The start of the academic year isn’t far away now, and all children and young people in Devon will be required to go back to school, but things will be a little different to normal this year.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this autumn term might feel especially strange or worrying, and for many children it will be their first time back in the classroom since lockdown began or indeed their first day at school ever.
Our schools are experienced at managing risk, and Devon County Council have been working with them to make lots of changes in line with government guidelines to help keep staff, children and their families safe.
Going to school is an essential part of a child’s social, emotional and academic development and, for them, the benefits greatly outweigh the risk posed by coronavirus.
Here are some useful information resources to help you and your child prepare for September, including what safety measures will be in place, changes to school transport and how to support your child’s mental health.
- Why are all children going back to school?
- School return dates
- Safety measures in schools
- School transport and travelling safely
- Tips to help your child prepare
- Supporting your child’s mental health
- Changes to breakfast, after school and holiday clubs
- Free school meals and funding
- 30 hours funded childcare
- Useful resources
For all the latest advice and guidance on the return to school, please see Devon County Council’s coronavirus advice page.
The government’s plan is that all children and young people, in all year groups, will return to school and college full time from the beginning of the autumn term.
This is because the prevalence of coronavirus (COVID-19) has decreased since schools and colleges restricted their opening in March. The NHS Test and Trace service is up and running and it is now understood about the measures that need to be in place to create safer environments in schools.
It’s really important for children and young people that they return to school and college, for their educational progress, wellbeing, and wider development. So, school and college attendance will again be mandatory from the beginning of the new academic year. That means there’s a legal duty for parents and carers of compulsory school-age to send their child to school regularly.
Where children are not able to attend school because parents are following medical and/or public health advice, their absence will not be penalised.
Teachers and staff have been working hard to implement the necessary steps so they can welcome all pupils back in the autumn term. However, it’s important to note that this year all pupils may not be asked to return on the first day of term. Some schools may ask pupils to return one year group or class at a time so that they can get used to any new arrangements.
All children should have been given a return date within the first two weeks of term, though there may be a few exceptional cases. Your school will have told you about the plans they have made for pupils to return; you may have had this information directly from the school, or it will be published on their website.
If you have not received information from your school, please contact them directly.
Each school will have their own arrangements and will let you know about the measures they have put in place to help keep everyone safe. This could include:
- introducing a one-way system
- marking the floor to support social distancing
- putting up signs to remind everyone to wash their hands and cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing
- creating ‘bubbles’ or groups of children and teachers by class, or year group
- having different start and finish times, break times and mealtimes throughout the day to manage the flow of children through the school.
The government have also published guidance for parents and carers, which sets out how everyone can help make schools and colleges as safe as possible.
Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) should also refer to the separate guidance for full opening of special schools and other specialist settings.
If you have concerns about your child returning to school or college, because you consider they may have other risk factors, please do not hesitate to discuss with your school or college.
The government has produced school transport guidelines for when all pupils return in September. Devon County Council have been working with schools, colleges and transport operators to help them plan for this and have also created their own guidelines.
Social distancing guidance applies to passengers on public transport, but not to passengers on dedicated school transport, (which are not open to the general public). This is because the government believes the overall risk to children and young people from coronavirus is low; they do not mix with the general public on those journeys, and the home to school transport carries the same group of students and young people on a regular basis.
To help keep everyone as safe as possible, we’re asking pupils aged 11 years old and over to wear a face covering when travelling on school transport, unless they are exempt from wearing one.
Children will also be asked to sit in their year groups on larger vehicles wherever possible, with the youngest students sat at the front. Schools can draw up seating arrangements if they wish, and to be on hand at the end of the school day to assist students.
We’re also providing around 70 extra buses across the county at peak times, which will be dedicated to school and college students, so there’s extra capacity for social distancing measures on public services. Full details of these additional services can be found on our Travel Devon website.
More information on home to school transport in light of COVID-19 is available on the Devon County Council website.
Walking and cycling
Walking or cycling has always been a great way to get to school and now with social distancing measures reducing the capacity of public transport, the government is encouraging parents and children and young people to walk or cycle wherever possible.
Bikeability has some really useful information including tips for cycling safely during the coronavirus pandemic and cycling skills for families.
National charity ‘Cycling UK’ has advice on starting cycling, and their website is packed with tips and videos for beginners and more experienced cyclists on riding in traffic, family cycling, fixing bikes and much more.
Devon County Council have published this advice about the new guidance on the use of face coverings in educational settings.
Starting a new school year can be a worrying time for any child, let alone during a global pandemic, and while the prospect of going to school in September will be exciting for many pupils, some might feel anxious. That’s perfectly normal. Lots of children will feel the same way.
Start to talk to your child about the daily routine that they were once so familiar with. It doesn’t have to start as a conversation about worries, but these might arise as you talk. These discussions are often good to have while you are doing something else, like playing with Lego, drawing, cooking or travelling in the car rather than sitting face-to-face as that can feel quite intense.
Talking about the things your child is looking forward to is another way of exploring any worries they may have. The Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Time for Us’ pack to help manage those worries.
You could go through some of the changes they may expect at school and think about ways they can re-establish their connections with friends and teachers.
Reassure children about safety measures in place to keep them safe, and remind them that they can also help prevent germs spreading by washing their hands with soap; coughing or sneezing into their elbow and giving everyone extra space.
Above all, it’s really important to focus on the positives. Asking what they enjoy about school and what they’re looking forward to is a good way to start.
Schools can offer breakfast, after school and holiday clubs if they are able to. They will need to meet the guidance on protective measures so may need to run clubs differently to usual and it will rely on staff availability. Please contact your child’s school or look at their website for details.
Out of school settings (such as holiday clubs) can open to children and young people of all ages if they can meet the guidelines, which are outlined on the government’s website.
All children automatically get free school meals if they’re in reception class, year 1 and year 2.
If you get certain benefits, your child can get free school meals even if they aren’t in these year groups. To make a quick application, where your eligibility can be assessed and an outcome given instantly, visit the Free School Meal Portal.
Any child that is found to be eligible for free school meals will also attract additional funding for their school, this is known as pupil premium funding, which can be used to support your child in school or with the costs of uniforms or trips. Pupil premium funding can’t be paid directly to parents or carers, but it makes a big difference to schools and eligible pupils.
If you wish to apply for free school meals or pupil premium, you must carry out a free school meal application via the Citizen’s Portal (link as above).
- The Children’s Commissioner has produced a guide aimed at answering children’s questions about coronavirus, informing them on how to stay safe and protect other people and how to help them make the best of their time at home.
- Mencap has produced an easy read information sheet about coronavirus. This would be particularly useful for children, young people or adults whose understanding is improved with visuals and when information is given in bitesize chunks.
- e-Bug is a free educational resource for classroom and home use and makes learning about micro-organisms, the spread, prevention and treatment of infection fun and accessible for all teachers and students.
- NHS Every Mind Matters website has lots of useful information about looking after your children’s mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Young Minds offers advice about mental health for children and young people up to the age of 25. They also have a Parent Helpline on 0808 802 5544.
- Childline offers a confidential telephone counselling service, so your child can speak to someone anonymously. They can call 0800 1111 any time, free of charge, have an online chat with a counsellor, check out the Childline message boards.