CHANGES to the way thousands of pupils are ferried to schools in Dorset have been revealed as council bosses detailed their plans to get children back into classrooms with minimum risk amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pupils entitled to free school transport will now only travel with students from the same school in a bid to limit interaction between children from different locations.

This year, in order to limit the interaction between pupils at different schools, each closed school service will only pick up children for one school, instead of several.

Dorset Council also revealed it would be 'highly recommending' students aged over 11 wear face masks, but insisted this would not be compulsory.

The authority says it is 'working hard on planning how to get nearly 8,000 pupils back to school' as children return to school next month, but agreed the Covid-19 pandemic was already making an already complex situation more difficult.

School bus routes change each year to ensure all children entitled to free school transport can get to school safely. However, while these routes usually mix children from different schools, Dorset Council has confirmed this year will be different.

In order to limit the interaction between pupils at different schools, each closed school service will only pick up children for one school, instead of several.

Transport operators have been asked to implement other safety measures, such as good ventilation, improved cleaning regimes, no face-to-face seating and orderly pick up and drop off regimes.

A council spokesman added: "Face coverings for children age 11 and above are highly recommended but will not be compulsory. We will also be recommending that pupils sit in the same seat each day, wherever possible.

"Children using public transport to get to school will be subject to social distancing on transport and must wear a face covering, unless they are under 11 or medically exempt from doing so."

Parents have been advised that children showing any symptoms of Covid-19 - including a new high temperature, new continuous cough or a change to their sense of smell or taste - should not travel to school and should seek medical advice.

All education and child care providers are following Dorset Council, Department for Education and Public Health guidance. Risk assessments have been carried out and hygiene measures are in place.

Plans are also in place in case there are any suspected cases in education settings. A council spokesperson added: "If there are suspected or confirmed cases, schools, colleges and childcare providers will contact health protection team to decide what actions need to be taken. If cases are confirmed, close contacts will be traced and advised to self-isolate at home.

"If this were to happen, Dorset Council and public health teams would work closely with schools, colleges and childcare providers to communicate any necessary actions to staff, parents, carers and students."

Cllr Andrew Parry, Dorset Council Portfolio Holder for Children, Education and Early Help, said: “Our school, colleges and childcare providers are looking forward to welcoming all pupils back in September.

“It will be wonderful for our children to be back in their classrooms enjoying their education. I am delighted that our youngest children will also be able to enjoy their sessions again and have fun learning through play with their friends.

“As a parent myself, I realise it may be an anxious time for some. I would like to reassure young people, parents and carers that measures are in place to make sure everyone can return in as safe a way as possible.

“It is worth remembering that cases in the Dorset Council area remain low, much lower than other areas of England. There were also no significant incidents associated with wider opening in the summer term.

“I would like to thank our schools and childcare providers for their vigilance and care. They have worked hard to make sure we can welcome all children back, I know they can’t wait to see all our children again.”