Pupils asked to clean desks and wear face masks in corridors as schools reopen

Pupils will still be expected to clean their desks and wear face coverings in corridors as classes resume, a leading private school headteacher has said.

As children return to school to a relaxation of Covid-19 safety measures, Samantha Price, president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), said the sector returns with “phased caution”.

It comes after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) decided against recommending Covid-19 vaccines for all 12 to 15-year-olds.

Meanwhile, experts warned last month that it is “highly likely” there will be large levels of coronavirus infection in schools by the end of September.

Mrs Price, headteacher of Benenden School in Kent, said: “We are going to continue with cleaning desks after lessons and asking students to do that because I think that’s reassuring for teachers, but it’s also reassuring for cleaners who are going into those rooms as well.”

“In our school we are going to ask students to wear masks in corridors and in public areas and obviously there’s still going to be testing,” she added.

In the event of an outbreak, the school could revert to “bubbles” or more physical distancing between teachers and pupils if needed, Mrs Price said.

But as she took up her new post as GSA president, she added that measures could be relaxed by the end of September if there is no surge in cases.

“I think there’s a degree of caution across all schools while recognising that we want to operate the schools as normally as we can, and it’s a sort of phased caution as well,” Mrs Price said.

Pupils across England and Wales have been returning to class after the summer holidays, and schools in Northern Ireland have reopened.

Schools in Scotland returned more than a fortnight ago and the reopening is believed to have contributed to a rise in cases there.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Schools and colleges will have decided on policies which they feel best reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission in their context.

“Government guidance says face coverings are no longer advised, but this does not prevent schools from making decisions about their continued use in communal areas, and some may decide this is a prudent measure which is supported by the school community.

“A certain degree of caution is hardly surprising given the bitter experience of the past 18 months, when many schools and colleges have had to cope with two periods of partial closure and large numbers of pupils self-isolating at other times, and with the continued uncertainty about the risks posed by coronavirus this term.”

Samantha Price
Samantha Price, head of Benenden School in Kent (Adam Scott & Benenden School/PA)

Schools in England no longer have to keep pupils in year group “bubbles” to reduce mixing and face coverings are no longer advised.

Children do not have to isolate if they come into contact with a positive case of Covid-19. Instead, they will need to get a PCR test and isolate only if positive.

But all secondary school and college pupils are being invited to take two lateral flow tests at school, three to five days apart, in England on their return.

Schools and colleges are being encouraged to maintain increased hygiene and ventilation, and secondary school and college pupils in England have been asked to continue to test twice weekly at home.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “Schools leaders and their teams are really looking forward to welcoming pupils back this week, having worked hard over the summer to create a safe and happy environment for learning.”

But he added: “The warnings from scientists about a potential rise in cases when schools return mean that it is essential the Government responds rapidly should the data suggest it is necessary to implement additional safety measures in schools.

“In the past the response has simply been too slow – we must not see a return of that this year.

“School leaders will continue to work extremely hard to keep schools as safe as possible, but they will need support and clear direction from central government and local public health teams to do so.

“Poor quality and inadequate guidance remains a major concern for school leaders.”

Mike Hobday, director of policy and campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), said: “Reintroducing face masks, even in corridors, would add to the huge difficulties deaf students have experienced during the pandemic.

“It would make lip reading impossible, meaning they could miss out on learning and social opportunities and be left lonely and isolated.

“Deaf children’s needs should be considered whenever any decisions are made about the reintroduction of face masks, whether by the Government or individual schools.”