Coronavirus and Schools

As the government has stated that it is a priority for schools to remain open in all tiers for the majority of pupils from September 2020 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? 

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. They are grouped into ‘prevention’ and ‘response to any infection’:


  • minimise contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend school
  • clean hands thoroughly more often than usual
  • ensure good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach
  • introduce enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, using standard products such as detergents and bleach
  • minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing wherever possible
  • where necessary, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)

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

Return to School March 2021

The government announced that schools should plan to fully reopen from 8th March 2021 for all pupils.

The government has published guidance on the re-opening of schools which can be found here. 

All children are expected to return to school and the normal rules on attendance will once again apply (see below). This includes for children who live in a household with someone considered to be clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable. Schools are encouraged to discuss concerns which parents may have about their child returning to school but should remind parents that all pupils of compulsory school age must be in school unless one of the statutory reasons applies (either under the coronavirus legislation or the usual school attendance guidance which can be found here). However, if a pupil is considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable and have been asked to shield then they will not be expected to attend school. The school may ask for a copy of the shielding letter sent to the clinically extremely vulnerable child which recommends that they do not attend school or other educational settings while shielding guidance is in place but should not not encourage parents to request unnecessary medical evidence.

Schools are expected to have measures in place to minimise the spread of the coronavirus which comply with the public health guidance (see above).

Secondary schools should continue with mass-testing for pupils using lateral flow devices (LFDs) if they were planning to take part in this programme. Initial testing should take place on site with later tests once pupils have returned to on-site learning taking place at home. It is for schools to decide whether they choose to take part and consent is required from the pupil/the pupil’s parent for testing to be carried out. Although testing is voluntary it is strongly encouraged. Secondary school pupils may have a phased testing and return from the week commencing 8th March 2021; all pupils should be in school after a negative test or, if they have not been tested, in line with the phased return arrangements. Pupils 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.

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.

Schools should not plan for children to attend on a rota which reduces the amount of days when each pupil attends school as there is no need to reduce the occupancy of school sites.


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:

  • how pupils are grouped together on transport, where possible this should reflect the bubbles that are adopted within school
  • use of hand sanitiser upon boarding and/or disembarking
  • additional cleaning of vehicles
  • organised queuing and boarding where possible
  • distancing within vehicles wherever possible
  • the use of face coverings for children (except those under the age of 11), where appropriate, for example, if they are likely to come into very close contact with people outside of their group or who they do not normally meet
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.


In March, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was increasing, it was made clear that no parent would be penalised or sanctioned for their child’s non-attendance at school. 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. 

If parents of pupils with significant risk factors are concerned, it is recommended that schools discuss their concerns and provide reassurance of the measures they are putting in place to reduce the risk in school. 

For the school year 2020 to 2021, a new category has been added to record instances when a pupil is ‘not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus (COVID-19)’; code X. An addendum has been published which goes into further detail on the use of this particular category. 

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.”

The government has issued guidance on the use of face coverings in schools which can be found here.

From the 17th of May 2021 the guidance for schools in England no longer recommends that students in secondary schools wear face coverings in classrooms or communal areas. Students will still be expected to wear face coverings on school transport (see above). It will not be recommended that teachers should wear face coverings in classrooms but it will still be recommended that teachers and visitors should wear face coverings in communal areas where social distancing is not possible. 

Going forwards it may be recommended that secondary school students and teachers wear face coverings in classrooms and communal area in areas with a localised outbreak (particularly if this involves a Covid variant of concern). 

In primary schools where social distancing is not possible in indoor areas outside of classrooms between members of staff or visitors (for example, in staffrooms), head teachers will have the discretion to decide whether to ask staff or visitors to wear, or agree to them wearing, face coverings in these circumstances. Children in primary school do not need to wear a face covering.