Late on Friday 28th August, the DfE released new guidance on managing local outbreaks, known as the ‘contain framework’, which includes guidance on the potential use of rota systems in secondary schools. To get you up-to-speed, we’ve summarised the key points:

  • What is the ‘contain framework’?

  • Who makes decisions?

  • What indicators are used to inform decisions?

  • What are the four levels of outbreak scenarios?

  • What are the three escalation categories?

  • What are the tiers of national restriction for schools?

  • How are the tiers applied?

  • How can schools plan for tier 2 local restrictions?

  • What’s next?


What is the ‘contain framework’?


The government has laid out a national framework for how national and local partners will prevent, contain and manage coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks.


Who makes decisions?


Local outbreak planning is led by unitary metropolitan councils and county councils (referred to in the framework as ‘upper tier local authorities’ or UTLAs).

Local outbreak plans are centred on seven themes:

  1. Healthcare and education settings
  2. High-risk workplaces, communities and locations
  3. Local testing
  4. Contact tracing in complex settings
  5. Data integration
  6. Vulnerable people and diverse communities
  7. Local boards and communications

UTLAs are expected to use their powers with discretion and with regard to advice from their directors of public health (DPH). Wherever possible, actions to address outbreaks should be undertaken in partnership with local communities, on the basis of informed engagement and consent.


What indicators are used to inform decisions?


Indicators fall into four primary groups:

  1. PHE and NHS Test and Trace data – for example, the number and rate of increase of positive cases and the number of outbreaks in an area
  2. Syndromic surveillance – for example, an increase in NHS111 calls regarding COVID-19 like symptoms
  3. NHS activity – for example, hospital admissions for COVID-19
  4. Other indicators – for example, mortality data


What are the four levels of outbreak scenarios?


There are four levels of outbreak scenarios in the framework:

  1. Cases: Individual cases of coronavirus
  2. Clusters: Two or more cases associated with a specific setting in the absence of evidence of a common exposure or link to another case
  3. Outbreaks: Two or more confirmed cases associated with a specific setting with evidence of a common exposure or link to another case
  4. Community spread: Sporadic or linked cases on a limited or extensive basis

In the majority of these scenarios, local teams will be able to control the outbreak by drawing on their expertise. They may impose restrictions on the setting, such as cleaning or temporary closure. In exceptional cases, additional support or intervention may be required.

The framework states that the setting owner, with appropriate support, is the decision maker in schools when an outbreak is contained to an individual setting.


What are the three escalation categories?


For most scenarios, arrangements will be determined locally; however, based on the prevalence and progressions of the virus, local systems will be designated into three escalation categories:

  1. Areas of concern: UTLAs will work with their partners, supported by regional PHE and NHS Test and Trace resource.
  2. Areas of enhanced support: There will be increased national support, capacity and oversight.
  3. Areas of intervention: Decision making will be referred to the national level. This could include direction to close impacted schools to pupils, with the exception of vulnerable children and children of critical workers.


What are the tiers of national restriction for schools?


Where local restrictions have been implemented, schools will usually remain fully open, with the additional requirement that face coverings should be worn in communal areas where social distancing cannot be easily maintained by staff and pupils in Year 7 and above.

There may be exceptional circumstances where schools must be restricted locally. In these situations, restrictions will be implemented in a phased manner – with the primary aim being to retain as much face-to-face education and access to childcare as possible.

The tiers of restriction are designed to ensure that extensive limitations to education are a last resort. Where no local restrictions are in place, schools should continue to remain fully open to all and the tiers do not apply.

The four tiers are as follows:



Are face coverings required?


An area moving into national intervention with restrictions outside of education is known as ‘tier 1’. In tier 1, all schools will remain open to all pupils.

Yes, schools teaching Year 7 and above should require all staff and pupils to where face coverings in communal areas where social distancing cannot be easily maintained.


In tier 2, primary schools, alternative provision and special schools should continue to allow all pupils to attend.


Secondary schools should move to a rota model combining on-site provision with remote education. Full-time attendance must be provided to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. All other pupils should only attend school when their rota permits.


FE colleges should adopt similar principles but use their discretion to determine a model that limits numbers on site and works for their setting.


In tier 3, primary schools, alternative provision and special schools should continue to allow all pupils to attend.


Secondary schools and FE colleges should only provide full-time on-site provision for vulnerable children, the children of critical workers and ‘selected year groups’ (the guidance states that the DfE is yet to define ‘selected year groups’).


No other pupils should attend on site – remote education should be provided for all other pupils.


In tier 4, nurseries, primary schools and colleges should only provide on-site education for vulnerable pupils and the children of critical workers.  Remote education should be provided for all other pupils.


Alternative provision, special schools and other specialist settings should continue to allow full-time on-site attendance for all pupils.


How are the tiers applied?


Ultimately, the decision to order the closure of a school or childcare setting is taken by central government. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis in light of local circumstances; therefore, attendance may be restricted in different ways to those set out above. As measures are relaxed, tiers may be implemented in reverse.

Schools should consider how they would operate at each tier, and how they would inform pupils and parents which pupils should be in school at any given time – this is particularly important where a rota system is being utilised.


How can schools plan for tier 2 local restrictions?


As outlined previously, tier 2 requires secondary schools to adopt a rota system and FE colleges to limit on-site attendance, whilst other settings remain fully open. Schools should make plans for provision during all tiers, but the DfE has only released specific guidance for tier 2. They state that further guidance will be issued on tiers 3 and 4 if required.

A rota system should only be implemented for secondary years groups in areas required to move to tier 2. It is believed that limiting overall numbers on-site will help to reduce the number of contacts pupils have during a typical school day, and break transmission chains by allowing enough time at home to enable symptoms to present, whilst allowing some face-to-face teaching.


How would a rota system work?

  • Schools should ideally operate a rota system that means pupils spend two weeks on-site followed by two weeks at home.
  • Schools may choose to operate a one-week rota if this is deemed necessary for the delivery of the curriculum.
  • Rota lengths should not be shorter than one week.
  • When deciding how to split their pupils into rota groups, schools may wish to consider the following:
    • Rota groups should consist of ‘bubbles’ that avoid mixing with one another
    • Where practical, pupils likely to come into contact outside of school should be placed in the same rota group
    • Rota groups can use the same classrooms and facilities but cleaning of frequently used surfaces should take place in between use
    • Vulnerable children and children of critical workers should be integrated into rota groups, even if they remain on site whilst their rota group is scheduled to be at home
  • There is no fixed percentage of pupils on site that schools should not exceed.
  • Where a school caters for primary and secondary-aged pupils, primary year groups should continue to attend full-time during tier 2 restrictions and avoid mixing with secondary year groups.


What systems of control should be in place?

Schools should update their risk assessment to reflect the rota system, and implement the system of controls outlined in the full opening guidance. In addition, face coverings should be worn in communal areas where social distancing cannot be easily maintained by staff and pupils in Year 7 and above.


How can risks at home be minimised?

As pupils will be spending half of their time at home, it is essential that they continue to adhere to public health guidelines. Schools should support pupils to understand and adhere to wider local restrictions and guidance on protecting themselves and others from coronavirus.


Providing for priority groups

Schools are expected to provide full-time education for vulnerable children and children of critical workers during all tiers of restriction, and to strongly encourage their attendance at school.

All instances of non-attendance should be followed up by the school. Schools should:

  • Work with the LA and social worker (where applicable) to contact the parent or carer and explore the reason for absence.
  • Work with the LA, social worker and other relevant partners to strongly encourage the child to attend educational provision, particularly where the child’s social worker agrees that attendance is appropriate.

If the parent of a vulnerable child wishes for their child to be absent from school during their rota groups’ scheduled time at home, and the above measures have been followed, the parent should let the school know in advance that they are making an application for a leave of absence. Schools should grant this leave of absence, but only for the weeks the child’s rota group is scheduled to be at home.

Where a critical worker informs a school that their child requires full-time on-site provision during the weeks that their rota group is scheduled to be at home, the school should make this available. As with vulnerable children, critical workers should let the school know if their child will not be attending during this period and schools should grant a leave of absence.

During the time the rest of their rota group is at home, children in these priority groups attending school full-time should avoid mixing with the other rota group and avoid contact with each other where possible, as they are likely to be from different ‘bubbles’.

In all situations, schools should carry out a risk assessment and attention should be given to ensuring that thorough and frequent handwashing takes place and frequently touched surfaces are cleaned more often than usual.

Where schools have concerns over operating a rota system, they are asked to inform the DfE’s regional teams and their LA.



All pupils must attend school during their rota group’s scheduled time on-site and pupils’ attendance should be recorded using the usual attendance codes.

The DfE states that formal shielding is unlikely to be reintroduced, but if it does resume, clinically extremely vulnerable children will not be required to attend school.

Schools should reassure the following individuals that control measures have been put in place to allow them to return to school safely:

  • Pupils who have themselves been shielding previously but have been advised that this is no longer necessary
  • Those living in households where someone is clinically vulnerable
  • Those concerned about the comparatively increased risk from coronavirus for those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds
  • Those who have certain conditions such as obesity and diabetes


Providing remote education

When considering remote education for secondary year groups under a tier 2 rota system, schools should:

  • Set assignments that provide pupils with meaningful and ambitious work each day in a number of subjects – planning a programme that is of equivalent length to the core teaching pupils would receive in school.
  • Teach a planned and well-sequenced curriculum that builds knowledge and skills incrementally, and provides a good level of clarity about what is intended to be taught and practised in each subject.
  • Gauge pupils’ progress through the curriculum using questions and other suitable tasks, and set a clear expectation on how regularly teachers will check work.
  • Enable teachers to adjust the pace or difficulty of what is being taught in response to questions or assessments, including revising material or simplifying explanations where necessary.

Pupils who are unable to engage with remote learning effectively at home, for example, due to a lack of devices, may be considered vulnerable (at local discretion) and deemed able to attend full-time on-site provision.


Free school meals

Pupils on benefits-related free schools meals not attending school on-site during scheduled time at home should be provided free school meals. Schools should work with suppliers to prepare meals or food parcels to be collected by, or delivered to, eligible pupils. Distribution methods should adhere to social distancing measures and all meals should meet the school food standards.


The school workforce

Staff may operate across different rota groups, as well as across different bubbles. Schools should support staff to socially distance at a 2-metre length and avoid face-to-face contact as much as possible.

During tier 2, face coverings should be worn by staff in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

The DfE states that, in most cases, clinically extremely vulnerable staff should be able to continue attendance at school, provided systems of control are in place. When determining whether such staff can continue to attend the workplace, schools should consider advice from their DPH and LA. In the unlikely event that shielding is reintroduced locally, these members of staff will not be expected to attend school and schools should support such staff to follow any relevant advice issued.

Schools should explain to all staff the measures in place to reduce risks, and explain how the measures have been reviewed as part of an updated risk assessment.

Schools are also advised to consider whether a rota system can offer more opportunities for staff to work at home.

All schools will need to consider staff working patterns when determining their rota schedule. Governing boards and school leaders should have regard to staff members’ work-life balance and wellbeing, including considering how to balance the demands of on-site teaching and support for remote education. All decisions should be taken with regard to the terms and conditions of teachers’ employment.


Further guidance

The official guidance on planning for tier 2 local restrictions can be found here.


What’s next?


  • Send this update to colleagues to get them up-to-speed in minutes.
  • A wealth of resources concerning remote education can be found in our resource pack.
  • TheSchoolBus will be updating related policies and procedures as soon as possible, so keep an eye on the homepage and add our Coronavirus (COVID-19): Full Opening Plan to your watchlist to be notified when an updated version is available.
  • If you urgently require an updated document, your Master User can request this using our 'Need Further Help?' service.
  • You may also be interested in our related article outlining the major changes to the DfE’s ‘Guidance for full opening: schools’, updated significantly by the DfE on Friday 28th August.




Department of Health & Social Care (2020) ‘COVID-19 contain framework: a guide for local decision makers’ <> [Accessed: 28 August 2020]

DfE (2020) ‘How schools can plan for tier 2 local restrictions’ <> [Accessed: 28 August 2020]