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updated on 27 May 2020
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School types: All · School phases: All

Get advice on organising your classes in line with government guidance to help you plan for bringing more pupils back into school in June.

Updated 27 May: we've made changes to the first and third sections to reflect the new DfE guidance on pupil group numbers for schools with an EYFS setting and secondary schools.

Overview of DfE guidance

Click on your setting type below to find out what DfE guidance says on which pupils you should prepare to welcome back, how you should split classes, and which pupils you should prioritise if you can't safely accommodate everyone.

Primary schools

You can now welcome back pupils in nursery (if applicable), reception, year 1 and year 6.

How to split classes?

EYFS groups should ideally be no larger than 8 children, but certainly no more than 16 children. Normal EYFS staffing ratios will apply, but the qualification requirements have been relaxed (see here for a full explanation).

For other years, organise pupils into groups of no more than 15, with 1 teacher to monitor each group (and a teaching assistant if needed). You might decide to have smaller groups if you think 15 pupils will overcrowd your classroom space.

Young children aren't expected to follow social distancing

Young primary pupils aren't expected to keep 2 metres apart from each other and staff when they're in class, according to DfE guidance.

But it's still a good idea for you to check whether the number of pupils is too many to fit in your classroom (see the next section to get practical tips on how to do this).

Once you've got your designated groups, they should stay together and not mix with other groups.

What if we can't accommodate all eligible pupils?

Prioritise pupils in the following order:

  1. Vulnerable pupils and the children of critical workers 
  2. Nursery (where applicable)
  3. Reception
  4. Year 1
  5. Year 6

Secondary schools

The government wants you to prepare to offer some "face-to-face support" from 15 June to year 10 and year 12 students to supplement their remote learning.
You should only have a quarter of these pupils in school at any one time. To allow for this, you can run this support on a rota system, but:
  • Avoid any split day rotas within the same day (e.g. morning and afternoon rotas)
  • Vulnerable children and children of critical workers in these years should still be offered full-time provision
How to split classes?
Divide large classes in half and have 1 teacher for each group of pupils – the DfE hasn't specified how many pupils you should have per group, but you can use 15 pupils as a guide. (Get practical tips on how to work out how many pupils you can fit per class in the section below.)
Follow social distancing
Everyone should sit 2 metres apart.
If you end up with very tiny groups of pupils, you can have more than half a class in one classroom as long as pupils can sit 2 metres apart. For example, if you split a class into 2 groups of 15, and 13 pupils from one group show up but only 3 from the other group show up, then you could merge these groups if everyone can sit 2 metres apart.
Once you've got your designated groups, they should stay together and not mix with other groups.
What if we can't accommodate all eligible pupils?
The DfE hasn't said that you should prioritise any particular secondary year group, but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers remain a priority.

Alternative provision and special schools

Alternative provision
You can now start welcoming back pupils in receptionyear 1 and year 6. The government also wants you to prepare to offer some "face-to-face support" to year 10 and year 11 pupils from 15 June. See the guidance above on primary and secondary schools for more information.
Special schools
You can now work towards welcoming back as many pupils as you can safely cater for, without focusing on specific year groups. You might want to prioritise attendance based on:
  • Key transitions
  • Impact on life chances and development

You could create a part-time attendance rota so that as many pupils as possible can safely attend school.

Follow social distancing where possible

Primary pupils and pupils unable to stick to social distancing aren't expected to keep 2 metres apart from each other and staff when they're in class, according to DfE guidance.

But it's still a good idea for you to check how many pupils it's feasible for you to have in your classroom without overcrowding (see the next section to get practical tips on how to do this).

Once you've got your designated groups, they should stay together and not mix with other groups.

Take a look at our article for an up-to-date overview of what we know so far about school reopening.

How to choose the best approach for you

This will depend on how much space you have in school and how many:

  • Pupils you expect to come in (although the DfE says to plan to accommodate all pupils in the groups it's proposing to bring back)
  • Pupils you'll be able to fit per classroom
  • Groups of pupils your school will have in total

You'll then need to consider your staffing availability, and how to assign staff to different pupil groups.

Read more on these points below.

Work out how many pupils you can have per classroom and in school

Classrooms come in all shapes and sizes. While the DfE has said each group should be limited to 15 pupils (primary) or half a class (secondary), we know that even this number might overcrowd your classrooms.

Use the 2-metre rule as a yardstick

Rearrange classroom space and spread out desks the best you can – there's no set criteria but you should do as you best see fit.

Primary schools: try to spread your desks out so they're 2 metres apart. If this isn't possible, make sure they're at least 1 metre apart (this is outlined in World Health Organization guidance, page 4). You should be able to work out whether 15 pupils is a reasonable number of pupils for your space.

Secondary schools: pupils should sit 2 metres apart, so use this rule to spread out desks. 

Work out how many pupils you can have in school at one time

After you've used the 2-metre rule to figure out how many pupils you can have in each room, use this to work out how many pupils you can have in your school at one time.

Secondary schools: remember that you should only have a quarter of students from year 10 and 12 in at any one time (see above for more details)

Schools with EYFS: follow indoor space requirements

Any area you use with EYFS children should meet the following requirements:

  • For children under 2 year olds: 3.5m² per child
  • For 2 year olds: 2.5m² per child
  • For 3 to 5 year olds: 2.3m² per child

Factor in vulnerable pupils and children of critical workers

Remember that you'll have pupils in school who aren't in the year groups mentioned above, but who need to be in school.

You should ideally keep these pupils apart from other year groups. If you need to add them to a class group, make sure the group consists of no more than 15 pupils (primary), or that pupils can all be seated 2 metres apart (secondary).

Find out how to reduce contact at busy hotspots in our other article.

Assess your staffing levels

The arrangements you go for will also depend on your staffing situation, including:

  • The number of available staff - see our FAQs on staffing for a guide on who shouldn't come into school due to being clinically vulnerable
  • Staff experience – teachers should ideally work with the same or similar year groups they're used to (e.g. a year 5 teacher covering a year 6 group, rather than a reception group)

The DfE recommends you conduct a staff audit to see how many staff will be available.

You'll also need to think about staff workload. For example: 

  • Teachers could set the same work in class as they do for pupils learning remotely, to avoid doubling the workload
  • Avoid asking the same staff member to monitor a class in person and set online tasks for another class

If you don't have enough staff or space to accommodate all the intended pupils

Note: the latest DfE guidance for primary settings advises that schools should not plan on the basis of a rota system, either daily or weekly.

Lack of staff

If you don't have enough teachers to cover each group of pupils, the DfE says:

  • You can bring additional teachers in to help. They might be supply teachers, or teachers agreed on temporary loan from another school or provided by your trust or local authority
  • See how many available teaching assistants (TAs) you have – you can use TAs to lead groups of children, working under the direction of a teacher
  • Use some senior leadership time to cover groups – but make sure this is manageable alongside your other responsibilities

But bear in mind that not all staff should attend school (for example if they're clinically extremely vulnerable). This is laid out in DfE guidance.

If you still don't have enough staff, contact your local authority (LA) or academy trust for support.

Lack of space

The DfE suggests sending pupils to a nearby school. This will require a great deal of co-operation and communication between you and your nearby school(s) to make sure you've both completed risk assessments to cover this arrangement.

You'll also need to think about the safeguarding implications of sending pupils to a nearby school, as well as the emotional impact on pupils.

If you don't have enough space, contact your LA or academy trust for support.

If you've exhausted all options

If you cannot get all the intended pupil groups back into school at the same time, the DfE says to focus on providing places for priority groups first

If you cannot get all the intended pupil groups back into school at the same time, the DfE says to focus on providing places for priority groups first. These priority groups are explained in section 1 of this article.

How to decide which pupils should go into which groups

You and your teachers are best placed to decide this, as you know your pupils best. You might want input from parents too.

There are no hard and fast rules on deciding pupil groups, and you could do it in several ways:

  • By grouping vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers together
  • By grouping siblings together
  • Alphabetically
  • By ability group
  • Where they live
  • Based on your staggered pick-up and drop-off slots – see our article on putting staggered times in place here


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