An update on the Education sector
We have seen a wealth of Government guidance relating to Covid-19 over the last two weeks and education guidance has been amended almost daily.
At the end of last week we also saw the Coronavirus Act 2020 enacted. We’ve (briefly) set out a few of the headlines to clarify what schools and local authorities should be doing at this time:
No child is currently required to attend school, however, certain children are still entitled to attend school (see our previous article on this here.) The Department for Education (DfE) has produced a template ‘attendance form’ for vulnerable children and those of key workers that are still attending school.
Safeguarding in schools
- Schools should review their child protection policy/ies as soon as possible. The DfE has said that a Covid-19 annex/addendum would probably suffice.
- General safeguarding principles continue to apply and a Designated Safeguarding Lead (“DSL”) or deputy should continue to be available. Schools should put in place contingency plans in the event that both the ordinary DSL and deputy are unavailable.
- Schools should be particularly mindful of the need to keep children safe on the internet. Most children will be accessing more online learning than ever before so schools need to be sure that their existing policies cater for the current situation.
- Schools may accept additional support from volunteers or workers from other schools, however, they must ensure that any DBS requirements are adhered to and, where necessary, safeguarding training is delivered. It should be noted that the DBS has made changes to its guidance on DBS checking during the Covid-19 outbreak (new guidelines can be found here.)
The Government has now clarified this to mean: “… those who have a social worker and those children and young people up to the age of 25 with education, health and care plans (“EHCPs”)” (see link here).
For children with Education, Health and Care Plans the responsibility for making the provision that they require continues to rest (as it always has done) with the child’s home local authority. If schools are unable to make the provision identified in a child’s EHCP they should contact the relevant local authority as soon as possible.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 does propose some amendments to existing legislation, including:
- Allowing local authorities to apply “reasonable endeavours” in making provision for children with EHCPs, rather than the existing absolute duty; and/or
- Dis-applying the requirement for schools to admit pupils if the school is named in a child’s EHCP; and/or
- Suspending local authorities’ duties to conduct Annual Reviews.
However, it is important to note that the above will only come into play once the Secretary of State issues a Notice saying so. This has not yet been issued, therefore local authorities must secure any special educational provision identified in an EHCP unless it is absolutely impossible to do so.
It’s likely that the above guidance will change in due course and we already know that new Regulations are being drafted, which will probably bring into force the changes to local authority duties, described above.
GET IN TOUCH
If your school needs legal support with any issues arising from COVID-19, please get in touch with Laura Thompson.
All information in this document is accurate at the time of writing. It is meant for general information only and is not legal advice.