UPDATED: Reopening schools and out of school settings: what government guidance means for arts subjects

03 September 2020

On 28 August the Department for Education updated its Guidance for full opening: schools. It includes guidance on how schools are expected to operate, including how to deliver arts lessons, the expectations around curriculum, and how assessment, accountability and inspection will work this autumn term.

In the Guidance for full opening: schools, part of the collection of guidance on Education and childcare during coronavirus the Department for Education (DfE) states:

  • The Department expects all pupils to return to full-time education from the start of the autumn term
  • Schools are expected not to put in place rotas, cut hours, or cut subjects from the curriculum
  • Social distancing ‘must be properly considered and schools must put in place measures that suit their particular circumstances’
  • For years 7 and above schools ‘have the discretion to require face coverings for pupils, staff and visitors in areas outside the classroom’

Key to the new guidance is an expectation that schools and other providers will work to minimise the number of contacts that pupils, staff and other workers have outside their ‘bubble’, and put in place a clarified Public Health England (PHE) endorsed ‘system of controls’ to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus.

System of controls

Essential measures:

    • A requirement that people who are ill stay at home
    • Robust hand and respiratory hygiene
    • Enhanced cleaning arrangements
    • Active engagement with NHS Test and Trace
    • Formal consideration of how to reduce contacts and maximise distancing between those in school wherever possible, and minimise the potential for contamination so far as is reasonably practicable

How contacts are reduced will depend on the school’s circumstances and will (as much as possible) include:

      • grouping children together
      • avoiding contact between groups
      • arranging classrooms with forward facing desks
      • staff maintaining distance from pupils and other staff as much as possible


The guidance states that school curriculums should ‘remain broad and ambitious’ and that pupils should ‘continue to be taught a wide range of subjects, maintaining their choices for further study and employment.’

There is further emphasis that subjects should not be removed from the curriculum with the statement:prioritisation within subjects of the most important components for progression is likely to be more effective than removing subjects, which pupils may struggle to pick up again later.’

Schools are expected to aim to return to the school’s normal curriculum in all subjects by summer term 2021.

At Key Stage 1 and 2:

‘The curriculum should remain broad, so that the majority of pupils are taught a full range of subjects over the year, including sciences, humanities, the arts, physical education/sport, religious education and relationships and health education.’

In Key Stage 3:

‘The curriculum should also remain broad from year 7 to year 9 so that the majority of pupils are taught a full range of subjects over the year, including sciences, languages, humanities, the arts, physical education/sport, religious education and relationships, sex and health education.’

Music, dance and drama in school

There is a section on music, dance and drama which states:

‘All pupils should have access to a quality arts education. Music, dance and drama build confidence and help children live happier, more enriched lives, and discover the joy of expressing themselves.'

It is also clear ‘Singing, wind and brass instrument playing can be undertaken in line with this and other guidance’. Schools are directed to the DCMS working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19): performing arts guidance – however it is clear there are additional risks of aerosol transmission from singing, wind and brass instruments, and additional measures are needed.

They suggest:

  • Sing in groups or play instruments outdoors wherever possible
  • If indoors, use a room with as much space as possible (rooms with high ceilings are expected to enable dilution of aerosol transmission)
  • Ensure good ventilation
  • For singing, wind and brass playing allow at least 10l/s/person for all present, including audiences
  • Observe social distancing
  • Position pupils back-to-back or side-to-side when playing or singing (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
  • Position wind and brass players so that the air from their instrument does not blow into another player
  • Keep background noise, including accompanying music, low to stop performers rising their voices unduly
  • Use microphones and do not share microphones, if possible
  • No physical correction by teachers and contact between pupils in dance and drama

Size of groups

To minimise contact schools should continue to try and teach children in bubbles. At Primary level the expectation is that class size bubbles should be possible, and that at secondary level these might need to be the size of year groups to allow schools to ‘deliver the full range of curriculum subjects and students to receive specialist teaching’. Younger children, including primary age are not expected to ‘maintain social distancing and it is acceptable for them not to distance within their group’.

Teachers and other staff

  • All teachers and other staff can operate across different classes and year groups in order to facilitate the delivery of the school timetable.
  • Where staff need to move between classes and year groups, they should try and keep their distance from pupils and other staff as much as they can, ideally two metres from other adults.
  • In primary schools teachers can still work across groups without maintaining social distancing if that is needed to enable a full educational offer.

Schools can continue to engage peripatetic teachers during this period, including staff from music education hubs.

Blended learning

Schools are expected to further develop their blended learning offer and when a pupil is unable to attend school the DfE expects ‘schools to be able to immediately offer them access to remote education’. 

 Using physical resources, e.g. art equipment

Resources that are shared between classes or bubbles, such as sports, art and science equipment, should be cleaned frequently and meticulously and always between bubbles, or rotated to allow them to be left unused and out of reach for a period of 48 hours (72 hours for plastics) between use by different bubbles.

Education visits

In the autumn term, schools can resume non-overnight domestic educational visits. This should be done in line with protective measures, such as keeping children within their consistent group, and the Covid-secure measures in place at the destination. Schools should also make use of outdoor spaces in the local area to support the delivery of the curriculum. 

Extra-curricular activities

Extra-curricular activities, such as after school arts clubs, can resume and schools were asked to start up provision from the start of the autumn term. If possible children should be kept in a group with other children from the same school bubble. Where this is not possible providers should ‘maintain small, consistent groups’. In the out-of-school settings guidance the recommended number is between six and 15, including staff.

Accountability measures and Ofsted

Performance tables are suspended for the 2019 to 2020 academic year and no school or college will be judged on data based on exams and assessments from 2020. Ofsted inspections are planned to restart in January 2021 and primary assessments in summer 2021.

The early years foundation stage profile and all existing statutory key stage 1 and 2 assessments should return in 2020 to 2021 in accordance with their usual timetables. This includes:

  • The phonics screening check (year 2 pupils will have an autumn check, and if they do not meet the required standard a June 2021 check)
  • Key stage 1 tests and teacher assessment
  • The year 4 multiplication tables check
  • Key stage 2 tests and teacher assessment
  • Statutory trialling

The statutory rollout of the reception baseline assessment has been postponed until September 2021.

Summer 2021 exams

Current planning is that GCSEs and A levels will take place in summer 2021 with adaptations. Ofqual has consulted on proposed adaptations to exams and published its decisions, although a debate is continuing about the best course of action because of the difficulties of the summer 2020 exam series.


Image credit: Into Film St Andrews Primary Islington Photo Ben Bentley




2 Replies to "UPDATED: Reopening schools and out of school settings: what government guidance means for arts subjects"

  1. I am very glad to see Art subjects taken seriously in the guidance but find it hard to comprehend how some disciplines will cope with equipment etc unless they have more time between classes , given the amount of ” sanitising” there is to do.

  2. There are some schools who have abandoned the arts in key stage 3 in the current situation. There are many schools where art (for example) can not be taught in specialist rooms with a range of media. How does this connect with the demands of GCSE assessment? How we can support these teachers and students? It is currently a postcode lottery.

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