A HEAD teacher of a west Wiltshire secondary school today welcomed the government’s new safety plans for pupils’ return in September.

Rob Price, head teacher at the Clarendon Academy in Trowbridge, said: “We have been working on our plans since the leaked elements of the guidance earlier in the week.

“Therefore, today's guidance came as no shock to us and we'll continue working hard to ensure the school meets the requirements.

“As ever, the safety of our children and staff will be our priority.”

The government’s safety plans for the return to school are built on the principle of keeping classes or whole year groups apart in separate ‘bubbles’.

It means if there are two confirmed coronavirus cases in 14 days, all the pupils in that group, or even the whole school, may have to be sent home.

Schools will have testing kits to give to parents if children show symptoms and mobile testing units will be sent to schools which have an outbreak.

The safety plans issued by the Department for Education say that "given the improved position, the balance of risk is now overwhelmingly in favour of children returning to school".

The guidance sets out how schools will operate with all pupils back full time. This will be with an expansion of the ‘protective bubble’ system already used in schools and minimal contact between groups.

The new rules for autumn will mean:

 grouping children together in groups or ‘bubbles’

 in primary this will be a class, in secondary a year group

 avoiding contact between these groups during the school day

 separate starting, finishing, lunch and break times

 attendance compulsory with the threat of penalty fines

 regular cleaning of hands

 those with symptoms told to stay out of school

 no big group events like school assemblies

 arranging classrooms with forward-facing desks

 separate groups on school buses

 discouraging the use of public transport

 masks not expected for pupils or staff.

Notably, all schools will have to draw up plans for the possibility of local lockdowns.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said this week: "It's "not about one metre, it's not about two metres."

Mr Williamson said that parents in England who do not send their children back to school in September will face fines "unless there's a good reason for absence".

If a child in school has Covid-19 symptoms they will have to be taken home straight away and staff waiting with them will have to wear protective equipment.

All schools are being promised testing kits to give to parents - and if there are two confirmed cases within 14 days, or a rise in absences because of coronavrius-like symptoms, this could be counted as an outbreak.

This could mean other pupils in the class or the year group being sent home.

It could escalate to the whole school site being shut down - but the guidance says such whole-school closures "will not generally be necessary".

A mobile testing unit could be sent to a school with an outbreak, which could carry out tests to see whether an infection had spread, which could check a class, a year group or the whole school.

In the event of a local outbreak, health protection teams or local authorities may advise schools to close.

Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, said: “The logistics of keeping apart many different ‘bubbles’ of children in a full school is mind-boggling.

"There just needs to be a sense of reality about what is possible," he said - and called on the government to have a Plan B if the return proved unworkable.

Head teachers have also voiced concerns about penalty fines being issued to parents if they do not send their children back to school.

If you are a parent or teacher, what do you think of the Government's plans? Please email comments to john.baker@newsquest.co.uk, or call 07919 291146.