Home Help for families Information & Advice Covid-19 and families with disabled children UK-wide education updates Back to school – frequently asked questions (England)
13 mins read
Schools and colleges in England have been open full time for pupils since March.
Attendance is mandatory for children of compulsory school age (five-16) unless they are shielding on medical advice, self- isolating because they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, or in quarantine. Schools must continue with protective measures to reduce the risk of coronavirus.
On this page, our education team have put together answers to some of the frequently asked questions on our helpline.
Your worries are normal. Discuss any concerns with your child’s teachers and ask them to reassure you about the safety measures the school has in place.
However, it’s important to be aware that this is not a valid reason to keep your child off school. School attendance law was back in force from 8 March, and so it is your legal duty to make sure that your child attends their school if they are of compulsory school age (five-16). Otherwise you risk a fine or further action.
For more information, see our webpage about school attendance.
The Department for Education (DfE) updated its schools coronavirus operations guidance for England, which confirms that all CEV pupils should be attending their school from Thursday 1 April.
The only exception is if your child is one of the very small number of pupils under paediatric or other specialist care who have been advised by their GP or clinician not to attend.
Schools must provide remote education to pupils who cannot attend for reasons related to coronavirus. This includes pupils who are shielding, self- isolating or in quarantine.
Remote education must include direct teaching in a range of subjects and time to work independently. Your child should receive between three to five hours of a day, depending on their age. This can be delivered in different ways: for example through live or recorded online lessons, textbooks and other printed materials. The lessons should be tailored towards your child’s special educational needs (SEN), and they should receive extra help if they need it.
If your child has an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, they are entitled to receive the educational and health provision in it. The support may have to be done differently while your child is learning at home, and the school, local authority and health professionals should work with you to make this happen.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is only needed if staff already uses it in their normal work to provide intimate personal care to a pupil, or where supporting a pupil who has Covid-19 symptoms where two metre distancing is not possible.
Social distancing – making sure there is enough space between people to stop the Covid-19 virus spreading – has been put in place by the government. Schools are expected to encourage this where possible.
For example, many schools can rearrange classrooms to have forward facing desks with space between them, or markings on the floor to encourage one way systems and show children where to line up. Teachers are encouraged to maintain a two metre distance from each other and from pupils, for example, by teaching at the front of the class. Where this isn’t possible teachers should avoid face to face contact spend as little time as possible within one metre of anyone.
It will be up to schools to decide how best to put in place these arrangements depending on the layout of the building, their size and class groupings.
Some pupils will not be able to understand and follow social distancing rules and should not be punished or excluded for this. Other measures, such as protective bubbles, handwashing and cleaning will be particularly important where social distancing is not practical, for example with younger age groups.
Social distancing will not be possible when working with many pupils with complex needs or where an adult needs to be in close contact with a pupil to provide personal care. The guidance is clear that educational and care support should be provided as normal.
In secondary schools, face coverings should be worn in communal areas and in corridors.
New government guidance also recommends that pupils and staff in secondary schools should wear face coverings in classrooms and during activities (excluding PE) unless social distancing can be maintained. This will continue until 17 May.
Primary school pupils do not have to wear face coverings in school.
There are exceptions for children and adults:
In some cases, transparent masks may be helpful. Guidance does not recommend visors instead of masks as they are not effective in reducing transmission.
Your child should not be denied education because they are not wearing a face covering.
All secondary schools and colleges are offering their pupils and students Covid-19 testing (rapid lateral flow tests) to carry out at home. Rapid testing using lateral flow devices (LFDs) identify pupils and staff who are infectious but do not have any Covid-19 symptoms.
Pupils will be able to return to school after their first negative test. Those who test positive will self-isolate, helping to reduce transmission of the virus and keeping other pupils and students in face-to-face education.
Pupils are asked to test themselves on a twice weekly basis. Some children and young people may be able to administer the test themselves with adult supervision.
Testing is voluntary for all settings but is strongly encouraged. Primary school pupils are not tested.
Testing is encouraged and your child’s school or college should work with you to help your child understand and participate in the tests. However, testing is not compulsory, and the school cannot require your child to be tested before being allowed back to school.
Children under 16 will only be tested if a parent or guardian has given informed consent. Young people over 16 can give their own consent unless they lack the mental capacity to do so, in which case you would give consent on their behalf. Even where consent has already been given, no child or young person will be forced to undergo a test if they don’t want to.
There is additional guidance on asymptomatic testing in specialist settings.
The government has produced guidance on school transport.
The guidance says that public transport use should be kept to an “absolute minimum”, especially at peak times. Staggered start and finish times may help with this and pupils are encouraged to walk or cycle to school where possible.
Face coverings are compulsory on public transport for children and young people over 11, unless they are exempt. Face coverings are not compulsory on dedicated school transport services, but they are recommended for all passengers over the age of 11.
School transport services are expected to put measures in place to keep children safe such as:
Schools also need a process for staff and pupils to remove face coverings safely on arrival at school.
Children eligible for free transport from their council must continue to receive this. For children with SEND, the transport must be suitable for their individual needs: this means safe and reasonably stress-free.
Local authorities and transport providers must consider the particular needs of children with SEND. They should consider the views of parents and the school:
Face coverings are not compulsory on school transport services. Children who cannot wear a mask, for example because of a particular condition, or because it would cause them severe anxiety, do not have to wear one.
Personal travel budgets may be an option offered by your local council, with your consent. Check your local authority’s transport policy and contact them to discuss it. The new guidance makes it clear that mileage allowances and personal budgets should cover the cost of the parent’s journey to and from school in the morning, and again in the afternoon.
Your child is entitled to receive the support specified in their Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, and additional support and therapies should be provided as usual. Although the rules were relaxed during the first lockdown last year, the law is back in force. This means that local authorities and health services now have a legal duty to make sure the support is provided.
If it is not possible to deliver the support as specified because of coronavirus, the local authority, education and health professionals should work with you to find an alternative way of doing it. If your child’s does not get the help they are entitled to, complain to your local authority.
Legal timescales and procedures must also be followed for EHC processes such as annual reviews, even if the review meeting has to be held remotely. If your child’s plan has not been properly reviewed in the past year, ask your child’s school and local authority to arrange this. See our webpage on Annual Review for more information on preparing for a review.
Key stage 1 and 2 SATs for primary school children in Year 2 and Year 6 have been cancelled this year.
GCSEs and A levels will not take place this summer, and pupils will get grades based on teacher assessment, with guidance from exam boards. Schools and colleges should make reasonable adjustments for disabled students.
Some exams and assessments for vocational and technical qualifications will go ahead this year. If your child may be affected, ask their school or college educational setting for more information.
Our page on coronavirus and your family’s wellbeing has lots of resources and activities plus information on looking after yourself and your child, including tips on managing anxiety.
You may find it useful to get in contact with the relevant support group or umbrella organisation for your child’s condition to see if they have specific advice about attending school.
You can find the support group for your child’s condition in our A-Z medical directory
With Dionne Hollis (Occupational Therapist) and Stephanie Carr (Speech and Language Therapist) on support strategies for managing behaviour and anxiety
Barristers Steve Broach and Polly Sweeney talk us through the legal rights of children and young people with special educational needs returning to School in September.
Our popular free workshops programme is now online. Topics include: Encouraging Positive Behaviour, Wellbeing for you, and Managing your child’s sleep. Visit our family workshops page for upcoming dates.
Our ‘Listening Ear’ service which provides free 1-1 support for parents via a telephone appointment with one our family support advisers, at a time that suits you. We can help with emotional support, strategies for reducing your child’s anxiety and challenging behaviour or help you with structuring the day. Visit EventBrite for upcoming timeslots.
You may find our information and parent guides on helping your child sleep and understanding your child’s behaviour, packed with hints and tips, helpful at this time.
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