Students will be returning to schools in England from March 8, after over two months of remote learning in lockdown.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the dates for schools reopening on Monday, February 22 as part of the government’s presentation of a “roadmap” out of lockdown.
Schools and safe social contact with loved ones are being prioritised in the easing of lockdown, with the reopening of schools marking the first stage of reopening the country.
Will all schools in the UK be reopening at the same time?
In England, a nationwide approach is being taken to the reopening of schools, given coronavirus infection rates are relatively similar across the country.
Younger pupils in Wales have returned to classrooms, but older pupils may not be back in schools until after Easter.
Scotland has also taken a staggered approach to the return of pupils, with some younger pupils and pupils needing to do practical work for qualifications back in school while others are still at home
Northern Ireland will see some younger pupils return from March 8, while students in key exam years will return on March 22.
While the Prime Minister confirmed that all students in England would be returning from March 8, including college students, it’s possible that the return of secondary and college pupils may be slightly staggered due to the logistics of setting up testing - now required for these students.
What rules will pupils have to follow at school?
In order to keep the spread of coronavirus under control, the government has made it a requirement for secondary school and college aged students to take rapid coronavirus tests at home twice a week after being tested three times in school during the first two weeks back.
Pupils will be tested before going back into face-to-face teaching, and will be asked to isolate if they receive a positive result.
Students at primary schools won’t be required to take rapid coronavirus tests, but staff at these schools will take two tests a week at home.
In addition to new rules on testing, students at secondary schools and colleges will be advised to wear face masks in all areas of the school including classrooms if social distancing cannot be maintained.
This rule will stay in place until at least Easter in an attempt to keep infection rates down.
Once schools return, attendance will be mandatory, with penalty fines levied if children are not back in school.
Naturally, this will not apply where children are obliged to self-isolate or cannot come into school for other valid reasons.
Is it safe for schools to return?
In a press conference hosted on Monday, February 22, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:
"All the evidence shows that schools are safe and the risk posed to children by Covid is vanishingly small”.
"But to offer even greater reassurance we're introducing twice weekly testing of secondary school and college pupils and asking them to wear face coverings for the rest of this term."
Some, like Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, have expressed concern over the en-masse return of pupils to schools, saying it "runs the risk of increasing the rate of infection and prolonging the damaging cycle of stop-start schooling".
UK chief medical adviser Chris Whitty, however, stressed that the risks posed by the return of children to school were small:
"Everything is strongly in favour of children, whether primary or secondary, going to school - and the data on that I think are unambiguous”, he said.