School openings

Latest update on Thursday 2 July: Schools in England to reopen in full from September and new guidance published

The government has announced that all schools in England will reopen for all year groups and full time in September.

Contact's education experts have been looking at the new guidance (for special schools; for mainstream schools) published today to pick out the detail of interest to families of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

Schools will be expected to update their risk assessments and where necessary to put in place additional measures to reduce the risk of transmission of Coronavirus. These include:

  • Keeping children together in the same groups or "bubbles"  and limiting contact between groups
  • Different start and finish times for the school day
  • Encouraging older children to distance from each other and staff where possible
  • Regular handwashing and cleaning of school areas.
  • Access to testing in schools for those with suspected cases of Coronavirus
  • Self-isolation of individuals or groups if there are confirmed cases of Coronavirus. Schools will have to provide remote education for pupils who have to self -isolate.
  • School transport will continue but changes may be needed to reduce the risk of coronavirus, for example, more cleaning of vehicles or seating pupils differently 

Specific help

Some children and young people with SEND (whether with EHC plans or on SEN support) will need specific help and preparation for the changes to routine that these measures will involve, so staff should plan to meet these needs, for example using social stories.

Specialists, therapists, clinicians and other support staff for pupils with SEND should provide interventions as usual. 

Attendance will once again be compulsory for children aged 5-16 from September, apart from pupils who are shielding or self isolating in line with medical advice.

Guidance says that schools should consider any challenging behaviours or social or emotional challenges arising as a response to the lockdown and offer additional support and phased returns where needed.

There is specific guidance for further education colleges and early years settings.

Particular challenges for disabled children

Jill Hardman, Contact's Senior Education Helpline Adviser, said: "The guidance recognises that many disabled children will find the return to school challenging, so there needs to be a package of support that families can access to address that.

"This will help to ensure the return to school is successful for children with SEND. It is important that children currently without a school place and those that are transitioning between settings are given special attention so they aren't left behind.

"In futher recognition of the particular challenges for disabled children, we would like to see a period of grace for them and their families, by not penalising absences for at least two months. Families do not need this added stress at this time."

Listen to our webinar on returning to school

Our parent carer participation team have been working with forums in the North East to put on a webinar about managing the return to school.

Presented by Dionne Hollis (Occupational Therapist) and Stephanie Carr (Speech and Language Therapist), the webinar covers support strategies such as visual structure and accessible information, managing rising emotions and adjusting expectations as we all tackle going back to school after this long break or after significant changes to school timetables.

Watch the webinar recording on Youtube.

Friday 19 June: Government announces £1bn education 'catch up' package in England

The government has announced a £1bn 'catch-up' programme for children in England who have missed out on school during lockdown.

This includes £350m for one-on-one or small group tutoring for some of the most disadvantaged pupils at state schools in England from the start of the autumn term. Another £650m will be shared among primary and secondary schools to tackle the impact of Covid-19 for all pupils.

This money is a one-off payment for the next academic year 2020/21 starting in September and it will be up to head teachers how it is spent. This could mean classes through the summer, extra teachers or equipment like computers for pupils for example.

Contact comments on this announcement

Jill Hardman from Contact says: "Today's announcement to help all children in England return to school in September will be welcome news for families whose children have missed months of schooling. However we need to see more details and it's worrying that specific plans for children with disabilities and additional needs so far appear to be missing. We hope that this does not mean that this group of children and their families have been forgotten and left behind.

"The changes to SEN law rushed through by the government under the Coronavirus Act, now extended for a second month, have already left many children with special educational needs unsupported. Parents need urgent reassurance that their children are included in the government's Covid catch up plan for education. When and if their children return for the autumn term they need to know that they will have all of the support set out in their child's EHC plan and what the transition plans for their children to go back to school looks like."

Update on Thursday 9 June: Government drops plan for full primary school return this term

The government has scrapped its plans to get all English primary school pupils back to school before the end of this academic year.

Since 1 June, some early years settings have been open, and some primary schools for pupils in Reception Year 1 and Year 6 only.

The aim was for all primary pupils to spend four weeks in school before the summer break. But the government says that this is no longer possible and instead it will give primary schools the 'flexibility' to decide whether to admit more pupils or not.

In addition, secondary schools in England may not fully reopen until September at the earliest, the government has said.

Priority groups (vulnerable children and critical worker children) have had ongoing access to a school place where appropriate since schools officially closed - find out more if this applies to you.

Special schools, special post-16 institutions and hospital schools will have a phased return based on risk assessments of individual pupils.

There are no plans to reopen secondary schools for the majority of pupils until September

Will I have to send my child back to school?

Parents will be encouraged to send their child to school when they are invited to return. However parents will not be penalised if they choose to keep their child at home.

How will schools keep pupils and staff safe?

There is separate guidance on the social distancing and hygiene measures schools will be expected to put in place to reduce the risk of Covid 19 transmission. These include:

  • Social distancing where pupils are able to understand and follow this.
  • Class sizes of no more than 15 pupils
  • Keeping pupils together in small groups during the school day.
  • Staggered pick up and drop off times.
  • Staggered break and lunch times.
  • One way systems or divisions in corridors to prevent large groups mixing.
  • More hand washing.
  • More cleaning of toilets, surfaces and equipment.
  • Less sharing of equipment.

The government's view is that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is not necessary for staff in school settings, except where it is already routinely used.

Testing will be available for pupils and staff. Those who show symptoms of Covid-19 or test positive would be asked to self-isolate

What about transport?

Walking or cycling to school is encouraged. For pupils dependent on school transport, this will continue. However providers have been asked to consider the steps they can take to reduce risk of transmission, for example using two vehicles instead of one to reduce the numbers of children travelling together.

See the government's FAQ's for parents and carers

Further information visit gov.uk

Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak guidance has been updated.

Open letter from minister Vicky Ford MP

Vicky Ford MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, has written an open letter to children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, their parents/carers and families, and others who support them, about the wider opening of schools, colleges and other educational settings from 1 June 2020.

Temporary change in law for Education, Health & Care (EHC) plans

Latest update on Thursday 2 July: Law change to end 31 July

The Department for Education have announced that they won't extend the temporary change in the law for Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) in England beyond 31st July 2020.

Contact welcomes the announcement as an important step in enabling disabled children to return to school at the same time as their peers in September. And crucially will help reassure parents in advance of the new school year.

Huge relief

Amanda Batten, Chief Executive of Contact, said: "Today's announcement that EHCP support will be back in full from the start of August 2020 is an important step in giving families the confidence they desperately need to get their children ready for the start of the new school year in September.

"Support set out in an EHCP enables children with special educational needs to access learning. It will be a huge relief to the families that we support that it will be back in full in advance of the new school year. We also welcome the recognition in today's announcement that many disabled children will find the return to school challenging. In response to this we would like to see a period of grace, allowing phased returns, not penalising absences and offering additional support to address challenging behaviours."

The legal timescales for various EHC processes have been relaxed until 25th September.

The government first implemented temporary changes to the law regarding Education Health and Care (EHC) plans during the Coronavirus pandemic on the 1st May. This was eventually extended until 31 July.

What do the temporary changes mean?

The changes means education and health support set out for a child with special educational needs (SEN) in an EHC plan, may be different for an extended period of time.

Local authorities and health providers will have to use "reasonable endeavours" to secure this support. This means that they do not have to do exactly what is detailed in the EHC plan if this is not possible during the Coronavirus outbreak. However they should try other ways of providing the support. For example, your child may be offered help virtually over the phone or online rather than face to face.

The law regarding EHC plans temporarily changed in two key ways:

  • The government has issued a notice under the Coronavirus Act 2020 confirming that local authorities and health commissioning bodies (e.g. Clinical Commissioning Groups) must now use their reasonable endeavours to secure the provision set out within a child or young person's EHC plan. This means that local authorities and health bodies must consider, for each child and young person with an EHC plan, what they need to provide during the period of the notice. This may result in a child or young person's provision being different from that which is set out in their EHC plan. For example, they may offer support virtually rather than face to face. This legal change will be in force from 1st to 31st May 2020 and will be reviewed monthly.
  • Secondly, the usual timescales in regulations for various EHC processes have been replaced by requirements on local authorities, health care professionals and others to act as soon as reasonably practicable (or in line with any other timing requirement in the regulations being amended). This means, for example that local authorities will not have to keep to the statutory timescales for EHC processes if this is difficult or impossible, as long as the reason relates to coronavirus. These changes will be in force from 1st May to 25th September 2020 and will be kept under review.

Updated guidance has been published alongside these temporary changes:


Most SEND law, and key elements of the EHC process have not changed. For example: local authorities must still consider requests for EHC needs assessments, gather all the required information for EHC needs assessments, issue EHC plans where required, and hold annual reviews.

Change to exclusion procedures

Some exclusion procedures have temporarily changed to allow more flexibility to schools, parents and local authorities during the coronavirus outbreak.

Timescales for considering fixed-term and permanent exclusions, and applying for independent reviews, may be extended if necessary for a reason related to coronavirus.

Governors' meetings and Independent Review Panels can be held remotely instead of face to face, if everyone agrees.

These changes will be in force from the 1 June to 24 September 2020 and cover exclusions already in progress before and after this period.

New statutory guidance has been produced setting out the detail of these changes:


This should be read alongside existing statutory guidance on exclusions: Exclusion from Maintained Schools, Academies and Pupil Referral Units in England

Other education announcements

24 April: StarLine parent helpline launched - England

STAR Academies Trust has launched a new national helpline for parents called StarLine. The service is a free telephone helpline offering parents and carers personalised advice and support from a team of qualified teachers, education and parenting experts.

Calls to the helpline use a local rate number, 0330 3139162, from anywhere in the UK.

19 April: Government announces initiatives to help pupils working from home - England

Schools and colleges and local authorities will soon be able to get access to more remote education resources during the school closure period, including laptops and internet access for some disadvantaged pupils.

Local authorities, trusts and other relevant organisations overseeing schools will be given guidance on how to place online orders for devices for eligible pupils from Wednesday 22 April. Schools, parents and pupils will not be able to order the devices themselves.

Schools and families can access a wide range of resources to support learning at home. These include video lessons, interactive activities and worksheets developed by teachers for primary and secondary school children, including pupils with SEN, in a variety of subjects.

31 March: Voucher scheme launched for schools in England providing free school meals - England

Children eligible for free school meals in England will be able to benefit from a national voucher scheme allowing them to continue to access meals while they stay at home.

The scheme announced on 31 March by the government means schools will be able to provide eligible children with a weekly shopping voucher worth £15 to spend at supermarkets while schools are closed due to coronavirus.

Schools can continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves, but where this is not possible, the scheme will allow schools to provide vouchers to ensure children do not lose out.

The vouchers can be spent on food at a range of shops including Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S, and the Department for Education (DfE) are working to get more shops to join the scheme as soon as possible.

Until now, schools have been making their own arrangements.

The Department for Education has also published new guidance on free school meals to help schools and parents prepare.

20 March: School closures - UK-wide, but guidance below for England only

From Friday 20 March, UK schools have closed indefinitely to minimise transmission of Covid-19.

Most children must now stay at home, but the government has allowed for some exceptional cases. These are:

  • Children of key workers, i.e. those working on the front line of the coronavirus situation such as doctors and nurses.
  • Vulnerable children.

These children can expect their education provision to continue in an education setting.

The law on school attendance for children of compulsory school age has been temporarily relaxed. This means that you will not be committing an offence if your child is not attending school.

For more information for parents and carers about the closure of schools and other educational settings following the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) please read this government publication.

What are key workers?

Key workers are those whose jobs are critical to the Covid-19 response, such as those who work in health and social care, along with some other sectors.

Find out more about key workers at gov.uk.

If you are a key worker and your child cannot safely be kept at home, your child will be prioritised for education provision.

Who are vulnerable children?

Vulnerable children include children who are supported by social care, those with safeguarding and welfare needs, including child in need plans, on child protection plans, 'looked after' children, young carers, disabled children and those with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans.

Education settings will also have the flexibility to extend education provision to children on the edges of receiving children's social care support - even if they don't meant the definition of vulnerable.

Will my child have to go to school if they are vulnerable?

Children receiving social care can expect to receive education provision at school unless it is unsafe for them to be there. If a parent feels they can safely keep their child at home, the advice is that the school, social worker and parent will discuss this together.

Children with an EHC plan in England are expected to fall into two categories. Children receiving limited or no personal care from their education setting can be safely kept at home if what care they do need can be provided there instead. In these cases, local authorities and education settings will use their reasonable endeavours to continue meeting the needs outlined in the EHC plan.

Other children might be at significant risk if their education, health and care needs can't be met. This may include those with profound and multiple learning difficulties, and those receiving significant levels of personal care support at their education setting. Local authorities will ensure that there are education settings open for these children.

Schools, colleges, other training providers and local authorities will consider the needs of all children and young people with an EHC plan, alongside the views of their parents, and make a risk assessment for each child or young person. See the government's guidance on carrying out risk assessments.

It is important to be aware that any changes to the support outlined in the EHC plan during this period will be taken as temporary changes only.

Will my child go to their same school?

Local authorities will work with schools to keep them open, but this might not always be possible, for example if it's unsafe for staff or pupils to do so. If your child is needs to go to school but their own school is closed, they will be given a place in another school.

Will my child's school transport continue?

Yes, local authorities must continue to ensure children are supported to get to school safely. This applies even if your child has been moved to another school.

Children in alternative provision

The government is keeping alternative provision settings open due to the small but mostly vulnerable number of children who attend.

The guidance says that these children are at particular risk of not being at school, while alternative provision settings are especially well-placed to care for vulnerable children.

If an alternative provision setting does have to close, the local authority must carry our safeguarding assessments for each child on a case-by-case basis and make appropriate arrangements.

When can I find out more?

See the government's guidance on vulnerable children and young people.

See also guidance on isolation for residential education settings.

Vicky Ford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, has written an open letter to children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, their parents, families and others who support them.

The letter signposts key Covid-19 guidance published over the past week.

You can read the letter in full on the Council for Disabled Children (CDC) website.

Cancellation of GCSEs and A Levels this year

Exams have been cancelled for 2020 to give pupils, parents, and teachers certainty, and enable schools and colleges to focus on supporting vulnerable children and the children of key workers. You can find out more in this government publication about exams in 2020.

Department for Education (DfE) Coronavirus Helpline - England

The DfE have set up a helpline offering guidance for anyone with education related questions.

The number is 0800 046 8687, and lines are open 8am-6pm (Monday - Friday), and 10am - 4pm (Saturday and Sunday).