The latest guidance in schools and what it means for children

This information is taken from the most recent contingency framework for schools (16th November 2021).

Copy in italics is quoted from this document.

Where other documents are quoted, the links are shown.

1. Decisions which have to be taken by ministers

Ministers have retained the authority to make decisions across broad areas- local authorities can only do this in areas that are specified in the guidance.

Where there is a need to address more widespread issues across an area, ministers will take decisions on an area-by-area basis.

2. What are the circumstances that measures can be recommended?

Restrictions can be recommended in an individual school setting only if:
  • 5 children, pupils, students or staff, who are likely to have mixed closely, test positive for COVID-19 within a 10-day period;
  • 10% of children, pupils, students or staff who are likely to have mixed closely test positive for COVID-19 within a 10-day period.

This is not across the entire school and is usually a class, an after-school club, a sports team etc.

Restrictions can be recommended across an area only if:

Face coverings in communal areas: areas of high or rapidly increasing prevalence (no definition available but appears similar to an ERA definition)

Face coverings in classrooms for settings across areas that have been offered an enhanced response package, or are in an enduring transmission area

Increased Testing areas of high prevalence (no definition available but appears similar to an ERA definition)

 

Definitions (from Covid 19 Framework for Local Decision Makers)

Enduring Transmission Area Areas experiencing enduring transmission are those parts of the country where the case rate has remained above the national or regional average for a prolonged period.

Enhanced Response Areas With prevalence varying across the country, the Enhanced Response Areas (ERAs) are designed to respond early to unusual rises in cases allowing more time to manage the disease and its impacts locally to avoid overwhelming local NHS pressure.

3. What measures can local authorities or Directors of Public Health recommend?

Local authorities can recommend measures on an individual setting basis

Local authorities, directors of public health (DsPH) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) health protection teams can recommend measures described in this guidance, in individual education and childcare settings as part of their outbreak management responsibilities.

4. Local authorities can recommend an increase in testing in individual settings or an area of high prevalence but only at secondary and above

There is no need for primary age pupils (those in year 6 and below) to test. (Actions for Schools 27th September 2021 )

where they are already being offered testing, for pupils and students.

This could include advice on increased LFD testing, which may be advised for an individual setting or in areas of high prevalence by DsPH as part of their responsibilities in outbreak management.

5. Local authorities can only recommend onsite testing in an enhanced response area or an area of enduring transmission

This could also include advice on the reintroduction of onsite LFD testing for settings across areas that have been offered an enhanced response package or are in an enduring transmission area, where settings and DsPH decide it is appropriate.

This must be temporary for a two-week period to encourage uptake of twice-weekly testing.

6. Local authorities can recommend the reintroduction of face coverings but only for secondary school pupils

Children of primary school age and early years children should not be advised to wear face coverings.

7. Local authorities can recommend face coverings in communal areas

They must always be on a temporary basis. This should be for 2 weeks in the first instance, pending regular review.

for an individual setting, as part of their responsibilities in outbreak management – so schools must be above the threshold.

for settings across areas of high or rapidly increasing prevalence, where increased LFD testing and actions to increase vaccination uptake among eligible staff, pupils and students are also being advised.

It can only be recommended across an authority if it is as part of a wider plan and the area must have a high or increasing prevalence.

But they must show that they have considered any educational and wellbeing drawbacks in the recommended use of face coverings should be balanced with the benefits in managing transmission.

8. Local authorities can recommend face coverings in classrooms

They must always be on a temporary basis this should be for 2 weeks in the first instance, pending regular review.

for an individual setting, as part of their responsibilities in outbreak management – so schools must be above the threshold and have tried other measures prior to classrooms.

for settings across areas that have been offered an enhanced response package, or are in an enduring transmission area, where settings and DsPH decide it is appropriate.

But they must show that they have considered any educational and wellbeing drawbacks in the recommended use of face coverings should be balanced with the benefits in managing transmission.

Remote education - when can it be implemented and who can advise it?
There is very little information about remote education; it is an extreme measure and only after every other mitigation has been tried and in-school transmission chains have not been broken. In extreme cases, and as a last resort where all other risk mitigations have not broken chains of in-school transmission.

1. Local authorities can only send individual classes or years home

A DPH may advise introducing short-term attendance restrictions in a setting, such as sending home a class or year group (as they could for any workplace experiencing a serious infectious disease outbreak).

2. Only the government can decide a group larger than an individual setting needs to have remote schooling and only if NHS is collapsing or a dangerous variant – not to break the transmission…

…across an area, on government advice in order to suppress or manage a dangerous variant and to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

Other restrictions which can be put in place

Local authorities, DsPH and HPTs may recommend these precautions in individual settings or across an entire area:

  • residential educational visits
  • open days
  • transition or taster days
  • parental attendance in settings
  • live performances in settings

It is assumed that this needs to be the same criteria as face coverings etc., but this is not clear.

Schools and local authorities cannot ask close contacts or siblings to isolate

Measures affecting education and childcare settings across an area should not be considered in isolation but as part of a broader package of measures. Attendance restrictions should only ever be considered as a last resort – neither contacts nor siblings of positive cases should be asked to isolate.

Access to education for children

1. No child can be denied access to education because they are mask exempt

No pupil or student should be denied education on the grounds of whether they are, or are not, wearing a face covering.

2. No child can be denied access to education because they do not test

Testing remains voluntary but is strongly encouraged.
There is no need for primary age pupils (those in year 6 and below) to test. (Actions for Schools 27th September 2021 )

3. Schools can choose to refuse to admit children with symptoms

If a parent or carer insists on a pupil attending your school, you can take the decision to refuse the pupil if, in your reasonable judgement, it is necessary to protect other pupils and staff from possible infection with COVID-19. Your decision would need to be carefully considered in light of all the circumstances and current public health advice. (Actions for Schools 27th September 2021 )

 

❗️❗️What is not recommended but is happening across local authorities:

  • Classroom masks across wide-area (Herts);
  • Making siblings isolate but exempting those that are vaccinated (Suffolk, Cumbria);
  • Making Y5s and above wear masks (Bedford);
  • Encouraging testing of primary age children or insisting on negative PCR to return to school (many schools and areas).

 

There is no advice anywhere about whether children have to have a negative PCR to return to school. As testing is voluntary, it would suggest this is not acceptable