As of Friday 20 March 2020, all schools in England will partially close until further notice. Schools will remain open to vulnerable pupils and to the children of key workers. To keep up-to-date with current advice, please see our Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQs which we will update with any new information.
Getting to grips with the coronavirus pandemic and what you should be doing to mitigate the risk of spreading infection can be stressful, especially when you have to continue working with those who may have been exposed to the virus. To help you remain safe and continue to provide an education to pupils who need to continue to attend your school, we have put together this guide.
Social distancing is a phrase that has been used a lot recently, and includes measures everyone should be taking to minimise social interaction and reduce the spread of coronavirus – but how do you socially distance yourself from pupils still coming into the school? The DfE understands it may not always be possible to remain two metres away from people at all times, so it recommends all school staff members keep a three-step distance when communicating with pupils and colleagues.
To help ensure that the risk of spreading coronavirus is as low as possible, your school should:
- Tell pupils, staff, parents, carers and any visitors (e.g. suppliers) not to visit the school if they are displaying the symptoms of coronavirus.
- Consider how pupils arrive at the school and reduce any unnecessary travel on coaches, buses or public transport.
- Ensure class sizes reflect the number of teaching staff available and are kept as small as possible.
- Stagger lunch times, break times and the movement of pupils around the school, to reduce large groups of pupils gathering together.
- Discourage parents from gathering at the school gates.
- Follow the government’s social distancing guidance as much as possible.
Make sure you let parents know what you are doing to ensure social distancing measures are being followed.
For more information on social distancing in general, click here. The DfE and Public Health England (PHE) have also published specific advice on how social distancing can be implemented in education and childcare settings.
Wash your hands
Another crucial part of delaying the spread of coronavirus is hand washing. By now, we have all seen at least one video of a celebrity washing their hands which highlights the importance of doing so. When washing your hands, you should:
- Wash for 20 seconds.
- Use soap.
- Dry your hands thoroughly.
- Use a tissue to turn the tap off.
The NHS’s official guide on how to wash your hands can be accessed by clicking here.
In accordance with ‘Keeping children safe in education’ (KCSIE), the DSL should always be available for staff in the school to discuss safeguarding concerns – whether or not the DSL is expected to be available in person is the school’s choice, so the DSL could work remotely and make themselves available by phone if, for example, they are self-isolating.
In the current situation, it is impossible to expect all staff members to be available to work, but to ensure the safety and wellbeing of pupils, schools should aim to ensure at least one trained first aider and the DSL are on site at all times.
Health and safety
Mitigating the spread of coronavirus will, understandably, be one of your school’s top priorities – reviewing current policies and procedures, e.g. risk assessments, is crucial to ensuring the safety of all staff members and pupils. If anyone falls ill with coronavirus symptoms (a new, continuous cough or a high temperature), they should be sent home as soon as possible.
What if a pupil falls ill with coronavirus symptoms while they are in school?
If a child falls ill and is awaiting collection, they should be moved to a room where they can isolate behind a closed door. It is important to remember the pupil’s needs at this point, and whether it is appropriate for them to be left alone. If it is not appropriate to isolate them, the pupil should be moved to a well-ventilated area which is at least two metres away from other people.
If the pupil needs to go to the bathroom, efforts should be made to ensure they use a separate bathroom – bathrooms and any other areas the pupil has used should be cleaned and disinfected before being used by anyone else.
What should a member of staff do if they have helped someone with coronavirus symptoms?
Unless the staff member starts to display a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they do not need to go home. Staff should always wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after contact with someone who’s unwell.
More information on managing coronavirus in schools can be accessed here.
Should a child of a key worker or vulnerable child still attend school if they have underlying health conditions?
These children can continue to attend school unless they are in one of the most vulnerable health groups – these groups are set out here. A child can continue to attend school if they have mild underlying health conditions.
Parents need to inform your school if their child has an underlying health condition, so that concerns can be addressed.
Should staff with serious underlying health conditions continue to go to school?
Staff with serious underlying health conditions which put them at a very high risk of severe illness due to coronavirus must follow the government’s shielding measures – this means they must not come into school. These staff should be supported to work from home, where possible.
What should pupils or staff that live with someone in a vulnerable health group do?
If a child of a key worker, a vulnerable child or a member of staff lives with someone in a vulnerable health group, they can still come to school as the number of social interactions in the school will be reduced due to their being fewer pupils attending.
If they live in a household with someone who is in the most vulnerable health group – set out here – then they should only attend the school if stringent social distancing can be adhered to. Your school should allow staff members in this position to work from home where possible. You should also consider the ability of pupils to be able to follow strict social distancing measures, especially young children.
To restrict the spread of coronavirus, it’s crucial to ensure the school is cleaned thoroughly and regularly. If a person is suffering from symptoms, then all the surfaces they have come into contact with must be cleaned and disinfected – this includes the following:
- Objects which are visibly contaminated with body fluids
- All potentially contaminated high-contact areas, e.g. bathrooms, door handles, telephones and handrails.
When cleaning and disinfecting areas, it is important to wear PPE, e.g. gloves and an apron, to avoid coming into direct contact with the virus. Once you have cleaned potentially infected areas, it is crucial to properly dispose of all waste – you should:
- Put waste in a plastic rubbish bag and tie it shut once it’s full.
- Place the rubbish bag in a second bag and tie this closed.
- Put the waste in a suitable place until the potentially infected individual’s test results are known.
More information on cleaning in non-healthcare settings can be found here.
Currently, the DfE is expecting schools to operate their normal opening hours. To ensure the safety of staff members, and to avoid potential over-exposure to coronavirus, some schools are creating rotas for staff members so they don’t have to work a full day. The DfE has not released guidance on rotating staff, but recommends that schools speak to their LA or trust about this.
The curriculum and exams
Emergency legislation is expected to be released which lifts curriculum requirements for schools, allowing flexibility to provide support, activities and education in the way they see fit – the DfE has stressed the most important thing at the moment is to provide care for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. The department has emphasised that schools should focus on fulfilling their safeguarding duties, and that any concerns should be discussed immediately with the LA or trust. SATs, GCSEs, AS- and A-levels will not go ahead this Summer, so there is no need to think about how best to prepare pupils for their exams.
The DfE recommends schools provide staff members, vulnerable children and the children of key workers with meals, and FSM for those who are eligible. More guidance on working with the children of key workers can be found in the DfE’s guide.
Parents of vulnerable children not wanting their child to attend school
Vulnerable children are expected to continue to attend school, so long as they do not have underlying health conditions that put them at severe risk of becoming seriously ill. If a parent of a vulnerable child does not want to bring their child into school and/or there are concerns regarding health conditions, your school should work with the child’s social worker to explore the reasons for this, directly with the parent – the aim should be to resolve the parent’s concerns.
Children with EHC plans
Children with EHC plans often have complex needs that would be best supported in an education setting. Your school and the LA need to consider the needs of these children, work closely with their parents, and make a risk assessment for each child.
Looking after your mental wellbeing
There is no hiding from the fact that’s it’s currently a very stressful time – this is an unprecedented event which no one could prepare for. It’s crucial to look after others, but also to make sure you’re taking care of yourself – physically and mentally.
One way to do this is by exercising; although the country is in lockdown, the importance of exercise was highlighted by the allowance for the public to leave the house to exercise once per day.
There are many options online for keeping pupils and staff members active in the current situation, such as The Body Coach (Joe Wicks). The NHS has also created guidance on exercises you can do while isolated, this includes information on sitting, strength, flexibility and balance exercises.
Eating healthily and drinking plenty of water will also have a positive effect on your wellbeing – it’s easy to fall into negative habits, but this can be counter-productive for your mood and can result in you feeling worse in the long run.
Another way of relaxing is by spending time doing things you enjoy – while the emphasis on staying at home may feel restrictive, it also gives you the time to try new hobbies or participate in existing ones even more. Reading, listening to music, cooking and watching films and TV are all great ways of disconnecting from the stresses of the current situation.
The DfE has released guidance for schools about temporarily closing, which can be accessed here. The guidance includes information relating to funding, attendance and working with parents.
For coronavirus advice and next steps, have a look at our resource pack, featuring FAQs, a risk assessment and more.
DfE (2019) ‘Keeping children safe in education’, p.95
DfE (2020) ‘Guidance for schools about temporarily closing’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-school-closures/guidance-for-schools-about-temporarily-closing> [Accessed: 25 March 2020]
DfE and PHE ‘COVID-19: guidance for education settings’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-educational-settings-about-covid-19/guidance-to-educational-settings-about-covid-19> [Accessed: 25 March 2020]
DfE and PHE (2020) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing social distancing in education and childcare settings’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-implementing-social-distancing-in-education-and-childcare-settings> [Accessed: 26 March 2020]
PHE (2020) ‘COVID-19: cleaning in non-healthcare settings’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings> [Accessed: 25 March 2020]
PHE (2020) ‘Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK’ <https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults> [Accessed: 25 March 2020]