Information

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:

Prevention:

  • 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.

Testing

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.

Transport 

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.

Attendance

 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 

Schools are expected to continue to supply school meals for all eligible children.

Meals should be available free of charge to:

  • all infant pupils
  • pupils who meet the benefits-related free school meals eligibility criteria

Under normal circumstances, schools do not provide free school meals to eligible children who are not in school. During the COVID-19 outbreak, it is expected that schools will continue supporting children eligible for benefits-related free school meals who are at home during term time.

Where pupils eligible for benefits-related free school meals are self-isolating at home, schools should work with their school catering team or food provider to provide good quality lunch parcels. 

Further information on providing free school meals during the COVID-19 outbreak can be found here.

Examinations 2022

The government is currently instructing schools and students that they should be expecting to sit GCSE and A Level examinations in 2022. Due to the impacts which the COVID-19 pandemic has had on many children’s learning extra help may be given to help students to prepare for examinations and to make arrangements for non-examination assessments to be more flexible. These will include:

  • students taking GCSEs in English literature, history, ancient history and geography will not need to cover the usual range of content in the exams – the exam boards have published information on their websites on how this will work for each of their specifications in these subjects. Students taking GCSEs in all other subjects will be given advance information about the focus of the content of the exams to support their revision
  • students taking AS and A levels will be given advance information about the focus of the content of the exams to support their revision
  • students taking GCSE mathematics will be given in their exams copies of formulae they would in other years have to memorise
  • students taking GCSE physics and combined science will be given in their exams a sheet covering all the equations they might need to apply in the exams

Further information on these arrangements for examinations can be found here and for non-exam assessments (such as practical components of an exam syllabus or fieldwork) can be found here.

Although the government expects that exams will take place as normal this year schools are required to have a contingency plan n case this is not possible to allow students to be awarded Teacher Assessed Grades (TAGs). It is recommended that, in order toe ensure that schools have sufficient evidence on which to base TAGs students should be assessed under exam-like conditions where ever possible throughout the year. Guidance on examinations 2022 and contingency arrangements can be found here. 

Face coverings

From 20 January 2022, face coverings are no longer advised for pupils, staff and visitors in classrooms. From 27 January 2022, face coverings are no longer advised for pupils, staff and visitors in communal areas. This applies to both primary and secondary schools.

Schools are expected to have contingency plans so that, if there is a spike in cases in the school or the local area leading to recommendations by a Director of Public Health, they can temporarily reintroduce the use of face-coverings in the communal areas or classrooms as necessary.

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. 

Schools should not use the NHS COVID Pass as a condition of entry for education or related activities such as exams, teaching, extra-curricular activities or any other day-to-day activities that are part of education or training.