Schools reopening: information for parents and carers

Posted on the 10th August 2020

The Government’s message is seemingly clear – all pupils must attend school come September. But what does this mean for your child? We’ve read the latest UK government guidance and picked out some key points relevant if your child has serious health needs.

** Update on Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGP) in educational settings, 08/09/20 **

The National Tracheostomy Safety Project has published a useful document with recommendations on how children requiring AGP can safely return to school. 

Some parents in England have reported that their child is not being allowed to return to school because they require AGP. In situations like this, some schools will say it is not safe for children with AGP to return in person as the school cannot abide by the current Government guidance. This might be because they cannot access the PPE listed in the Government guidance, or because there is no room available for AGP to be carried out.

This amounts to discrimination against children who have a tracheostomy or require AGP such as suctioning. Whilst the advice within the National Tracheostomy Safety Project document is not Government guidance, it has been compiled by clinicians and experts including Brendan McGrath, National Clinical Advisor for Tracheostomy, NHS England. We encourage parents who have a child who requires AGP like tracheostomy changes or suctioning at school to make their child’s school aware of this document and the advice it contains, in an effort to get them back to school safely and as soon as possible. Read more here >>

Information accurate as of 26/08/20. Changes from original article include links to Government guidance in the devolved nations, new guidance around face coverings in education and confirmation that flexibilities in the law around EHC will cease on 25th September.

Your rights and what might the changes mean for your family come September:

There has been a lot of talk in the media about fines for parents whose children are absent from school in September. The government says that “absence from school will not be penalised where a pupil is unable to attend school because they [and/or their parents] are complying with clinical and/or public health advice”.

In a nutshell this means that your child must be at school unless

  • they have been advised to shield again by the government after August 1st
  • or if anyone in your household has to self-isolate due to Covid-19 symptoms during the school term.

What’s changed with shielding and how does it affect schools?

Recently there have been two key decisions around shielding:

  1. Changes to who must shield. Scientists know more about how Covid-19 affects children than they did when the original shielding advice was given. If there is a local outbreak or “second wave” of Covid-19 in the future, the government will advise fewer families with seriously ill children to shield than they did last time. This is because the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has advised the Government that many of the children who were initially asked to shield are at lower risk from the virus than previously thought. The decision was made after evidence-based advice from the Government’s top scientists and the Government says that it was not taken lightly.There is more information about this in the further reading section of this page. You can also see an updated list of conditions covered by shielding on the RCPCH website >>. Some children will remain on the shielding list because the evidence suggests they are still at a higher risk from the virus. Their conditions may sometimes be referred to as “category A”.You should speak to your child’s healthcare specialist if they have one. The specialist will have a greater knowledge of your child’s condition than a blanket government shielding list. Their advice will be the best available for you child.
  1. Shielding paused. Shielding was paused in England on 1st August, and remains paused across the UK. The Government took this decision based on there being fewer coronavirus cases in the community. This means people are less likely to contract the virus in the community now. For as long as shielding is paused all children in education, including those who remain on the shielding list, can return to school at a reduced risk.

What happens if shielding is unpaused?

Shielding may be resumed locally or nationally if rates of Covid-19 infection rise. This might be part of a “local lockdown”, a term you may have heard on the news. Areas currently under stricter lockdown measures can be found here >> 

If shielding resumes in your area, the children who remain on the shielding list (category A) will be advised to stay home from school again. Those children who were on the original shielding list but who are now longer included will not be advised to shield again by the Government. They will continue to attend school unless the schools are asked to close to a majority of pupils once again.

The exceptions to this are children who are no longer on the government’s shielding list but who have been specifically advised to shield by their healthcare specialist. In this case, a healthcare specialist advice should override the government advice on shielding.future of shielding

It is safe enough for most children to return to school, even in the event of shielding resuming. And the Government is clear that unless a child has a statutory reason not to be in school, they must attend in September. But if you’re a parent of a child with serious health needs, you’re understandably going to have concerns. Here are some things you can do:

  • Speak to your school directly. Schools have been advised by the Government to reassure you as parents on the measures they have put in place to make the school safer. They should also be able to discuss any concerns you have and may be able to put special measures in place for your child if required. We have heard from many parents who have spoken to their child’s school and most schools have been reassuring and accommodating to specific children’s needs.

 

  • If your child is under the care of a specialist healthcare professional the Government advises that you speak to them about your child returning to school in September. The specialist may advise that special provision needs to be made by your child’s school if they are to return in September. In some cases, a specialist may write to the school to explain the situation. In the event of shielding being resumed, your child’s specialist may advise your family to shield even if you are not on the Government’s shielding list.

The last few months have shown that the situation with Covid-19 changes and develops all the time. It is likely that the advice on schools will either change or become clearer as children start to return to school. WellChild will update you with further information on this page when it is available. There may also be helpful information in the sections below that relates to your child’s specific situation.

Download a back to school checklist

FAQs

Bubbles and group bubbles – what do these terms mean?

We’ve seen these terms talked about a lot in the media recently. In most cases to do with schools, a bubble will simply mean your child’s class. Sometimes it could mean a larger group of children, even an entire school if there are fewer than 100 pupils – this might be referred to as a group bubble. Children should not mix with others outside of their own bubble. It is acceptable for younger children and some children with complex needs who cannot socially distance all the time to be closer to others as long as they are in the same bubble.

One of the reasons behind these bubbles is so the NHS, in the unlikely event of an outbreak, can quickly contact everybody they need to and reduce the spread of the virus.

What if my child goes to a SEND school, and/or has a EHC plan?

All of the information above applies to both mainstream and SEND schools. There is also additional information below specifically relating to SEND schools and EHC plans.

What if my child or someone in the household develops symptoms of Covid-19?

The whole household must self-isolate immediately, then contact NHS Test and Trace and your child’s schools to explain their absence. Their absence from school would be following public health rules in this case, and you won’t be penalised for keeping them at home.

The current guidance is that if your child displays Covid-19 symptoms and/or has tested positive for the virus, they must self-isolate and not attend school for ten days. This is for the ten days after the day when the symptoms first started or the ten days after the day of the test if they have had one. If someone else in the household, for example a parent, displays Covid-19 symptoms and/or tests positive for the virus, the child must self-isolate and not attend school for 14 days. The 14 days starts from: when the first person in the household started having symptoms or the day they were tested. This is because it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear.

For more information on when to self-isolate, visit: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/self-isolation-and-treatment/how-long-to-self-isolate/

Further information from the government guidance that may be useful:

In response to updated World Health Organisation advice, the Government guidance on wearing face coverings in schools has changed. Depending on where your child goes to school in the UK and how old they are they may be required to wear a face covering at school in corridors, public areas or on transport. The guidance across the UK is that face coverings are unnecessary in classrooms or for primary school children. This guidance will not apply to your child if they are exempt from wearing a face covering.

England

In areas of England under stricter lockdown measures, pupils in year 7 or older and staff will be required to wear a face covering in communal areas. A list of the areas under stricter lockdown measures can be found here >>

Children across England over the age of 11 must wear a face covering on public transport and are advised to do so on school transport. It is now at the discretion of schools outside of areas under stricter lockdown measures in England to decide if face coverings should be worn by children in year 7 or above. Primary school children are not being advised to wear face coverings at school.

Scotland

Face coverings will be mandatory in Scotland for secondary school pupils in school corridors, public areas and on school transport. Staff and students can wear face coverings in all settings voluntarily if they wish.

Wales

The Welsh Government is recommending that pupils aged 11 or over wear face coverings in school corridors, public areas and on school transport. The Government is not making it mandatory for pupils to wear face coverings in these settings, and it will be up to schools and local authorities in Wales to decide if pupils should wear them or not.

Northern Ireland

Secondary school pupils and staff must wear face coverings in school corridors and public areas. Wearing face coverings on school transport is also strongly advised. Staff and pupils can voluntarily wear face coverings in other settings.

Mainstream schools have been advised to access training for their teachers on supporting SEND pupils in returning to school after a long absence. They have also been advised to work with local services (such as your local authority) to ensure the services and support are in place for SEND pupils to return to schools.

You may have heard about the Summer Catch Up and National Tutoring programmes. Every school will provide catch up services in a different way, and the services may not be available to all pupils. This is something you should talk to your child’s school about if you would like to learn more.

If pupils do have to stay at home for whatever reason, the Government expects schools to offer access to high quality remote learning resources. In particular, schools are expected to: “recognise that younger pupils and some pupils with SEND may not be able to access remote education without adult support, and so schools should work with families to deliver a broad and ambitious curriculum.” The delivery of remote education will vary depending on your child’s school.

Further information relevant if your child has or needs an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan

Recent changes to the law: The Government has committed to removing flexibilities in the law that were introduced in May. These flexibilities have allowed local authorities to only use their “reasonable endeavours” to arrange the specified special educational/ health care provision in EHC plans. These flexibilities in the law will only remain until 25th September 2020. Whilst the Government says it will not be issuing further national notices to modify the EHC duties, it has also said that the duties may become flexible again in the event of another local or national outbreak. It is important to note that either not admitting or excluding a pupil on grounds relating to their disability remains likely to be unlawful.

The Government’s aim is to “to support a phased and safe transition back to full-time educational provision for children and young people with EHC plans”. They acknowledge that “particular care will be needed in planning for and supporting children and young people with EHC plans to return to their schools and colleges”. They also say that parents and children over 16 should be involved in EHC decisions.

Schools and colleges will need to ensure that they have the staffing needed to support children and young people at safe ratios.

Local authorities will also need to reinstate safe home to school transport arrangements (if these were in place prior to the Covid-19 outbreak).

Local authorities should carry out Risk Assessments for all children with an EHCP. The risk assessment should focus on supporting attendance and engagement. It should also identify what additional support children need to make a successful return to their full-time education. Further information about risk assessments can be found here >> 

The Government does not believe children and young people will need to repeat a year of educational provision as a consequence Covid-19. They say that in most cases they do not anticipate that young people will need to remain in education any longer than originally set out in their EHC Plan.

Parents and young people can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) if they disagree with certain decisions made by their local authority in relation to EHC needs assessments and plans. The Government has a guide available with information on how you can do this here >>

Information specific to SEND schools

PPE must only be worn in SEND schools where necessary, i.e. only in specific circumstances like carrying out personal care. There is specific guidance in place for school staff who carry out aerosol generating procedures (AGP) – these include procedures like tracheostomy changes and suctioning. A full list of AGP can be found here >>

An update on the Government guidance around AGP in schools is expected. We will update this page if and when the guidance changes.

Staff carrying out these procedures will need specific PPE items, including fit tested masks. Staff may contact your child’s health lead for support with this. The full guidance designed for teachers and schools can be found here >>

Your child’s SEND school should get in touch with you to discuss what they are doing to reduce the risk of Covid-19 for your child and to plan their smooth return to education in September.

Your child’s SEND school has a legal requirement to update their risk assessment before the autumn term for when they return to full capacity. We’ve listed the essential control measures your child’s school must put in place below (this information is directly quoted from the government guidance):

  • a requirement that people who are ill should stay at home
  • robust hand and respiratory hygiene
  • enhanced cleaning arrangements (according to PHE guidance for cleaning in non-healthcare settings)
  • active engagement with NHS Test and Trace
  • formal consideration of how to reduce contacts and maximise distancing between those in school or college and, wherever possible, minimise potential for contamination so far as is reasonably practicable

Other measures that may be put in place at SEND schools include:

  • grouping children and young people together
  • avoiding contact between groups
  • arranging classrooms with forward facing desks
  • staff maintaining distance from pupils and other staff as much as possible

Your child’s school will have been advised to update their behavioural policies to consider the restrictions on movement in the school and new hygiene rules.

Schools have been asked to consider the provision of pastoral and extra-curricular activities for all pupils designed to: support the rebuilding of friendships and social engagement; address, and equip pupils to respond to, issues linked to coronavirus (COVID-19); support pupils with approaches to improving their physical and mental wellbeing.

Government guidance in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland

Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland’s devolved Governments have produced their own guidance on schools returning in August/September. Some of this guidance differs from the UK Government guidance for England, whilst many of the principles remain the same.

Scottish Government guidance can be found here >>

Welsh Government guidance can be found here >>

Northern Ireland Government guidance can be found here >>

The information in this article relates to UK Government guidance for England unless otherwise stated. Links to the Government guidance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can be found section above.

By Callum Campbell, WellChild Family Information Officer

callumcampbell@wellchild.org.uk

Read more posts...

Nominations open for the WellChild Awards 2021

WellChild has opened nominations for the 2021 WellChild Awards, in association with GSK. This prestigious annual event celebrates the inspirational qualities of the UK’s seriously ill children and young people and the dedication of those who go that extra mile to make a real difference to their lives.   Submit...

Posted 17 Sep 2020

Lottery Fund cash boost to WellChild’s work during COVID-19

WellChild’s vital work for seriously ill children and their families during the COVID-19 crisis has received support from The National Lottery Community Fund in the form of a grant for nearly £90,000.  WellChild sprang into action at the...

Posted 28 Aug 2020