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    The Department for Education in England has today (20th March) published a more detailed list of circumstances under which children will be eligible to attend school from next week, once widescale closures come into force. 

    The full guidance is available on the DfE website here and guidance for parents and carers is available here. 

    In terms of what defines ‘vulnerable children’, the guidance specifically refers to children who are supported by social care, with safeguarding and welfare needs, with child in need plans or child protection plans, looked after children, young carers, disabled children and those with education health and care plans. 

    For adoptive families the situation is not entirely clear. Previously looked after children are not specifically mentioned within the guidance, although we do know that a considerable proportion of adopted children and young people do have EHCPs and others may be supported by social care.   

    The guidance also says, “We know that schools will want to support children facing other social difficulties and we will support head teachers to do so.” We have been made aware of some schools including previously looked after children in their plans on a case by case basis.  

    The DfE is encouraging local authorities to keep residential special schools and colleges open where possible, as well as the majority of day special schools. Decisions about children with education, health and care plans should be made on a case by case basis, with school leaders and parents working together. Some children with an EHCP will be safer at home, while others would be more safely cared for in school.  

    The first key principle in the guidance is that “if it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be.” If your child does fall into one of the specified categories, the guidance is that if they can be safely cared for at home, then they should stay away from school. However, where families have social workers, they will work with families to assess the best options for the child. 

    The DfE guidance also provides clarity on the categories of critical sectors that are included in ‘key workers’. Children of key workers who cannot be safely cared for at home will be able to attend school. The critical sectors include health and social care, education and childcare, key public services (e.g. justice system), some local and national government roles, workers involved in producing and distributing food and other necessary goods, public safety and national security, transport, utilities, communications and financial services. For specific details, please see the full guidance. 

    *** Edited on 23/03/2020 to add:

    Further guidance was published by the DfE on 22/03/2020 regarding children who may still be offered attendance at school. The full guidance is available to read here. 

    The new guidance provides more clarity as to which children are defined as 'vulnerable'. Previously looked after and adopted children are not included in this main definition, but the guidance does state that schools will know their most vulnerable children and can operate some degree of flexibility in offering school places. 

    The guidance also provides more detail about children with EHC plans, stating that offers of school places should be made subject to a risk assessment for each child. Again, the school has flexibility to work with parents to assess the most appropriate course of action.

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    Deputy First Minister John Swinney updated Parliament on school closures in Scotland on 19/03/2020, confirming that provision will be made for vulnerable children and the children of key workers, although this may be done flexibly according to the particular needs of each local authority, including keeping settings open with reduced staffing, creating community hubs, and working with private and third sector childcare providers. 

    Swinney did not set out a specific definition of ‘vulnerable children’ but did refer to issues of child protection, poverty and children with complex additional support needs. It will be deferred to local authorities and education settings to identify the children who most need support during this time. 

    The full text of the speech is available online here.

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    Wide-scale school closures and cancellation of this year’s examinations are also taking place in Wales. Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, published this statement on 18th March announcing the closure of schools for statutory provision by 20th March, while continuing to make provision to support and safeguard children who benefit from free school meals and children with additional learning needs. 

    Williams has announced a live press conference to take place on 20th March at 5.30pm with the aim of answering key questions around school closures. 

    *** Updated 12.30 20/03/2020 to add:
    The Welsh Government has today published a comprehensive FAQ document answering questions about school closures.

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    Northern Ireland 

    The Minister of Education published an open letter to the education sector in Northern Ireland yesterday, available online here, in which widescale school closures were announced. 

    The letter makes it clear that although statutory educational provision in school will cease, schools will remain open for staff, and there will be measures to facilitate some level of provision for vulnerable children (including those who are eligible for free school meals) and those of key workers. 

    Key workers are defined as those involved in health and social care, education and childcare, public safety and national security, transport, utilities and communications, production and distribution of food and other necessary goods, and key national and local government officers. 

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