Covid-19 – School guidance for September published today – 12 noon 2nd July 2020

James Williams

The Government has published the guidance for schools to follow to enable a full re-opening in September.  The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview.  The full guidance runs to 35 pages.

Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak
What all schools will need to do during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak from the start of the autumn term.
First published.  9:30am, 2 July 2020


  • The guidance 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.
  • Separate guidance is available for early years, further education colleges and for special schools.

Guidance for full opening: special schools and other specialist settings
Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

  • The guidance is in 5 sections.
  1. Public health advice, endorsed by Public Health England (PHE) setting out the actions school leaders should take to minimise the risk of transmission in their school.
  2. School operations.
  3. Curriculum, behaviour and pastoral support.
  4. Assessment and accountability.
  5. Contingency planning to provide continuity of education in the case of a local outbreak.

Points to note

  • The guidance has been prepared with input from school leaders, unions and sector bodies and in consultation with PHE and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
  • In welcoming all children back this autumn, schools will be asked to minimise the number of contacts that a pupil has during the school day.
  • Every school will also need to plan for the possibility of a local lockdown and how they will ensure continuity of education.
  • The guidance does not create any new legal obligations.
  • There cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach where the system of controls describes every scenario.
  • Schools should not put in place rotas.
  • Essential measures include:
    • 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 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

System of controls
This is the set of actions schools must take. They are grouped into ‘prevention’ and ‘response to any infection’ and are outlined in more detail in the guidance.
1. 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.
2. Clean hands thoroughly more often than usual.
3. Ensure good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach.
4. Introduce enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, using standard products such as detergents and bleach.
5. Minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing wherever possible.
6. Where necessary, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Numbers 1 to 4 must be in place in all schools, all the time.

Number 5 must be properly considered and schools must put in place measures that suit their particular circumstances.

Number 6 applies in specific circumstances.

Response to any infection
7.   Engage with the NHS Test and Trace process.
8.   Manage confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) amongst the school community.
9.   Contain any outbreak by following local health protection team advice.

Numbers 7 to 9 must be followed in every case where they are relevant.

How to group children

  • In secondary schools, and certainly in the older age groups at key stage 4 and key stage 5, the groups are likely to need to be the size of a year group.
  • At primary school, and in the younger years at secondary (key stage 3), schools may be able to implement smaller groups the size of a full class.
  • Schools should assess their circumstances and if class-sized groups are not compatible with offering a full range of subjects or managing the practical logistics within and around school, they can look to implement year group sized ‘bubbles’.
  • Younger children will not be able to maintain social distancing, and it is acceptable for them not to distance within their group.
  • Both the approaches of separating groups and maintaining distance are not ‘all-or-nothing’ options, and will still bring benefits even if implemented partially.
  • All teachers and other staff can operate across different classes and year groups in order to facilitate the delivery of the school timetable.
  • For state-funded schools, routine Ofsted inspections will remain suspended for the autumn term. However, during the autumn term, inspectors will visit a sample of schools to discuss how they are managing the return to education of all their pupils.

Managing confirmed cases

  • Schools must take swift action when they become aware that someone who has attended has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Schools should contact the local health protection team.
  • The health protection team will carry out a rapid risk assessment to confirm who has been in close contact with the person during the period that they were infectious, and ensure they are asked to self-isolate.
  • The health protection team will work with schools in this situation to guide them through the actions they need to take. Based on the advice from the health protection team, schools must send home those people who have been in close contact with the person who has tested positive, advising them to self-isolate for 14 days since they were last in close contact with that person when they were infectious. Close contact means:
    • direct close contacts – face to face contact with an infected individual for any length of time, within 1 metre, including being coughed on, a face to face conversation, or unprotected physical contact (skin-to-skin)
    • proximity contacts – extended close contact (within 1 to 2 metres for more than 15 minutes) with an infected individual
    • travelling in a small vehicle, like a car, with an infected person
  • It is recommended that schools keep a record of pupils and staff in each group, and any close contact that takes places between children and staff in different groups (see section 5 of system of control for more on grouping pupils). This should be a proportionate recording process. Schools do not need to ask pupils to record everyone they have spent time with each day or ask staff to keep definitive records in a way that is overly burdensome.
  • A template letter will be provided to schools, on the advice of the health protection team, to send to parents and staff if needed.
  • Schools must not share the names or details of people with coronavirus (COVID-19) unless essential to protect others.

School workforce

  • Most staff are expected to attend school.  ‘It remains the case that wider government policy advises those who can work from home to do so. We recognise this will not be applicable to most school staff, but where a role may be conducive to home working for example, some administrative roles, school leaders should consider what is feasible and appropriate.’

Staff who are clinically vulnerable or extremely clinically vulnerable
Where schools apply the full measures in this guidance the risks to all staff will be mitigated significantly, including those who are extremely clinically vulnerable and clinically vulnerable. We expect this will allow most staff to return to the workplace, although we advise those in the most at risk categories to take particular care while community transmission rates continue to fall.

Advice for those who are clinically-vulnerable, including pregnant women, is available.

Individuals who were considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable and received a letter advising them to shield are now advised that they can return to work from 1 August as long as they maintain social distancing. Advice for those who are extremely clinically vulnerable can be found in the guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.

School leaders should be flexible in how those members of staff are deployed to enable them to work remotely where possible or in roles in school where it is possible to maintain social distancing.

People who live with those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or clinically vulnerable can attend the workplace.

Staff who are pregnant
As a general principle, pregnant women are in the ‘clinically vulnerable’ category and are advised to follow the relevant guidance available for clinically-vulnerable people.

Supporting staff
Governing boards and school leaders should have regard to staff (including the headteacher) work-life balance and wellbeing. Schools should ensure they have explained to all staff the measures they are proposing putting in place and involve all staff in that process.

All employers have a duty of care to their employees, and this extends to their mental health. Schools already have mechanisms to support staff wellbeing and these will be particularly important, as some staff may be particularly anxious about returning to school.

The Department for Education is providing additional support for both pupil and staff wellbeing in the current situation. Information about the extra mental health support for pupils and teachers is available.

The Education Support Partnership provides a free helpline for school staff and targeted support for mental health and wellbeing.

Staff deployment
Schools may need to alter the way in which they deploy their staff, and use existing staff more flexibly to welcome back all pupils at the start of the autumn term. Managers should discuss and agree any changes to staff roles with individuals.

Gavin Williamson also sent out a press release today, confirming the wider re-opening:-

Schools and colleges to reopen in full in September

If you need any more detailed advice or have any questions at all please do not hesitate to contact us.

James Williams – Solicitor

James Williams

I am a qualified Employment Law and HR Solicitor. I specialise in acting for schools and advise on all aspects of employment law and HR including attending employee meetings, advising senior leaders, conducting redundancy consultations, drafting contracts of employment, advising on policies and procedures and negotiating settlement agreements.