope with a small increase,” she explained to iNews.

  • Sarah Grealish

    Do teachers have to wear masks in school?

    In primary schools, the DfE recommends that face coverings should be worn by staff and adult visitors where "social distancing between adults is not possible" – for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas.

    Where pupils in year 7 and above are educated, it recommends that face coverings should be worn by adults (school staff) and pupils when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.

    The DfE now also recommends that face coverings should be worn in year 7 and above classrooms or during activities unless social distancing can be maintained.

    This doesn't apply during strenuous activity, such as PE lessons.

  • Sarah Grealish

    HOW WILL CHILDREN CATCH UP ON LOST LEARNING?

    The PM announced an extra £400m of funding – on top of the £300m pledged in January – to help pupils make up the time.

    Summer provision will be introduced for pupils who need it the most, such as incoming Year 7 pupils, while more one-to-one and small group tutoring schemes will be be offered.

    And Mr Williamson has confirmed the Government is looking at slashing summer holidays, implementing a five-term year and even extending the school day.

    The ideas are being considered by 'education recovery tsar' Sir Kevan Collins.

    Sir Kevan will head up a team of experts who will draw up proposals on how to help children catch up.

  • Sarah Grealish

    WHO NEEDS TO WEAR MASKS TODAY?

    Children in primary schools do not need to wear a face covering upon returning the the classroom on Monday, March 8 2021.

    However kids in year 7 and above have been advised to wear face coverings in classrooms and during activities unless social distancing can be maintained.

    Students in year 7 and above are also 'recommended' to don face
    coverings when moving around their school, outside classrooms, such as in corridors and in communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.

    But face coverings do not need to be worn by pupils when they're outdoors at school.

    And the government says in its revised guidance for March 8's reopening that year 7 and above students don't need to don face coverings when taking part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example PE lessons.

  • Sarah Grealish

    UNIFORM COSTS

    HARD-UP parents may be able to claim up to £150 to help cover the cost of school uniforms as pupils return to the classroom today.

    The support is typically available to households on benefits, but the amount on offer varies wildly depending on where you live.

    A uniform costs £101.19 per child in secondary school on average, according to a retailer survey by The Schoolwear Association.

    The cost means a million kids' families have to cut back on food and other essentials to pay for it, a report by the The Children's Society has found.

    The charity is backing the School Uniform Bill, which is calling for schools to add a value for money criteria to their uniform policies.

    Read more here.

  • Sarah Grealish

    PM HAILS SCHOOLS REOPENING A 'NATIONAL EFFORT'

    THE PM hailed today’s re-opening of England’s schools as the result of a national effort to defeat Covid.

    Boris Johnson said the return of millions of pupils to the classroom was made possible only by collective efforts to cut infections.

    It marks step one of his plan to unlock the country after a year of restrictions to tackle the pandemic.

    He declared: “The reopening of schools marks a truly national effort to beat this virus.

    "It is because of the determination of every person in this country that we can start moving closer to a sense of normality — and it is right that getting our young people back into the classroom is a first step.”

  • Sarah Grealish

    WHAT WILL THE EFFECT OF REOPENING SCHOOLS BE?

    Experts believe the R rate will likely rise when kids are back in class.

    But with the roll-out of the jabs programme, we could be heading towards a day when the rate doesn't need to bother us.

    Dr Hopkins acknowledged cases could spike – but said schools shouldn't close again.

    "We will watch and wait and look carefully," she said. "That's why we're doing so much testing.

    "It's to try and find those cases that may have asymptomatic infections, and so reduce the risk of transmissions in and around the school environment and keep the R rate at the lowest rate possible."

  • Sarah Grealish

    MASKS 'UNTIL EASTER'

    EDUCATION chiefs hope schoolchildren will only have to wear their face masks in class until Easter – with measures lifting during the summer term, an education chief said.

    Amanda Spielman, the chief executive of Ofsted, said Brit youngsters are "adaptable and flexible" – but admits she hopes masks and testing will be gone from schools soon.

    Ms Spielman told Sky's Sophy Ridge that parents and children "can cope" with the measure.

    "The vast majority of parents, children and teachers are really happy to be going back," she said. "They can live with a little bit of inconvenience for a few weeks."

    And she added: "We've been told the face mask guidance will be reviewed at Easter. I love the idea of children being able to come back in the summer term able to see everybody fully."

  • Sarah Grealish

    HOW WILL CLASSROOMS LOOK?

    Gone are the days of copying a pal's work or sliding them a note, with kids now encouraged to sit 1m apart.

    Perspex screens could shield pupils from the front of the class while desks could be separated with large screens at the side.

    Some schools may expect pupils to face the front of the class, while teachers may limit their movement in the room.

    Teachers are encouraged to ramp up mechanical ventilation units in classrooms where possible, with the aim of helping air circulate around the room.

    The measure will keep Covid particles at bay and limit the spread of the bug.

  • Sarah Grealish

    KIDS AREN'T ALRIGHT

    ENGLAND'S chief schools inspector has expressed concern about eating disorders and self-harming among children after she said pupils endured "boredom, loneliness, misery and anxiety" during the school shutdown since January.

    Amanda Spielman said home learning "has been a real slog" for many and that teachers and parents "need to be alert" to more serious mental health difficulties persisting for a minority of children even after classrooms open again this morning.

    The Ofsted boss said for the "vast majority of children the restoration of normality" should be enough to "lift those symptoms" of mental health difficulties like loneliness and anxiety.

    And she added that there is "no perfect solution" for exam results this year but that teacher assessments were "a good attempt at creating the best we can do in very, very unsatisfactory circumstances".

  • Sarah Grealish

    CATCH-UP CRISIS

    Children are facing a catch-up crisis after losing out on 109 days of face-to-face learning.

    Education Secretary Gavin Williamson hinted that summer holidays could be slashed in favour of a five-term year and school days extended, in the biggest reform since the Second World War.

    The Labour party have suggested instating a spate of breakfast clubs to help bring kids up to speed.

    Despite the latest developments in the attempt to plug the gaping hole in children's education, experts have warned it will take billions of pounds and many years to rectify.

    But the head of the Oxford vaccine effort was confident, yet cautious, that the current figures are heading in the right direction.

  • Sarah Grealish

    CONTINUED

    Now, Geoff Barton – general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders – has revealed a letter has been issued to secondary heads who are a member of the union to send to parents who raise objections about their child wearing a mask.

    It states that too many pupils refuse to wear a face covering it could create "ramifications" for the school's insurance, reports the Telegraph.

    It reads: "Wearing a face covering is one of the recommended measures schools are being asked to take to get the risk of infection to an acceptable level to enable them to remain open.

    "The School remains concerned that if face coverings are not made compulsory and/or a high percentage of pupils choose not to wear them, it could undermine the risk assessment and raise the risk of infection to the pupil or others in the school community."

    Mr Barton has also raised concerns over the "lack of clarity" of rules.

  • Sarah Grealish

    MASK IMPORTANCE

    SCHOOLS could be forced to shut again if not enough pupils wear face masks as they return to class today, parents have been warned.

    While there is no legal power to enforce it, guidance from the Government states that masks should be worn by students – as well as teaching and support staff – while indoors.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last month that secondary school kids are to be tested twice a week and required to wear face masks if it is not possible to socially distance at two metres apart.

    Both measures are not compulsory, however, and the Government has said teachers should not send pupils home for refusing.

  • Sarah Grealish

    WHAT HAVE HEADTEACHERS SAID ABOUT FINES?

    Headteachers unions, the Association of School and College Leaders, and the National Association of Head Teachers agree it is right to prioritise keeping pupils in the classroom.

    They have called on ministers to be transparent about the risks to children, families and school staff.

    The unions have previously called on the government to remove fines for parents who keep their children out of school, the Guardian reports.

    NEU Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney insisted last November that ONS data showed schools "are an engine for virus transmission".

    A joint statement by teachers' unions this week warned bringing all pupils in England back to school together on March 8 would be "reckless".

  • Sarah Grealish

    FURIOUS DAD

    PARENTS of a Year 9 pupil were left "gobsmacked" after they were told she will be banned from face-to-face classes until Easter as they didn't consent to the school's Covid-19 rapid tests.

    The 14-year-old who attends Hornchurch High School in Havering, east London, was told by her headmistress that failing to take a regular lateral flow test would mean she wouldn't be allowed to mix with other students.

    After being strongly encouraged to reconsider, her parents said they felt "coerced at best, blackmailed at worst" by the school's decision to exclude their daughter and continue learning in an isolated room in the school.

    Read more here.

  • Sarah Grealish

    HOW WILL TESTING WORK?

    Students in England will be tested for Covid-19 three times in the first two weeks of school.

    After that, they'll be given two tests each week to use at home.

    These will be lateral flow tests, which involve taking a swab of the nose and throat. The sample is then inserted into a tube of liquid and gives a result within 30 minutes.

    Testing is voluntary and children will only be tested in school if a parent or carer has given consent.

    The Government recommends, however, that anyone "going to a school or college premises," or anyone who shares a bubble or household with someone who is "should also get tested".

  • Sarah Grealish

    CONTINUED

    Speaking on Sunday morning on a visit to Christian community centre in Brent, Northwest London, Mr Johnson thanked teachers for the massive reopening efforts ahead of today's return.

    “I’m massively grateful to parents who’ve put up with so much throughout the pandemic – and the teachers who have done an amazing job of keeping going – but I do think that we’re ready.”

    He added: “I think people want to go back – I think they feel it, they feel the need for it, and you ask about the risk – I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen.”

    In her final address as children's commissioner for England last month, Anne Longfield said it was "impossible to overstate how damaging the past year has been for many children".

  • Sarah Grealish

    SCHOOLS ARE 'READY'

    TEACHERS, parents and kids are all ready for schools to reopen today and feel a burning need to get back to class, Boris Johnson declared.

    The Prime Minister insisted kids are more at risk from staying at home due to missing out on learning than they are from Covid in the classroom – boasting "we are ready."

    And the Education Secretary added that schools will stay open after the Easter break come what may.

    Ministers are braced for a surge in the virus “R” rate due to kids mixing in classrooms once again, but Gavin Williamson said Monday's return must be “irreversible.”

    Thanking teachers and parents for six weeks of home-schooling and efforts getting ready to return, the PM declared: “I’m very hopeful that it will work, it will all go according to plan.”

  • Sarah Grealish

    SCHOOLS TO STAY OPEN EVEN IF R RATE RISES

    A HEALTH chief says schools should remain open even if the R rate rises – because the Covid vaccine is cutting the link between surging cases and deaths.

    Public Health England's Dr Susan Hopkins, a leading Government adviser, was quizzed this morning on whether kids heading back to class tomorrow will cause R to rise.

    And she acknowledged cases could spike – but said schools shouldn't close again.

    "We will watch and wait and look carefully," she told the BBC's Andrew Marr. "That's why we're doing so much testing.

    "It's to try and find those cases that may have asymptomatic infections, and so reduce the risk of transmissions in and around the school environment and keep the R rate at the lowest rate possible."

  • Sarah Grealish

    WHICH AGE GROUPS WILL BE ASKED TO WEAR MASKS?

    Secondary school pupils and teachers are now asked to wear face coverings in classrooms and areas where it is not possible to socially distance. That means older pupils are likely to be in masks for much of the day.

    Official guidance from the Department for Education states that "no pupil should be denied education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering".

    But Schools Minister Nick Gibbs said masks are "highly recommended".

    No requirement is in place for primary schools, although teachers have been advised to wear masks "where possible".

    Education Secretary Gavin Williamson this morning backed the measure, and said children deserve credit for their efforts to keep friends and family safe.

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