Coronavirus and Schools

As the government has stated that it is imperative to reduce disruption to education whilst managing the risks caused by the coronavirus pandemic, this page summarises the main points for schools, children and parents/carers to consider including school transport, risk management, children with EHC plans and examinations. Please see the full Dfe guidance on full opening for schools here.  

Which schools have to adhere to the guidance? 

Government guidance for schools on managing the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.

The government guidance is intended to support schools, both mainstream and alternative provision, to prepare for this. It applies to primary, secondary (including sixth forms), infant, junior, middle, upper, school-based nurseries and boarding schools. Independent schools are expected to follow the control measures set out in the guidance in the same way as state-funded schools. 

Public health advice to minimise coronavirus (Covid-19) risks

Schools must comply with health and safety law, which requires them to assess risks and put in place proportionate control measures. Schools should thoroughly review their health and safety risk assessments and draw up plans for the autumn term that address the risks identified using the system of controls set out below. These are an adapted form of the system of protective measures that will be familiar from the summer term. This is the set of actions schools must take. These can be grouped into ‘prevention’ and ‘response to any infection:


  • Ensure good hygiene for everyone

  • Maintain appropriate cleaning regimes

  • Keep occupied spaces well ventilated

  • Follow public health advice on testing, self-isolation and managing confirmed cases of COVID-19

Response to any infection:

  • engage with the NHS Test and Trace process
  • manage confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) amongst the school community
  • contain any outbreak by following local health protection team advice

All education and childcare settings should also have contingency plans (sometimes called outbreak management plans) describing what they would do if children, pupils, students or staff test positive for COVID-19 or how they would operate if they were advised to reintroduce any measures  to help break chains of transmission. Further information on contingency planning can be found here.


During the Summer holidays, it is recommended that staff and secondary pupils should continue to test regularly if they are attending settings that remain open, such as Summer schools and out of school activities based in school settings. Schools will only provide tests for twice weekly asymptomatic testing for pupils and staff over the Summer period if they are attending school settings. Tests will also be widely available other than from the school and testing kits can be collected either from a local pharmacy or ordered online.

As pupils will potentially mix with lots of other people during the Summer holidays, all secondary school pupils should receive 2 on-site lateral flow device tests, 3 to 5 days apart, on their return in the Autumn term. Settings may commence testing from 3 working days before the start of term and can stagger return of pupils across the first week to manage this. Pupils should then continue to test twice weekly at home.

Staff should undertake twice weekly home tests whenever they are on site.

Secondary schools should also retain a small asymptomatic testing site (ATS) on-site so they can offer testing to pupils who are unable to test themselves at home.

There is no need for primary age pupils (those in year 6 and below) to test over the Summer period. They will be offered the 2 tests at an ATS at the beginning of the Autumn term when they start at their secondary school as a new year 7. Schools may choose, however, to start testing year 6 pupils earlier, including in Summer schools, depending on their local circumstances.

Primary school staff will continue to be offered LFD testing but pupils will not be tested as Public Health England have advised that there is little evidence of benefit of testing primary school aged pupils with LFDs.

Pupils and staff who test positive will be required to self-isolate in accordance with the government guidance on self-isolating as a result of a suspected/confirmed coronavirus case which can be found here.


Dedicated school transport, i.e. services that are used to solely transport pupils to school. 

Pupils on dedicated school services do not mix with the general public on those journeys and tend to be consistent. This means that the advice for passengers on public transport to adopt a social distance of two metres from people outside their household or support bubble, or a ‘one metre plus’ approach where this is not possible, will not apply from the autumn term on dedicated transport.

The DfE has published guidance to local authorities on providing dedicated school transport which can be found here. The main points for local authorities and school to consider include:

  • ensuring good hygiene, for example by the use of hand sanitiser and encouraging a ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach
  • additional cleaning of vehicles
  • organised queuing and boarding where possible
  • the use of face coverings for children and young people aged 11 and over  when travelling on dedicated transport to secondary school or college
  • ensuring that vehicles are well ventilated when occupied
Public transport, i.e. services that are also used by the general public. 

To facilitate the return of all pupils to school, it will be necessary to take steps to both depress the demand for public transport and to increase capacity within the system. Both will require action at a national and local level. Schools have a critical role to play in supporting collaboration between all parties – providers, local authorities, parents and pupils.

Schools should work with partners to consider staggered start times to enable more journeys to take place outside of peak hours. 

Schools should encourage parents, staff and pupils to walk or cycle to school if at all possible. Schools may want to consider using ‘walking buses’ (a supervised group of children being walked to, or from, school), or working with their local authority to promote safe cycling routes. The government has announced a £2 billion package to promote cycling and walking, including to support pop-up bicycle lanes and widened pavements. For some families, driving children to school will also be an option.


 The normal rules on school attendance once more apply now that schools are  reopen full-time including:

  • parents’ duty to secure that their child attends regularly at school where the child is a registered pupil at school and they are of compulsory school age;
  • schools’ responsibilities to record attendance and follow up absence
  • the availability to issue sanctions, including fixed penalty notices in line with local authorities’ codes of conduct

Where a pupil is unable to attend school because they are complying with clinical and/or public health advice, schools are expected to be able to immediately offer them access to remote education and their absence will not be penalised. 

Where a child is required to self-isolate or quarantine because of COVID-19 in accordance with relevant legislation or guidance published by PHE or the DHSC they should be recorded as code X (not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus). Where they are unable to attend because they have a confirmed case of COVID-19 they should be recorded as code I (illness).

For pupils abroad who are unable to return, code X is unlikely to apply. In some specific cases, code Y (unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances) will apply. Further guidance about the use of codes is provided in the school attendance guidance.

School meals 

It is expected that kitchens will be fully open from the start of the autumn term and normal legal requirements will apply about provision of food to all pupils who want it, including for those eligible for benefits-related free school meals or universal infant free school meals.

School kitchens can continue to operate, but must comply with the guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19).

Physical education 

Schools have the flexibility to decide how physical education, sport and physical activity will be provided whilst following the measures in their system of controls. Pupils should be kept in consistent groups, sports equipment thoroughly cleaned between each use by different individual groups, and contact sports avoided.

Outdoor sports should be prioritised where possible, and large indoor spaces used where it is not, maximising distancing between pupils and paying scrupulous attention to cleaning and hygiene. 

Schools should refer to the following advice:


On 4th January 2021 the government announced a third national lockdown which has meant school closures. Due to the impact this will have on children’s education the government has acknowledged that GCSE, AS and A Level exams will not be able to proceed as planned in the Summer. Alternative arrangements are being put in place. Children taking GCSE, AS and A Levels will be awarded a grade based on an assessment by their teachers. Teachers can use a range of evidence to determine grades, including coursework and mock exams. The grade should reflect the level at which the child is currently working rather than anticipating future potential.

All children will have the right to appeal their final grade. Initially this will usually be by contacting the school which awarded the grade to allow them to carry out an internal assessment to ensure that all proper procedures were followed; if an error is found to have occurred the school can submit a revised grade to the exam board. If the school feels that the original grade was correct then the child can ask  for the school to submit a formal appeal to the exam board on the child’s behalf. The exam board will check the centre followed its own processes and exam board requirements as well as reviewing the evidence the teacher used to inform their judgment and providing a view as to whether the grade awarded was a reasonable exercise of academic judgement. Appeals are not likely to lead to adjustments in grades where the original grade is a reasonable exercise of academic judgement supported by the evidence. Grades can go up or down as the result of an appeal. 

For qualifications other than GCSE, AS and A Levels the government has identified three categories of vocational, technical and other general qualifications (VTQs), each with a different approach to awarding.

Qualifications used to progress to further or higher education will be assessed in a similar way to GCSE, AS and A Level qualifications with teacher assessed grades used in place of exams. 

For VTQs used to enter directly into employment, exams or assessments should continue where they:

  • are critical to demonstrate occupational or professional competence
  • can be delivered in line with public health measures

Exams and assessments can take place in a controlled environment where the risk of transmission is low. If assessments cannot take place safely then they will be delayed; there are currently not plans to allow teacher assessed grades to be used for such qualifications.

For smaller qualifications taken for mixed purposes, such as Functional Skills qualifications and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), exams and assessment should continue in line with public health measures or remotely.

Schools, colleges and other providers wishing to appeal a VTQ result on behalf of a student should follow the process set out by the individual awarding organisation concerned.

The government guidance document on awarding qualifications Summer 2021 can be found here.

Ofqual have a tool on their website where young people taking VTQs can find further information on how their specific qualification will be assessed in 2021 which can be found here. 

For further information see our page on Examinations in Summer 2021.

Face coverings

The World Health Organisation published a statement on 21 August about children and face coverings. They now advise that “children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.”

Face coverings are no longer advised for pupils, staff and visitors either in classrooms or in communal areas in primary or secondary schools.

The government has removed the requirement to wear face coverings in law but expects and recommends that they are worn in enclosed and crowded spaces where a person may come into contact with people they don not normally meet. This includes public transport and dedicated transport to school or college.

Schools should have contingency plans for the reintroduction of face coverings in the future if this proves necessary, for example if there is a substantial increase in the number of positive cases of cornavirus in a particular school.

COVID-19 Vaccinations

The Pfizer-BioNTech BNT162b2 vaccine for COVID-19 has ben approved for children aged 12 and over and the JCVI recommended that it is offered to all children in this age range.

Vaccination will often take place at school for children aged 12-16 years old. The government has issued guidance for schools on the roll-out of the vaccination programme which can be found here.

It is likely that most children will be offered the vaccine at the beginning of the Autumn term 2021.

Schools will have three primary roles which will be familiar to them from other vaccination programmes:

  • to provide information to their School Age Immunisation Service provider on which children on their roll are eligible for the vaccine
  • to share the information leaflet, consent form and invitation letter supplied by the SAIS team with parents and children
  • to provide the space within school, and the time away from the timetable, to enable vaccinations to take place

Like all school-based vaccination programmes, the vaccines will be administered by healthcare staff working closely with the school and following the usual approach to school-based immunisation. It will not be school staff deciding who will be vaccinated or administering the vaccination.

Consent will be needed for a child to be vaccinated. Parents will be asked to provide their consent; the vaccination can be given with the consent of just one parent. If a parent does not consent but the child wishes to have the vaccination then the child can consent if they are deemed to be Gillick competent. The child can also refuse to have the vaccination even if their parent has consented if they are Gillick competent.

Gillick competency is a legal concept where a child can consent to their own medical treatment if they are competent to make such a decision. When deciding whether a child is Gillick competent the medical professional will consider:

  • the child’s age, maturity and mental capacity
  • their understanding of the issue and what it involves 
  • their understanding of the risks and consequences that may arise from their decision
  • how well they understand any advice or information they have been given
  • their understanding of any alternative options, if available
  • their ability to explain a rationale around their reasoning and decision making

This is not a new concept and applies to all medical treatments, not just the COVID-19 vaccine.

A child will not be vaccinated if the necessary consent has not been given.

When parents cannot agree on whether the child should receive a vaccine then either parent can apply for a court order to resolve the matter.