Coronavirus: Official advice for schools, nurseries, children’s homes and social workers

The government has closed schools and issued official guidance to nurseries, residential care providers and children’s social care professionals amid a global pandemic of coronavirus.

Public Health England has issued advice to professionals, education and residential care settings. Picture: Adobe Stock
Public Health England has issued advice to professionals, education and residential care settings. Picture: Adobe Stock

Symptoms of the illness, called Covid-19, include fever and a new, continuous cough.

Schools have now closed to all pupils except the children of key workers and vulnerable children while people have been told to stay at home except to travel to work if necessary, to buy essentials and to excercise once a day.

The Department for Education (DfE) has also launched a coronavirus helpline for those with education-related questions about the illness. It will cover topics from early years to university, the government said.

What is the official advice for education settings including nurseries?

On 18 March, Prime Minister announced schools would close from 20 March until further notice.

Early years provision, private schools and sixth form colleges are also expected to follow government advice, the Prime Minister said. 

Exceptions will be made for the children of key workers during the epidemic including parents in the emergency services and the NHS, delivery drivers, and care workers for the elderly and vulnerable, Boris Johnson said during a daily press conference in Westminster.

A full list of key workers was published by the Department for Education on 20 March.

Looked-after children, children who have a social worker and children with education, health and care plan, are also expected to attend school on Monday, Johnson added.

Settings have also been advised to update their child protection policies to reflect changes made amid the pandemic. 

Official advice states that in some cases adding an annex or addendum would be more useful than rewriting entire policies.

Free school meals

DfE launched a new voucher scheme to provide free school meals for eligible families amid school closures on 31 January.

"Schools can now provide every eligible child with a weekly shopping voucher worth £15 to spend at supermarkets while schools are closed due to coronavirus.

"Schools can continue to provide meals for collection or delivery themselves, but where this is not possible, the scheme will allow schools to provide vouchers to families electronically, or as a gift card for those without internet access," guidance states.

Exam results

Exams planned for May and June, including SATs, GCSEs, AS- and A-Levels, will be cancelled along with school league tables, the government has said.

Students due to sit exams will recieve grades based on factors, including teacher assessments and mock exam grades, which will be combined with relevant data from exam regulator Ofqual to provide grades.

The aim is to provide these calculated grades to students before the end of July, the government has said.

There will also be an option to sit an exam early in the next academic year for students who wish to.

Universities have been told to refrain from changing their offers made to undergraduate students for the next two weeks, such as converting conditional offers to unconditional offers or changing entry requirements.

Early years

Government guidance states that early years and childcare settings should stay open where possible for the children of key workers and vulnerbable children.

Specific guidance has been released for childcare and early years settings including what to do if settings are under-resourced or oversubscribed.

It states that settings should notify local authorities - which are responsible for coordinating a response to the new arrangements - in each of these events.

The guidance also advises settings on how to identify vulnerable children and those of key workers. Children of key workers are not expected to attend if they are able to be kept at home but vulnerable children are expected to do so.

Settings should ensure they have a process in place to check on the welfare of any child in need who does not attend on any day.

Maintained nurseries are also required to continue to provide free school meals to children who are eligible for them.

The government has announced that funding will continue for free childcare places for two, three and four year olds, however, concerns have been raised over the financial impact of closures on settings. More information on entitlements and how to apply for government help can be found here.

Social distancing

DfE has issued tips to schools, nurseries and childcare settings to improve social distancing.

These include advising staff to:

  • tell children, parents, carers or any visitors, such as suppliers, not to visit the education or childcare setting if they are displaying any symptoms of coronavirus 
  • consider how children arrive at the education or childcare setting and reduce any unnecessary travel on coaches, buses or public transport
  • ensure class sizes reflect the numbers of teaching staff available and are kept as small as possible
  • stagger lunch times, break times and the movement of pupils around the school to reduce large groups of children gathering
  • discourage parents from gathering at school gates
  • try to follow the social distancing guidelines

What about residential care settings including children’s homes?

DfE has issued guidance for children’s homes and residential special schools on managing isolation during the coronavirus outbreak.

The government advice states that all residential special schools, children’s homes and other settings, including university halls of residence, covered by the advice are classed as “households” and should adhere to household self-isolation policies.

This means that anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus should self-isolate for seven days. Those living with the person should self-isolate for 14 days.

Key workers, such as social workers or police, who need to visit settings and investigate child protection concerns should be admitted to the home while observing appropriate infection control procedures. 

Guidance states that if a child in a residential care home develops symptoms of coronavirus:

  • staff can continue to enter and leave the home as required – however, consistent staff rotas should be used where possible and staff should follow infection control procedures

  • other residents in the home should remain in isolation and not attend any off-site school for 14 days, following the guidance for households.

What is the advice for residential special schools?

Extensive guidance has been issued for residential special schools and colleges which states that along with local authorities, settings should "assess the risk, both for the individual institution and for the individual pupil/student, in deciding how to apply [official] guidance most effectively".

Settings must “maintain safe staff ratios” for pupils whose needs mean they would be safer remaining at the school than returning home.

Schools are advised to work with local authorities to deploy staff from mainstream schools or special educational settings that will not remain open to balance ratios where possible.

Staff should also liaise with parents over whether pupils will be safer isolating at school or at home before somebody at the setting presents with symptoms.

Decisions on where best to self-isolate should be made based on individual risk assessments. 

Those who do return home should continue to receive the necessary therapy and support, and the decision should be reported to the child’s local authority and families of those returning home must self-isolate for 14 days.

Children classed as high-risk, including those with chronic illnesses who must self-isolate for 12 weeks, may return home for holiday periods and return to settings when necessary.

However, if a child has returned home and has developed symptoms of coronavirus or come into contact with someone who has, they should remain at home in line with Public Health England guidance.

“Should a child or young person return to their family home, this should not be considered an unauthorised absence, assuming they return after the self-isolation ends,” guidance adds.

Can social workers still carry out home visits?

Guidance published by DfE states that children’s social care departments should "prioritise support to the most vulnerable" to cope with the pandemic.

It states vulnerable children who already have a social worker will "still be visited and/or monitored as frequently as possible".

This will include visits to see vulnerable children who are in self-isolation because either they or a family member may have caught the virus, with social workers advised to ahere to infection control meaures laid out by PHE.

Children under social care departments, child protection plans and education health and care plans are among those who have been asked to continue attending school along with the children of key workers.

Social workers have also been advised to work with families concerned that children will be stigmatised by having to continue to going to school.

DfE also states that while schools will not be recording attendance in the ususal way, "a new system" will be introduced to ensure social workers have a record of a child's attendance.

Advice for parents living in separate households

The courts and tribunals service has issued advice to parents with children who are subject to a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) made by the Family Court.

Government guidance states that despite current Stay at Homes rules in place in the UK, "where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes".

Parents are advised by the courts to make a decision on whether a child should move between parental homes based on circumstances including the child's health, risk of infection and whether any vulnerable indivuals live in either household.

Guidance states that parents should communicate over the best way to deal with the current situation and keep a record of their decision in a note, email or text message.

"Where parents, acting in agreement, exercise their parental responsibility to conclude that the arrangements set out in a CAO should be temporarily varied they are free to do so," it states.

However, if one parent is concerned that complying with the CAO arrangements would be against current government advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe, the advice states.

It adds that if this action is questioned in a family court, the court is likely to "look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family".

If a child is unable to see one parent during the crisis, plans for contact over programme such as Skype and Facetime must be established, the guidance states.

This story was last updated at 5pm on 30 March

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