The summer holidays have flown past and the start of the academic year is just around the corner.
As COVID-19 becomes a virus that we learn to live with, the government has said it is vital to reduce the disruption to children and young people’s education.
Devon County Council has gathered some useful information resources in this bulletin to help you and your child prepare for September.
When does term start?
The autumn term in Devon officially starts on Monday 6 September 2021.
However, check with your school as they choose their own training days and the return dates may be different for different year groups to allow new starters to get settled in.
The exact date your child should return to school should be available on your school’s website.
Start of term COVID-19 testing
Regular rapid COVID-19 testing remains important to identify infections early and reduce transmission. As your child will potentially have mixed with lots of other people during the summer holidays, the government wants secondary school pupils and college students to receive two on-site lateral flow device tests, three to five days apart, on their return for the autumn turn. Most secondary schools in Devon are offering on-site testing, but please check with your school to understand their local arrangements.
Your school or college may commence testing from three working days before the start of term and can stagger your child’s return across the first week to manage this. Your child should then continue to test twice weekly at home until the end of September, when this will be reviewed.
Secondary schools and colleges will also have a small on-site testing facility in case your child is unable to test themselves at home.
There is no need for primary age pupils to test over the summer period. Children starting secondary school as a new year 7 will be offered the two tests at the beginning of the autumn term when they start.
Attendance is mandatory for all pupils of compulsory school age. This means it’s your legal duty as a parent or carer to send your child to school regularly if they are registered at one. If you have concerns about your child attending, you should discuss these with your school or college.
Based on new research, the government advice is that all children and young people previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable should attend their education setting unless they are one of the very small number who have been advised by their clinician or other specialist not to attend.
Remote education and home learning
The government has said that schools should provide remote education for children who are unable to attend because they have tested positive for COVID-19 and need to self-isolate, but are well enough to learn from home.
You can find out about your school’s remote education offer on their website or by contacting your child’s school directly. Please also speak to them if your child does not have access to a device or the internet.
Guidance is available to help you support your child while they are learning from home.
Helping make education settings as safe as possible
Our nurseries, schools and colleges are experienced at managing risk and are now well-practiced at keeping staff, children and their families safe in line with COVID-19 guidelines.
If you have concerns, please discuss these with them. They will be able to explain the protective measures they are using to help keep everyone safe.
Mixing and ‘bubbles’
The government has said it is no longer necessary to keep children in consistent groups (‘bubbles’) or to keep groups apart as much as possible. This means that assemblies and larger group activities can resume.
However, Devon, alongside Plymouth, Torbay, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, is now designated an ‘enhanced response area’ because of the relatively high case rates of coronavirus across the four authority areas. Therefore Public Health Devon will monitor the situation in schools and may introduce steps to reduce risk of outbreak in Devon schools.
The government has removed the legal requirement to wear face coverings but expects and recommends that they are worn in enclosed and crowded spaces where you may come into contact with people you don’t normally meet. This includes public transport and dedicated transport to school or college.
In addition, Devon, alongside Plymouth, Torbay, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, has been designated an ‘enhanced response area’ because the case rates of coronavirus across those authority areas is still relatively high. Because of that designation, school pupils and staff in secondary schools and colleges only are being asked to wear face coverings in communal/shared spaces, such as corridors and canteens, unless exempt. This requirement does not extend to the classroom.
Some further education courses, such as vocational training, healthcare-related courses and the performing arts may pose particular risks transmission and may therefore implement face coverings, ventilation or cleaning in accordance with guidance issued for the relevant professional working arrangements.
Your child must comply with guidance on working safely if they work in commercial training environments such as hairdressing, barbering and beauty salons, sports and fitness facilities or restaurants and external catering.
Contact tracing and self-isolation
If your child has symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive they must self isolate immediately – do not send them to nursery, school or college.
Please inform your school if your child tests positive for coronavirus.
NHS Test and Trace will work with the positive case and/or their parents to identify close contacts.
If someone you live with has symptoms of COVID-19, or has tested positive, you don’t need to self-isolate if any of the following apply:
- you’re fully vaccinated – this means 14 days have passed since your final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine given by the NHS
- you’re under 18 years, 6 months old
- you’re taking part or have taken part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial
- you’re not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons
Instead, NHS Test and Trace will inform affected individuals, children or their parents or carers that they have been in close contact with a positive case, and advise them to take a PCR test.
Financial support to care for a child who is self-isolating
You may be eligible for a one-off Test and Trace Support Payment of £500 if your child has been advised to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or their education/ childcare setting.
To be eligible, you must be either:
- the parent or carer of a child that is aged 15 years old and under
- the parent or carer of a young person aged 16 to 25 years old with an education health and care plan
You also need to meet the eligibility criteria which includes being on a low income, being unable to work from home or having to take time off work to care for a child who is self-isolating.
You will need evidence that your child has been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.
Free school meals
Many families in Devon have seen their financial circumstances change due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If you didn’t previously qualify for free school meals but your income has reduced or stopped, please apply online through our website to check if you are eligible for this support as soon as possible. Alternatively, please call our education helpline on 0345 155 1019.
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.
Exams and assessments
It is the government’s intention that exams will go ahead in summer 2022. Exams and assessments for vocational and technical qualifications will take place, in line with the latest Public Health England guidelines, throughout the next academic year.
The government has announced a number of programmes and activities to support children and young people to make up their learning as a result of the pandemic.
Contact your child’s school or college to find out more about the support that is available.
Holidays and travel abroad
You should plan your holidays within school and college holidays as usual and avoid seeking permission to take your children out of school or college during term time. You should make sure any travel is in line with national travel guidance.
Keep in mind that you and your children may need to self-isolate when you return from a trip overseas. Any self-isolation should also fall within the school or college holidays.
Elective home education
If you are considering home education due to concerns around safety, you can discuss this with your school.
If you currently home educate your child but would like to send them to school, find out how to apply for a school place.
Schools are not required to provide any support to parents who have withdrawn their child for elective home education. We provide support and guidance to families in Devon who elect to home educate through our partner organisation, Babcock.
Further information is also available on the government’s website.
Mental health and wellbeing
Some children and young people may be experiencing feelings of anxiety, stress or low mood as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is completely normal and there are lots of online resources available to help you support your child:
- MindEd is a free educational resource on children and young people’s mental health
- Every Mind Matters is an online tool and email journey to support everyone in taking action to look after their mental health and wellbeing
- the Department for Education blog includes mental health resources for children, parents, carers and school staff
- Public Health England’s advice and guidance for parents and professionals includes actions you can take to support your child
- 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 free confidential telephone service on 0800 1111 or online chat.
- Think Ninja is a free app for 10 to 18 year olds to help build resilience and stay well
- Children and young people can get free, confidential support at any time by texting SHOUT to 85258 or calling The Mix on 0808 808 4994
Public Health England has also launched new e-learning which can help parents and carers to support their children and young people in emergency or crisis situations.
On your bike!
Walking or cycling is a great way to get to school. Travel Devon has some top tips for cycling to school on their website where you can also find maps of local cycling routes.
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.
Don’t forget to apply for free childcare
Working parents with three and four year olds could get up to 30 hours funded childcare. You’ll need to apply now to claim from September. If you’re already claiming, don’t forget to reconfirm your eligibility every three months. Check the government website for full eligibility criteria to find out if you can claim.
All parents get up to 15 hours funded childcare per week for their three and four year olds.
You could also access funded childcare for your two year old if you receive certain benefits or they have an Education, Health and Care Plan.
A few final tips for helping your child prepare for school
Starting a new school year can be a worrying time for any child, let alone after the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic over the last 18 months.
While the prospect of going to school in September will be exciting for many pupils, some might feel anxious. That’s perfectly normal and lots of children will feel the same way.