THIS is what school might look like when term begins this week – with face masks worn in class, Covid tests, and the risk of remote learning.
Ministers have introduced Covid measures as the new year begins to prioritise face-to-face teaching in a bid to prevent more education chaos.
The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has meant the issues are more likely, but the roll-out of Covid booster jabs should help ward off any major problems.
A string of hugely positive studies show Omicron IS milder than other strains, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 per cent lower than with Delta.
Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said.
The Sun's Jabs Army campaign is helping get the vital extra vaccines in Brits' arms to ward off the need for any new restrictions.
Here are some of the changes that pupils may see as they start school this week.
New ventilation in classrooms
The Government announced that a further 7,000 air cleaning units will be rolled out to classrooms across the country.
Thousands of new air filters will be introduced to protect face-to-face education and minimise disruption, ahead of the pupils returning to the classroom this week.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has announced an additional 7,000 air cleaning units to be provided to early years, schools and colleges to improve ventilation in teaching spaces.
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This will help strike the balance between managing transmission risk along with reducing disruption to in-person learning.
The 7,000 new air purifiers will be for areas where quick fixes to improve ventilation are not possible, like being able to open a window.
This builds on the 1,000 air purifiers announced for special schools and alternative provision settings.
Face masks in classrooms
Pupils in secondary school in England will return to wearing masks in the classroom, ministers have said.
The new advice comes as the Omicron variants tears across the country – and Ministers are desperate to avoid a repeat of last year's homeschooling fiasco.
The Government has "temporarily" recommended that face coverings be worn in classrooms and teaching spaces for students in year 7 or above, in light of the Omicron variant surge.
It's only set to be for the short term to support pupils and teachers as they return to schools this term.
The advice on face coverings in classrooms will be in place until 26 January – when Plan B regulations are currently scheduled to expire, at which point it will be reviewed.
It will be the first time the rule will be in force in classrooms since last May – but it is already in place in Wales and Scotland.
The measures are being welcomed by education bosses, after many schools introduced their own rules around mask-wearing in the run-up to Christmas.
General secretary of the Association of School and College leaders, Geoff Barton told The Times: “Face coverings are already advised in communal areas for pupils in year 7 and above.
“Pupils are accustomed to their use and we are sure the reintroduction of face coverings in classrooms is something that schools and colleges will take in their stride.”
Testing on first day of term
All students and staff are expected to be tested for the virus on day one of the spring term as planned after the Education Secretary secured millions of kits.
Zahawi delivered 28million test packs to schools between December 6 and 17, and a further 17.6million are to be sent out by January 14.
This is sufficient for testing when schools reopen on Tuesday, but a global lateral flow shortage could shut classes down in the weeks that follow.
That's because teachers may be forced to stay at home for 10 days after testing positive – despite self-isolation being slashed to just seven.
The replacement rules let cooped up Brits leave home after a week providing they have a negative test result on day six and seven, taken 24 hours apart.
But the at-home testing kits are near impossible to find thanks to low and "inconsistent" supplies – and Brits scrambling to get their hands on them.
So all those who get the dreaded two red lines face 10 days away from the classroom, and even entire schools closing if too many staff are off at once.
Remote learning at home
Schoolchildren could be forced to go back to home learning under new plans drawn up by government officials.
If schools are hit with widespread staff absences pupils could go back to virtual learning from home – with other worst-case proposals include teaching multiple classes in school halls.
Ministers are keen to get all children back in the classroom on Tuesday – and stay there without any further Covid disruption.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Being in the classroom is undoubtedly the very best place for children and I'm looking forward to welcoming pupils back next week to continue their face-to-face learning, which is so important for their education and wellbeing.
“There is no doubt that the Omicron variant presents challenges but the entire education sector has responded with a Herculean effort, and for that I thank each and every one of you.
“The Prime Minister and I have been clear that education is our number one priority. These measures will bolster our support schools as we do everything in our power to minimise disruption.”
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