Your Covid and back-to-school questions answered

A new school year has started. Back to rushing to lessons, homework, and spending forty minutes remembering how to tie your tie.

But a lot's changed this year - wearing masks in the school corridors will soon become a familiar sight, and you'll have to get used to sitting a bit further away from your classmates than usual.

There's quite a lot of new stuff to get your head around, and to make matters worse, some information about going back to school that's cropping up on social media isn't true at all.

But don't worry, we've enlisted Reality Check, the BBC's fact-checking unit, to help you find out what's fact, and what's fake.

Do I need to wear a mask at school?

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, masks have been mandatory in secondary schools since 31 August. You have to wear them in corridors and other communal areas. Masks also have to be worn on dedicated school transport in Scotland for over fives, and are recommended in Northern Ireland.

In England, the rules are slightly different. In areas that are in local lockdowns (such as parts of Greater Manchester), the same rules as in Scotland and Northern Ireland apply: you have to wear face coverings in secondary school corridors and communal spaces. However, in areas not under any sort of lockdown, it's up to the school to decide whether they ask pupils to wear them or not.

In Wales, it's up to the local councils and individual schools to decide whether you're required to wear a mask at school. If you're not sure, ask your teachers.

Across the UK though, you don't have to wear a mask if you have a disability that makes wearing one difficult, or if you lip read or are with someone who needs to lip read.

If you'd like to wear a mask at school but you're not required to, you should check with your teachers to see if this is okay.

How will social distancing be enforced at school?

The government guidance suggests creating bubbles and social distancing where possible, but acknowledges that the way in which this will be done in practice will be influenced by things such as the layout of the school. For that reason, each school will be playing the 2 metre social distancing rules differently, and you'll need to check with your school to find out what your specific arrangements are.

Where social distancing can't be easily enforced, such as in corridors, that's where the rules on face masks (explained above) come in.

Will I have exams in 2021?

At the start of August 2020, the examining body for England, Ofqual, put out some guidance on the 2021 GCSEs, after discussion with the Department for Education. So far, they’re expecting them to go ahead in the summer of 2021. However timings may differ – the government and Ofqual will soon be deciding whether or not to delay them a bit, to allow for more teaching time. The possibility that they may be cancelled also hasn’t gone away.

There are some changes to a few subjects next year. In GCSE Geography, you will no longer be required to do assessed fieldwork, as doing so in the current climate will prove quite difficult. In English Literature, there will be more optional content. Other subjects have had changes too – best check with your teachers to find out exactly what they are for each one. Some head teachers are calling for exam content to be reduced even more, so that there’s less pressure on students taking GCSEs and A Levels, but this hasn’t been decided yet.

The Scottish government announced on 7 October 2020 that National 5 exams will be cancelled in 2021 and results will be calculated using teacher assessments and coursework. Higher and Advanced Higher exams are still expected to go ahead, but Scottish Education Secretary, John Swinney, said they’ll take place "slightly later" in the year.

In Northern Ireland, the examining body have said that GCSE students will be taking fewer exams in many subjects in 2021 and in Wales, reduced content and delays have both been reported as possibilities. Wherever you are in the UK, it’s worth regularly checking with your teachers what your particular situation is, as all of these possible changes are still subject to change.

Assessments for vocational and technical qualifications may look different too. Ofqual has said that if assessments cannot go ahead as normal, awarding organisations will issue advice to schools, colleges and training providers on any changes to their qualifications for 2020/21. This means that the assessments may change format next summer, but we won’t know in what way until nearer the time.

Can children and teens contract Covid?

They absolutely can. As far as scientists can tell, it’s harder for kids to contract the virus and if they do, the symptoms are largely very mild, but this does not mean it’s impossible for them to get it. Whatever your age, this virus can make you ill.

Are young people just as likely to catch Covid as adults?

A study led by UCL found that children and young people under 20 are actually half as likely to catch Covid-19 as adults. This isn’t a reason to be less vigilant, however – the infection rates are increasing in younger age groups. Even if you are less likely to catch it, you can as easily pass it on, and you might be doing so to someone a lot more vulnerable than you.

A study that took place in South Korea, which was conducted with 65,000 young people, found that young people aged between ten and 19 were just as likely to transmit the virus to other people as adults were, and children under ten were less likely to transmit it than adults (although it can still happen).

Because of this, it’s important to carry on following the guidance on hand-washing, social distancing, and wearing masks.

Can my school force me to quarantine?

Recently, some misleading social media posts have claimed that students can be tested and detained without parents’ permission. These claims are not true.

Many of the posts claiming this was the case quote a letter from the children's commissioner to top officials in the government. Essentially, they were just making sure that none of this was going to happen, and they were reassured that it wouldn’t by the Department for Education, and the Department of Health and Social Care.

While taking you for a Covid test and engaging with the NHS track and trace system is for your parent or guardian to do, if there are any confirmed cases your school will have to report it to the local health protection team, and you might be required to self-isolate.

Reality Check debunked this one if you want to read more about it.

Will I be weighed at school?

Not necessarily. The National Obesity Forum suggested that students should be weighed when they get back to school to monitor any potential weight gained during lockdown.

You my have heard about this proposal as there was a debate in the media about whether this would be a good idea or not. But this was a suggestion from an organisation that's separate from the government, and not official policy.

Public Health England already runs what's called the National Child Measurement Programme, where they record the height and weight of pupils in Reception and Year Six. This doesn't happen in Secondary school though, so if you're above the age of 11, this won't affect you. It also has nothing to do with lockdown - it happens every year.

If you're feeling anxious about the fact that being weighed at school has been in the news, speak to your teachers or an adult you trust about your concerns.

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