By Rebecca Brooks
AUK Education Policy Advisor 

Guidance for full opening of schools in England has been issued by the Department for Education today (July 2nd 2020). 

The full guidance can be viewed online here but here is our summary of the essential information for parents and carers. 

Protective measures 

The guidance includes guidelines around ‘grouping’ and social distancing but is clear that a school’s inability to fully implement these due to staffing or space issues should not prevent them fully re-opening. There will be no rotas or use of off-site classrooms. The message is that any attempt to use these protective measures is better than nothing. Groups should be kept apart as much as possible, but younger children are not expected to practise social distancing within their group. Schools may implement a staggered start and end to the school day, and staggered break and lunchtimes where possible and necessary. There will be increased cleaning, regular hand washing and other protective measures in place. There is also information for schools about how to respond to a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19. 

Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)  

Children with SEND should be supported to prepare for and maintain the new routines around social distancing and hygiene. SEND support (including visiting professionals, support staff, therapists, etc.) should continue as normal. In-class support staff should continue to work with SEND students as normal, even if this makes social distancing difficult. Dedicated transport to school should run as normal, with hygiene practices put in place. 


The rules on attendance will return to normal from September, with sanctions (including fines) available for non-attendance. Absence due to self-isolating, shielding, local lockdowns, or due to clinical advice will not be penalised. The message is that all pupils who are enrolled in school must attend. Schools and LAs are to identify reluctant or anxious pupils and develop plans for re-engaging them, including using catch-up funding to provide support. 


There is no blanket requirement for schools to drop any curriculum subject for any age group. Schools are required to maintain a broad curriculum. However, there should be a focus on English/Maths skills and knowledge, including identifying and promoting opportunities to develop those skills within other subject areas. Focusing on the most important areas for progression within each subject is considered likely to be more effective than dropping subjects. However, subjects can be suspended for some pupils in exceptional circumstances, including at KS4. Any alterations to the curriculum should be normalised by summer 2021.  


The guidance recognises that some children may experience anxiety, stress and low mood and this should be seen as a normal response to an abnormal situation. There is also recognition of the wide range of experiences children may have had during lockdown, such as those outlined in Adoption UK’s Home Learning During Covid-19 report. Schools should deliver supportive pastoral and extra-curricular activities to all pupils, plus more focused support to individuals in certain circumstances, including those identified as being in vulnerable groups. 


Schools will be expected to enforce the new protective routines as part of their behaviour policies with all the usual sanctions applying (including exclusion, although there is a strong warning against off-rolling). The guidance includes an expectation that behaviour of some children will be more challenging because of the impact of a long period away from school, disruption to support, and adverse experiences. Schools should “work with” pupils and families and “provide support”. There is acknowledgement that some will have experienced “trauma”, adversity and bereavement, which could lead to social, emotional and mental health problems, and that the ability of children with SEND to conform to behavioural policies may be impacted by disruption to provision during lockdown. These children should be provided with additional support which can include access to educational psychologists, social workers, counsellors. 

Exams and Assessments 

All statutory primary assessments will take place during summer 2021, but the reception baseline assessment rollout will be delayed until September 2021. GCSE and A Levels will take place in summer 2021 but with adaptations which will be clarified after a forthcoming Ofqual consultation. GCSE exams in all subjects will be available in autumn for 2020’s Y11 cohort. 


Adoption UK is pleased that this published guidance seems to take a much more compassionate and measured approach than the leaked guidance that was widely reported earlier this week. In particular, we welcome: 

  • Commitment to provision of support for SEND children regardless of social distancing, and recognition of the potential impact of disrupted support provision on the ability of some children with SEND to adhere to schools’ behavioural policies 
  • Recognition of the wellbeing, social, emotional and mental health impact of the pandemic and associated lockdown, and especially the potential for the negative impact of this on children’s ability to adhere to schools’ behavioural policies 
  • The commitment to endeavouring to maintain a broad curriculum for the majority of children 
  • The additional funding that will be made available to schools  


However, we are concerned about: 

  • The potential for punitive approaches to children who will struggle to return to school due to social, emotional and mental health needs – 47% of our survey respondents felt their adopted or care-experienced child may fall into this category 
  • The exceptional circumstances within which children may not be able to access a broad curriculum – we would like more clarity on what these circumstances might be and assurances that children with SEND will not be unduly disadvantaged 
  • The assertion that an increase in unwanted behaviour is to be expected and the potential for some groups of pupils, including those with SEND, to disproportionately fall foul of new behavioural policies and associated sanctions