Entire year groups will be kept completely apart at one Chelmsford secondary school to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19.
St John Payne School in Chelmsford has put a raft of measures in place, including keeping each year group in its own bubble.
That means they will have their own entrances, their own designated teaching areas and their own place to collect lunch.
The school, which was visited by Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Education Vicky Ford on Thursday (August 27), is preparing to welcome back more than 1,100 children when school resumes next week.
Mrs Ford, who is also MP for Chelmsford, sought to reassure parents that the risk of Covid-19 to young children was very low.
She added that the threat of fining parents was a “last resort” but it was important that children did return to improve their life chances, while minimising risk of harm from mental health problems.
There has been concern that many families, particularly those in multigenerational households, may feel reluctant to send their children back for fear of the disease being brought back into the home.
Mrs Ford said: “Particularly for primary aged children, we know that young children really have very low risk and the risk of catching it from a younger child is also extraordinarily low.
“We also know that for all children and young people the risk of Covid is low and it is much lower than the risk of not being at school – not just for their education but their mental health – which means it is really important to get them back to school.
“For older children secondary head teachers have worked extraordinarily closely all across mid Essex to put in place safety precautions to make sure the risk of catching and transmitting Covid at school is really low.”
Addressing what may happen to the rest of the year group if one or more children gets Covid-19, she added: “They will have these protective measures to make sure that if there was that very unusual case of Covid we can track and trace and shut it down before it transmits more widely.
“The school has to immediately contact the NHS and track and trace will immediately go into action to identify which children need to be tested and which need to self isolate.”
She added: “The best place for your children is back at school.
“Schools are working exceptionally hard to make sure schools can be safe for children.
“The message is please bring your children to school. If your children have particular health needs then discuss that with your GP.
“But for the vast majority of children the best place is for them to be back at school.”
Essex County Council has been working with schools and colleges to prepare for the return, and measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in schools and colleges include pupils being kept in class or year group-sized bubbles, older pupils being asked to socially distance where possible, the staggering of start, end, break and lunch times, and regular hand-washing.
If children, or anyone they live with, have coronavirus symptoms, they must not attend their school or college and parents will be asked to collect their child if they are displaying symptoms whilst at school or college. Remote education will be provided for pupils self-isolating.
Parents who do not send their child back to school may be fined.
Mrs Ford added: “In terms of exclusion and fines head teachers have the right to decide whether to impose fines, working with the local authority- it is always the last resort but head teachers want to work with families with children to reassure them they will be safe back at school and that is the right thing to do.”