6 unanswered questions about schools reopening

6 unanswered questions about schools reopening

Today's announcement that all students will return to school in England on 8 March has left teachers, students and parents with questions about what to expect this term.

Here are the most pressing issues that the education sector still needs answers on:

One major change is that secondary school students will now be expected to wear masks in classrooms as well as in communal areas.

The first worry here is that this might be a challenge in terms of behaviour. 

In addition to this, we also need to know how teachers will be able to mitigate the impact on children for whom masks make communication difficult, such as those with special educational needs, and English as an additional language. 

In January, millions of tests were delivered to schools, but they've only been used on a small number of students so far, due to the lockdown.

Now, from 8 March, all secondary students will be offered three tests in school, three to five days apart (before moving to home testing). Students cannot return to lessons until they have had a negative result. The logistical issues of this are clear.

There are alsoreservations about how effective these lateral flow tests are, and Public Health England previously recommended to the Department for Education that they couldn't be used for those who have been in close contact with a positive case. 

An extra 1.7 million people have been added to the shielding list this year. The government has said that they can attend school, but what will schools do to protect these teachers and support staff?

We do know that the new guidance says staff who are clinically vulnerable can continue to attend school, and, likewise, those who live with critically vulnerable and extremely critically vulnerable people can also attend.

However, for those who are told to shield but make the decision to carry on working, will extra protection be offered?

The rollout of laptops to students who do not have access to a device at home has been slow-moving, and, as it stands, thousands of laptops will arrive after all children will be back at school.

What can schools do to continue to bridge the digital divide for students? How will these laptops continue to be useful, and who will shoulder the ongoing costs of maintaining them in the future?

Even without exams, we know that we will have to test and assess students in order to give teacher-assessed grades.

But will there be optional or compulsory "mini exams"? When will students know their grades? How will appeals be managed?

The consultation on proposals for assessment this year closed on 29 January, and we are still waiting to hear the outcome.

Although the prime minister made the point that the return to school is important for the wellbeing of students, how much of the catch-up funding will be dedicated to supporting mental health?

We know that some students will need extra support as they return, but without more funding to provide this, the pressure on already stretched mental health services will only increase.

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