Here's what you need to know about the return to school
Many schools have welcomed back children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 this week and, if all goes to plan, we expect that Years 10 and 12 will return from 15 June 2020.
Whilst most schools have spent half term preparing for the return of more pupils, we’ve set out some key FAQs as schools ease back in to the ‘new normal’.
What are schools required to do if parents don’t send their children in?
Schools should seek clarity from all parents about whether their children are able to attend. Where parents do not send their child(ren) in, the school should explore the reason and seek to address any concerns that parents may have. If necessary, the school should follow its safeguarding procedures.
Parents will not be fined for non-attendance of their children at this time and schools will not be held to account for attendance levels.
Should we be prioritising which pupils can attend?
According to the Government, there are two main reasons why they are encouraging the return of children in Reception and Years 1 and 6. Firstly, the scientific advice suggests that younger children are less likely to become unwell if infected with coronavirus. Secondly, the Government has chosen the pupils that they consider are in key transition years.
Of course, this only accounts for the ‘two tier’ schooling system. In the ‘three tier’ system, Years 4 and 8 are transition years, however, the guidance still states that Middle Schools should welcome back Year 6 so that there is ‘parity’ for Year 6 pupils across the country.
So, at present, schools should prioritise:
- The children of key workers
- Reception pupils
- Year 1 pupils
- Year 6 pupils
Nothing has yet been said about Year 4 pupils, although we understand that some schools have opened for such pupils anyway.
What protective measures should schools have in place for pupils?
Younger children are not expected to stay 2 metres apart from each other and staff but it would be good practice for schools to do so where they can.
The Government’s focus is on schools implementing the following hierarchy of measures:
- avoiding contact with anyone with symptoms;
- frequent hand cleaning and good respiratory hygiene practices;
- regular cleaning of settings; and
- minimising contact and mixing (classes should not be more than 15 pupils and timetables are encouraged to be altered in order to implement ‘staggered break times’).
The Government is also advising schools to reduce ‘pinch points’ (such as parents dropping children off at the start and end of the day) and to utilise outdoor space.
Despite concerns raised by schools, the Government’s overarching view is that PPE is not generally required in schools. However, it has backtracked slightly in its latest advice, where it states that staff should wear PPE where providing intimate care or working with children who have needs which mean they may cough, spit or vomit.
What if a pupil contracts coronavirus in school? Could the school be held responsible if it is passed on to someone else and they become seriously ill?
Schools must follow the Government’s guidance and ensure that they have appropriate risk assessments and safeguarding in place.
Staff and pupils will be eligible for testing if they show coronavirus symptoms, as will members of their households. The Government’s advice is that, if a child or staff member tests positive, the rest of their class or group should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 14 days.
Essentially, as long as a school follows the Government guidance and its own risk assessment(s) it would be difficult to claim that it was negligent. Any claimant would have to be able to prove that they caught coronavirus from the school and that it was the result of the school’s negligence – in the current circumstances this is likely to be hard to prove.
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We will continue to keep track of the Government’s guidance in this area, as they update it. If you have any further questions please contact Laura Thompson.
All information in this update is accurate at the time of writing. It is meant for general information only and is not legal advice.