by Rebecca Brooks
AUK Education Policy Advisor

As the government in Westminster has announced plans for a phased increase in the number of children attending education settings in England from 1 June 2020, we have examined the new DfE guidance to provide answers to some of the most pressing questions.

Which children are included in the phased re-opening of education settings?
The first cohort of children includes those in all early years settings (including childminders, nursery settings and school nurseries) and school-aged children in Reception, year 1 and year 6. This includes year 6 pupils who attend middle school. These children will be “strongly encouraged to attend”.

However, there is recognition that in some settings it might be impossible to welcome back all eligible children if there are staff shortages or other restrictions. In that case, settings are being asked to prioritise as follows:

  • Early Years settings should prioritise 3 and 4 year olds
  • Infant schools should prioritise Nursery (if applicable) and Reception classes
  • Primary schools should prioritise Nursery (if applicable), Reception and year 1

In addition, secondary schools, sixth forms and colleges will be asked to provide some face-to-face tuition for pupils in years 10 and 12 who are studying for exams. This will not be a full timetable but is intended to supplement home learning.

My child was already eligible for a school place. Has anything changed?
Children who were already attending school because they were eligible under the previous criteria can continue to access school.

Additionally, the advice to parents to keep eligible children at home if possible has now changed. If you are a key worker, or your child is eligible under the ‘vulnerable child’ criteria, you may now request attendance at school even if, theoretically, you could keep your child at home. Note that adopted children can be considered eligible, depending on circumstances. 

What if my child is at independent school, alternative provision or a special school?
All mainstream schools are being asked to follow the DfE guidance on phased re-opening, including independent schools. Alternative provision settings are also being asked to follow the same guidance.

The situation for special schools is slightly different. Special schools and special post-16 settings are being asked to work towards a phased return of more children, but without specifically focusing on particular year groups. Providers should work with families and local authorities to make decisions about individual children, perhaps focusing first on those at key transition points, or where attendance at school would have the most positive impact in terms of development. Existing risk assessments should inform decision making.

Where children use transport to get to school, transport providers are being encouraged to work with settings to respond to changes in start and end times of the school day, and to undertake measures to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19, such as reducing the number of passengers in each vehicle, using strict hygiene practices, eliminating face-to-face seating and blocking off seats to increase the distance between passengers.

What measures will be taken to protect children and staff from Covid-19?
Settings are being asked to implement a number of measures in order to reduce the transmission of the virus:

  • All settings will be required to carry out a risk assessment prior to 1 June 2020, including specific risks associated with Covid-19
  • Settings will be asked to adhere to four key principles for reducing the risk of transmission, which are: avoiding contact with anyone with symptoms; frequent hand cleaning and good hygiene practices; frequent cleaning; and minimising contact between different groups of children, and children and staff members
  • Schools should reduce class sizes to approximately half of the normal number of children, and keep children within those groups. Early years settings should also group children, according to existing staff:pupil ratios and avoid mixing groups
  • Settings should work to reduce the risk around ‘pinch points’, such as the start and end of the day, by, for instance, staggering start and end times, staggering breaks and lunchtimes, etc.
  • Settings will be encouraged to utilise outdoor space, and keep indoor spaces well ventilated by keeping windows open, and propping doors open where safe to minimise contact with door handles
  • Equipment and furnishings that are not needed should be removed, including items that are hard to clean
  • Where social distancing is extremely difficult, due to the nature of the facilities, or the age of the children, early years settings may need to bring in a temporary cap on the number of children they are able to accommodate

What if my child or someone in my household is particularly vulnerable due to health reasons?
Two groups of those who may be particularly vulnerable due to health reasons have been defined.

Those who are extremely clinically vulnerable are not expected to attend nursery, school or college. This includes children and staff members. The extremely clinically vulnerable group are those who have received letters from health services advising them to shield at home. This group should continue to follow the shielding advice. If a child or staff member lives with someone who is extremely clinically vulnerable (shielding) then they should only attend school if strict social distancing measures can be adhered to. Otherwise those living with a person who is shielding should remain at home.

The second group is those who have been defined as clinically vulnerable (but not ‘extremely’) because of an underlying health condition such as mild to moderate asthma, chronic heart disease, chronic kidney or liver disease, chronic neurological conditions, or a weakened immune system. The full list is available here ( Where children are clinically vulnerable, parents should follow medical advice regarding whether it is safe to send them to their setting. Clinically vulnerable staff members should work from home. Staff members and children who are not clinically vulnerable but who live with someone who is can still attend their setting.
Staff members and children must not attend their setting if they have symptoms of Covid-19, or are isolating because someone in their household has symptoms or has a confirmed case of Covid-19.

Will testing be available for staff and children?
Access to testing is now available for all key workers, including those working in childcare or education.

Once settings open to additional children (from June 1st at the earliest) all children attending settings and members of their households will have access to testing if they display symptoms of Covid-19.

What if a child or staff member at the setting becomes ill with Covid-19?
Anyone developing symptoms should be sent home from the setting and advised to self-isolate for 7 days, and the rest of their household for 14 days.

Staff and children will have access to testing if they develop symptoms. If the test is negative, isolation can end and the child or staff member can return to the setting.

If a child or staff member tests positive, the rest of the class/group should be sent home and advised to isolate for 14 days. Other household members do not need to isolate unless they develop symptoms. It is not thought that it will be necessary to close the whole setting in this case.

Public Health England’s local health protection teams will advise schools and settings on the most appropriate action to take if several cases are detected within a cohort or setting.

How will settings monitor my child’s attendance?
Early years settings will continue to provide their local authorities with information on attendance to aid local planning and delivery.

Schools and colleges will resume taking attendance registers from 1 June 2020 (at the earliest), but parents will not be fined for non-attendance during this phase of re-opening, and schools and colleges will not be held to account for their attendance levels.

What will my child be doing if they return to school?
Education settings have been asked to prioritise the following:

  • The health and wellbeing of pupils, and identifying pupils who need additional support in this area in order to settle to learning
  • Assessing where children are up to with their learning and making any necessary adjustments to the curriculum to support them appropriately
  • Identifying and planning how to support the education of high needs groups (including those with SEND and those identified as disadvantaged or vulnerable)
  • Planning transition for year 6 pupils


Will school lunches be available?
The guidance states that schools will be expected to provide food for all the children in school, including those eligible for free school meals. Arrangements for children entitled to free school meals who are not in school will continue as before.

What will happen next?
The longer term plan depends on the Covid-19 alert status, but the DfE have indicated that it is their ambition to bring all primary year groups back to school before the summer holidays, for a month if possible.

The full DfE guidance documents can be found online:

Actions for education and childcare settings to prepare for wider opening from 1 June 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings

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