All primary and secondary school students will start to return to classrooms from the beginning of next week, with physical distancing rules relaxed in secondary schools and removed altogether for primary school children.
Under new arrangements announced by the Education Minister today, from Monday (22 June) children and students from nursery age up to Year 12 will return to school in a staggered approach.
It’s hoped that all primary school children will be back in school full-time by the end of June.
All primary school year groups, from Nursery to Year 5 classes - including Year 6 who have already returned - will attend on specified days throughout the week.
It is recommended that the first year groups to return to secondary school will be students who are in transition – e.g Year 9 going into Year 10, Year 11 going into Year 12. Arrangements will also be made for those in Year 11 and 13 who are leaving school.
Pictured: Minister for Education Senator Tracey Vallois.
However, the specific order and frequency of return for each year group will be decided by each individual school.
Special schools are also making their own arrangements given the particular challenges they face.
The Minister, Senator Tracey Vallois, confirmed that each institution will be communicating their own plans to parents and students ahead of next week. Speaking during a media briefing following the announcement, the Senator explained how the 'bubbling' system allows for a safer return to schools.
In response to a question from Express, Senator Vallois said: "If we were to return, for example, a whole school going back; every school going back on Monday and there were to be a number of identified symptomatic individuals that were tested positive, you’d have to close the whole schools down and ensure that contact tracing and the testing was in place to ensure that we're not spreading further within the community. The idea behind this is to reduce that spread. Whereas if you've got the bubbles and the requirements around the one-metre physical distancing it of course reduces that need to close the whole school down."
New advice from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell (STAC) states that all students should return to school as soon as practicable, and that a two-metre physical distance and a 20-person limit no longer needs to be enforced in a school environment.
The announcement brings with it updated guidance when it comes to physical distancing amongst children and young people.
The STAC has advised that primary school children no longer need to physically distance as the expert medical review has concluded that there is growing evidence that children are not so-called ‘super spreaders’ and that risk of transmission from children is low. It comes after Deputy Medical Officer of Health Dr Ivan Muscat admitted that school closures did "not have a particular impact" on the spread of covid in the island.
‘Bubbles’ or small groups of children can also now increase to full primary class sizes. It was clarified during the briefing that whilst children in primary schools don't need to distance from one another, adults must distance themselves from the children by at least one metre where possible and two metres in certain circumstances.
Pictured: It's now thought that children aren't 'super spreaders' and therefore don't have to distance from each other.
As for secondary school students, they will need to distance at one metre rather than two so they will have to return in smaller than class size groups from next week.
Private nurseries, childminders and nannies will also be able to welcome back more children, in accordance with public health guidelines.
Commenting on the announcement, Senator Vallois said: “The clear and welcome message from STAC is that children, education and wider wellbeing must come first and that an extended absence from school will only lead to negative effects on mental health of both children and parents.
“Indeed, the evidence continues to grow that the harm in not returning to school outweighs the evidence of risk to harm of covid-19 by returning to school."
She continued: “I have asked headteachers and principals to communicate their plans directly to parents, carers, pupils and students as they know their schools best and I accept that each school will be different in how it manages this return. I realise that some schools may have to do things differently and stagger the return on different dates, particularly secondary schools where they have more students moving around classrooms.
“I expect all primary school children to be back in school full-time by the end of June, and all secondary school students to have meaningful time in school prior to the start of the summer break.”
Elsewhere during the briefing, Director General for Children, Young People, Education and Skills (CYPES) Mark Rogers told Express that there are currently no plans to introduce universal surveillance testing for students, due to the low risk it appears they present in terms of transmitting the virus.
He also explained that, currently, any school staff who have been shielding are currently reviewing their situation with their managers to establish whether they can return to work. Mr Rogers said: "All staff who have a level of vulnerability are being asked to review their vulnerability with their line manager and make an assessment as to whether they need to continue to work from home or actually, with advice, also perhaps from a GP they might be able to find them working back in the school environment again.
"So, it’s a classic case of at this moment in time there’s a process underway to determine the extent to which staff who have presently been shielding or working from home anyway because they’ve been delivering the online curriculum we are going through a process to understand exactly who can come back into the school environment and that process will become clearer as we go through this week and into next week."
In terms of managing pastoral care services and Special Educational Needs support at schools whilst observing distancing, Group Director for Education Seán O'Regan told Express that schools will be taking cues from colleagues in special schools, which have been open throughout the pandemic.
"We look to our colleagues in our special schools in Mont a L’Abbé and La Sente who have been open throughout and have got a great deal of learning so our Head of Inclusion has distilled all the learning from the special school to give formal advice to SEN colleagues working in mainstream schools so that they could best support the students as we return to school and keep safe in so doing."
Since the announcement, schools have started posting their plans for reopening and communicating with parents. Haute Vallée has issued initial advice about how it plans to phase their return.
Jersey College for Girls has also said that students can use a different route to get to school to allow for distancing.
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