Schools looking forward to welcoming learners in September

Schools across Rhondda Cynon Taf are looking forward to welcoming pupils back to school for the beginning of the 2020/21 academic year, starting with a phased return of learners from Thursday, September 3. 

On July 9, Welsh Government announced all pupils will return to school from September 2020, subject to the circumstances in relation to the Coronavirus national emergency. The latest scientific advice is that the risk to children of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 is very low. Also, the Welsh Technical Advisory Group reports that transmission in children aged 12 and under is low, with emerging evidence showing limited child-to-child transmission too.

The Council has previously confirmed its local ‘back to school’ arrangements – designating September 1 and September 2 as days for schools to plan and prepare, before the first groups of pupils return on Thursday, September 3. Individual schools will decide which groups will be initially prioritised, while all learners will return to school by Thursday, September 10.

All schools have received updated Local Authority guidance to ensure that a consistent approach to this next phase in education is adopted. This has been informed by Welsh Government’s own Operational Guidance, available here. The Council has recently updated its detailed list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for parents, carers and pupils – which is available to view available online at www.rctcbc.gov.uk/SchoolReturnFAQs.

In accordance with local and national guidance, local schools will return to their full capacity, with a focus placed on minimising social interaction by placing children in contact groups. In primary schools, contact groups will be class sizes. For Key Stage 3, contact groups will be class sizes where possible, but in cases where this is challenging, larger-sized contact groups of half a year or full year groups will be necessary.

Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 contact groups will be a full year group, to ensure access to specialist teaching and resources. Some direct or indirect mixing between children in different contact groups is unavoidable – such as on school transport when accessing specialist teaching or interventions, or due to staffing constraints. Adult social distancing will continue on school sites.

All Rhondda Cynon Taf schools are ‘COVID-controlled’ through mitigating measures and a number of risk controls – including a combination of factors such as surface hygiene, one-way systems, frequent hand washing and signage. If there is a local outbreak, nearby schools will implement restriction measures informed by close working between Local Government and the NHS.

The ‘COVID-controlled’ environments will allow staff and learners who were previously shielding to attend school. This follows the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for Wales’ decision to pause the advice to shield from August 16. Where learners are unable to attend school due to self-isolation, schools will continue to provide support and resources in order for learning to take place.

The Council is resuming its dedicated school transport service, with all routes operating as they did before the pandemic – including all taxis and minibuses to Learning Support Classes, Pupil Referral Units and Special Schools.

On their first day back in school, a re-usable face covering will be provided to each secondary age learner who uses school transport in Rhondda Cynon Taf, to use while travelling. It is essential that all secondary age pupils wear a face covering on dedicated school transport.

Based on a review of the advice issued by the World Health Organisation, the Council is recommending that, from September 10, 2020, face coverings be worn by all secondary school based staff and secondary mainstream pupils when moving around common areas of school buildings – including corridors, lifts, stairwells, toilets and canteen areas where physical distancing is unlikely to be maintained.

For secondary school pupils, face coverings can be removed when seated in the classroom, participating in lessons and when outside of the school building. The wearing of face coverings will not remove the need for staff and pupils to adhere to 2m physical distancing and good hand hygiene wherever possible, but is an added safety measure to prevent virus transmission. Where appropriate face visors will also be available to all school staff.

Breakfast Clubs will resume from Monday, September 14, and parents/carers will be required to complete an application on the Council’s website from September 1-6 to request a breakfast club place. After School Clubs can resume from Monday, September 14 subject to risk assessments having been undertaken as appropriate to the planned activity.

In terms of Free School Meals, parents/carers will receive one final transitional Bacs payment for the period up to September 9, with meals provided at school on the days that an eligible child attends

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