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Back to school concerns in England? Our helpline answers your questions

Friday 28th August 2020

All children in England are expected to return to school in September when the new school year starts. There will be lots of new rules in place to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the classroom may feel different to before lockdown.

You can visit our new page on going back to school, but here we've gathered answers from our adviser team to some of the questions we've been hearing on our helpline.

Attendance issues

I've been told that my child won't be allowed back in school next term following a risk assessment

When schools were closed to most pupils, individual risk assessments were necessary to decide whether a pupil with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan would be safer at home or at school.

The situation has changed now as all pupils are expected to be back in school from September. Individual risk assessments should not be a barrier to returning to full-time education. They can still be a useful way to decide what additional support children and young people with EHC plans will need to return to full time education.

Guidance says that schools should work with parents and young people over 16 to plan for this full return.

What can I do if my child's anxiety about going back to school means they simply refuse to go?

Schools are aware that many children will need additional support when they return in September. Talk to the school about practical ways they can help your child overcome their anxiety and ease back in to school.

Attendance is compulsory from September for children age five-16, as it was before the lockdown. If you allow your child to stay at home, you risk a fine or further action.

If your child's anxiety is so severe that they are unwell, let the school know this so that your child's absence can be authorised. The school may ask for evidence from a medical professional to show that your child is not fit to attend school. If the absence is likely to be longer term, see our pages on school attendance and absence and seek advice from our helpline on your next steps.

My child is vulnerable to infections and I don't think it's safe for them to return to school, do I have to send them in?

Attendance is compulsory and you may risk further action, such as a fine, if you do not send your child to school. Official guidance says that it is safe for pupils to be in school from September with the preventive measures in place.

Ask your child's school what steps they are taking to minimise the risk of transmission. If your child already has an individual health plan, it may need updating. See our webpage on how schools should support pupils with medical needs.

If you believe that your child cannot return to school because of their medical condition you are likely to need further medical evidence to show this is the case. See our webpages on attendance for further information and seek advice from our helpline on the next steps.

Children with health and medical needs

My child has complex medical needs. Her school are worried about the increased risk of Covid 19 transmission because of the procedures she needs and I'm worried she may not be able to return in September

Your child should not be prevented from returning to school in September because of the care she needs. Her individual risk assessment should be reviewed and updated to decide whether increased safety measures are needed:

The government has produced guidance on safe working in education, childcare and social care settings including the use of PPE

This guidance includes information on caring for children with complex medical needs where there is a risk of droplet transmission:

My child doesn't understand social distancing, will they let him go back to school if he can't follow the rules?

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.

How will my child's needs like changing, feeding and administering medication happen in September given social distancing rules?

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.

My child produces a lot of saliva because of their medical condition and the school say she cannot return in September as they are worried about the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Some pupils with complex needs will not be able to maintain the same hygiene as their peers. Guidance is clear that this is not a reason to stop them from having face to face education.

Risk assessments should be carried out by the school and should involve parents. The purpose of the risk assessment is to consider how to support the pupil and the staff working with them.

Keeping safe in school

Will school staff and children have to wear face masks in school?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) now recommends that children over 12 should wear masks in conditions where social distancing is not possible. In line with this, the government has recently revised its guidance on face coverings in secondary schools and further education colleges.

Where schools are in areas under local lockdown, pupils in year seven and above should wear face coverings in communal areas and when moving around the school (for example in corridors). In areas which are not under lockdown, individual schools can decide for themselves if pupils and staff should wear face coverings around the school.

The government advises that face coverings are not needed in the classroom, as they could make teaching and learning more difficult. Other protective measures, such as distancing and hand hygiene, should help to lower the risk of transmission in the classroom.

Some individuals do not have to wear face coverings. These include:

  • People who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a disability or illness.
  • People who cannot put on, wear or remove a mask without severe distress.
  • People who are speaking to or helping someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expression to communicate.

These exemptions also apply in schools and colleges.

My child's disability means they can't wear a mask - what will happen when they travel in the school bus or taxi?

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.

Education and behaviour support

Can my child still have access to remote learning next term?

Schools must provide remote learning to pupils who have to self-isolate due to Covid-19 (see above) or where large numbers of pupils have to stay home due to a local lockdown.

Schools will be expected to plan a high-quality programme that should include daily contact with a teacher. Pupils without suitable internet access should be provided with printed resources. Many children, including those with special educational needs (SEN), may need additional support with remote learning.

Schools will not have to provide remote learning if parents decide to keep their child at home, for example if they believe it is unsafe to send them in.

My child struggled to do schoolwork at home and I'm worried about how my child will catch up all the work they have missed.

All children will have had their learning disrupted due to lockdown, and teachers will recognise that many children will not have been able to learn at home. Schools will have a plan in place to identify any gaps in learning and to help pupils catch up. The government has announced extra funding for this.

My child's behaviour has been very challenging over the last few months because of the changes in routine during the pandemic. I am worried that when he returns to school in September this behaviour may continue. Can the school exclude him?

Schools can use disciplinary measures, such as exclusion for behaviour that is disruptive. Any exclusion must be formally recorded and permanent exclusion should be a last resort.

If disruptive behaviour is related to a child's SEN or disability, the school should first take action to identify and address the underlying cause of the behaviour.

Government 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, including specialist support and phased returns where needed.

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.

See our webpage for further information about school exclusion and your rights in this situation.

Over the last few months my child's therapies have been stopped as they were given in school. Should I expect the sessions to continue as usual once he returns in September?

Your child should continue to receive their support. Specialists, therapists, clinicians and other support staff for pupils with SEND should provide interventions as usual. Where the health or education support is specified in an EHC plan, it must be provided.

My child's school was struggling to meet my child's SEN before lockdown and I fear the situation may now be even worse - is there anything I can do about this?

If your child has an EHC plan, an early or emergency review may be needed to decide if you child needs more support or a different kind of support. If your child does not have an EHC plan, the school must do everything they can to put in place the extra help they need. See our webpage on getting extra help in school and seek further advice from our helpline if you need.

Other issues

My year seven child doesn't have a placement at a secondary school this September because my local authority says coronavirus has delayed the process. I expressed a preference for a school back in November.

The regulations have been amended to allow for flexibility in timescales where delays are due to Covid-19. However, this does not apply to processes which should have finished before 1 May. The deadline for amending a final EHC plan was 15 February. See our page on EHC Plans and school admissions and seek advice from our helpline about the next steps in your situation.

My child is starting secondary school in September. They usually have a transition day(s) to help them get used to it but of course this year this has not happened due to Covid-19. What can I do to help them with this big change?

Some of the suggestions below might be applicable to this question too.

My child has ADHD and severe anxiety, and I usually take him into the class, but the school have said due to Covid-19, I have to leave him at the school gate and cannot enter the school premises from September?

Disabled children and young people including autistic children, those with learning disabilities, ADHD or a PDA profile may find the return to school especially difficult.

It is important to share your worries with the school as soon as you can and agree a plan to ease you child's return to school and help them understand and cope with the changes.

  • If the school does not agree to this, discuss other adjustments which might help your child. For example you may be allowed to bring your child in at a different start time or to a different entrance.

Do you have any other questions?

Our helpine team are here to answer any concern you have. You can call us on 0808 808 3555 (Monday-Friday, 9.30am-5pm).

You can also ask a question via Facebook or Twitter, publically or via private message, or use our live chat in the bottom right of your screen.