Pupils in England are to return to schools in September for the new term following six months of closure due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Parents have been urged to ensure that all children attend when the new term starts this week, with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warning they risk a “huge dent in their future life chances” if they continue to stay at home.
But is it safe for children to go back to classrooms? Here’s what you need to know about the new safety rules that will be put in place.
What are the new safety rules?
A number of new safety measures are to be implemented in schools when children return in September to keep the risks of coronavirus transmission down.
In classrooms, all desks are to be arranged to face forward to prevent children from sitting opposite each other, thereby reducing the spread of infection, and social distancing up to two metres should be followed wherever possible.
Windows and doors should be kept open where possible to enhance air flow, and increased handwashing facilities and hand sanitiser should be made available.
Shared equipment, such as books and games, should be avoided between different classes, while thorough cleaning regimes will be in place.
Assemblies, collective worship and choirs will be banned, due to the increased risk of infection posed by singing and shouting, while music lessons are to be restricted to groups of less than 15.
PE lessons will continue as normal, although outdoor sports should be prioritised and all equipment must be regularly cleaned.
As for corridors and communal areas, one-way systems will be introduced in many schools to help limit contact and pupils will have staggered start times for both lessons and breaks.
Children will be required to eat their lunch in classrooms rather than in the dining hall, including those who get school meals.
No school trips will be allowed while coronavirus rules are in place and all extra curricular activities and sports are to be banned.
Parents are also not allowed to enter the school for assemblies or concerts, and should avoid gathering at the school gates to collect their children.
Do children have to wear masks?
In England, face masks will be required to be worn in secondary schools that are within areas under local lockdown restrictions.
Secondary schools that are not in local lockdown areas may also ask pupils to wear masks, but this is not mandatory.
The wearing of masks in schools only applies when moving around corridors and communal spaces, but they do not have to be worn in classrooms.
The requirement for face masks will take effect on 1 September and does not apply to primary school pupils.
What happens if there’s an outbreak?
If a school has more than two coronavirus cases in two weeks, or there has been an increase in the number of pupils off sick with potential coronavirus, schools will have to declare an outbreak.
Any pupils who have been in close contact with a pupil with coronavirus will have to self-isolate at home, which in some cases could extend to a whole year group. However, the school will not be required to close unless advised to do so by local health authorities.
Schools have also been given a small number of home testing kits to supply to parents who may not be able to get their children tested.
Will parents be fined for not sending children to school?
Attendance at school will now be mandatory from September, with parents facing a potential fine if they keep their children at home.
Local authorities can fine parents £60, which rises to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days.
If the fine is not paid after 28 days, parents could be prosecuted which could lead to a fine of up to £2,500.