Easing the lockdown: Schools reopening

See below information on schools reopening in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales following the COVID-19 lockdown.

England

Primary schools have been able to open more widely since 1 June for nursery, Reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils.

Secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges have been able to open more widely since 15 June to offer some face-to-face support for year 10 and year 12 students (and equivalents) that are due to take key exams next year. Schools can take a maximum of a quarter of their year 10 and year 12 cohorts.

On 23 June the Prime Minister announced that primary and secondary education will recommence in September with full attendance.

The latest government guidance for schools in England is available here.

The government has also updated its safety information for people working in schools.

Northern Ireland

The start of term will be 24 August 2020 for Primary 7, Year 12 and Year 14 pupils and for vulnerable children across all year groups. Schools will be opening from the week commencing 17 August 2020 for preparation purposes. All other pupils will return at normal start dates, which may vary depending on school.

Schools are advised to use a planning assumption of 2m social distancing for adults/ adults and the pupils they are working with and 1m between pupils and, where possible, further mitigate that by use of protective bubbles. The Executive has decided that this applies to all year groups within a school setting, including pupils in years 11-14.

See the Northern Ireland Department of Education latest updates and a set of frequently asked questions about the Northern Ireland schools restart programme.

Scotland

On 24 June First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced key indicative dates in Scotland’s phased move out of lockdown. All dates are subject to review, and are dependent on continued suppression of coronavirus in Scotland.

The social distancing minimum of 2m will remain in force in Scotland. The First Minister has committed to review this rule in July.

The Scottish Deputy First Minister announced on 23 June that school pupils will return to class full-time in August. This is conditional on infection rates being sufficiently low to continue to control the virus, public health and testing systems being in place, and protective measures and risk assessments being carried out in schools.

The ‘blended’ learning model is now only to be implemented as a contingency measure in case of future restrictions and lockdowns in the event of new outbreaks of coronavirus.

See the Scottish government non-statutory guidance for local authorities and schools in their planning for a safe, phased opening in August 2020.

Wales

Social distancing in Wales remains unchanged for adults at present: the 2m rule is still in force, but there are some differences for children in schools.

Schools in Wales will re-open to more pupils to ‘check in, catch up and prepare' for summer and September’ from 29 June, as part of the next phase of education and childcare in Wales.

Welsh government guidance
for primary schools states ‘that it is not practicable to expect learners to maintain consistent social distancing of two metres. Staff should however seek to ensure some distancing between learners.’ For secondary school aged children ‘…wherever possible, schools and (educational) settings should seek to ensure social distancing of two metres.’

See the Welsh government’s latest guidance on schools reopening.

The ISM’s view on schools reopening

We support the wider opening of schools at the earliest opportunity, provided it is safe to do so.

  • There are still risks to consider. The recent measures announced regarding the easing of lockdown across the UK have raised concerns of a resulting increase in COVID-19 infections.
  • There is continuing concern about social distancing measures and how they will be applied across the four nations. There is still concern about the lack of personal protective equipment, and uncertainty about whether children can transmit COVID-19 to adults.
  • The importance of risk assessments in schools

    An employer has a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. In order to do so, an employer must carry out a risk assessment, in line with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance.

    In brief:

  • All employers with five or more employees must undertake a specific COVID-19 risk assessment.
  • Risk assessments must be shared with all staff and their representatives before any individual can be required to return to work.
  • Risk assessments must be suitably specific for music teaching, and take account of risks arising from particular circumstances, eg for choirs and singing, wind ensembles etc. Music staff must be involved in preparing these risk assessments.
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides protections for individuals raising or acting on health and safety concerns. The ISM will seek to enforce these provisions on behalf of members.
  • No individual teacher, whatever their relationship with a school or educational establishment, should be penalised or suffer any detriment for raising or acting on health and safety concerns.This means that your employer must identify and assess the risk – specifically deciding how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how serious it could be; put in place measures to control the risk; record the findings and review the control making any changes if necessary.

    Your employer must consult with you or trade unions on health and safety matters.

    Specifically, they should consult you on how the risk assessment has been or will be carried out, the outcome, and what measures will be put in place to prevent the risk of infection during your teaching.

    Ask your employer to tell you what steps have been taken to comply with Health and Safety legislation and the most recent guidance issued by the Government on working safely during Coronavirus.

    You should also ask your employer:

  • whether they have carried out a health and safety check on the school’s premises, including the music room
  • if you are a singing or wind instrument teacher you should also ask whether specific assessment has been carried out on the risk of infection in connection with your teaching, taking into account the lay out of the music room
  • what cleaning and hygiene arrangement have been planned
  • what communications have been made to parents
    when these measures will be put in place
  • what arrangements have been put in place to eliminate the risk of infection during music lessons specifically in terms of:

    • social distancing
    • ventilation
    • protective equipment
    • group lessons
    • timetable

    If your employer has not taken any or insufficient steps, you should notify your concerns and their shortcoming in the employer’s protection arrangements. Employees and, in some cases, workers have the right not to be dismissed or treated detrimentally where they raise health and safety concerns.

    If you or your colleagues are our members and have concerns about any of this please contact us at [email protected]m.org

  • Research into transmission risks of different musical activities

    There is already research being undertaken into the risks posed by different types of sound production and physical activities associated with making music of various kinds.

    Singing and choirs are receiving a great deal of attention, not least because of the importance of singing within a school music setting, but also in terms of community activities as well as professional music-making involving singers.

    It is fair to say that at this stage the evidence around transmission risks in various types of musical activity is incomplete, inconclusive and in some instances contradictory.

    We are closely following developments in this area. We cannot offer formal advice at this stage given that research is still in its early days, but we aim to keep members informed about the issues involved. We will be developing resources on this shortly.

    Meanwhile please be aware that any reference to current thinking on musical activities and safety practices in this note do not constitute advice and you should not rely on them as such.

    What happens now (from a VMT’s point of view)

    Guidance to education settings across the four nations is frequently updated, so do check our COVID-19 advice hub for the latest information.

    Meanwhile specific risk assessments should be carried out for music teaching.

    A VMT would normally teach in more than one educational setting and get in touch with a variety of groups of children outside the 'protective bubbles' set up within each school in accordance with the guidance.

    Secondly, recent scientific research suggests that breathing activity during singing and blowing instruments presents an increased risk of infection. This research indicates that a minimum distance of two metres should be kept at all times during music lessons and be accompanied by other measures, specifically:

    making music in very large rooms, such as concert halls or church rooms, or playing and, or singing outdoor if possible

  • ventilation breaks of 15 minutes between the individual students
  • limiting the number of people in a room
  • time limits for new contacts
  • wearing respiratory and nasal protection for the teacher, and the pupil
  • if the handling of the protection is safe
  • use of plastic partitions

    However, data and evidence from other research questioned whether the two-metre distance would be effective to prevent the risk of infections for singers and players within choirs, ensembles or big bands.

    As noted above, there is still much work to be done in this area by scientists and we will update our information frequently, as developments arise.
  • Contact the ISM

    If you are an ISM member and uncertain about what to do please call the ISM at 020 7221 3499 or write to [email protected] with your concerns. We will assist you in dealing with your employer.

    Updated: 26 June 2020