Opening schools and colleges more widely

We are reviewing all FAQs on a regular basis – adding new questions as they arise, updating answers to existing questions as information changes, and removing obsolete questions. 

If you have a question which is not covered here, and you are an ASCL member, please email, and we will try to find an answer and share it here. 

These FAQs are provided for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal or professional advice. They represent ASCL’s views, but you rely on them at your own risk. For specific advice relevant to your particular circumstances, please contact your employer’s HR service or legal advisers.

Government guidance published on 22 September includes information on using the app for school staff and students over the age of 16. It also states: 

"The NHS COVID-19 app (‘the app’) is a key part of the country’s ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) response, aiming to extend the speed, precision and reach of NHS Test and Trace in England, as well as NHS Test, Trace and Protect in Wales. The app will complement the overall service by automating some aspects of the process of contact tracing. Working together, NHS Test and Trace and the app are designed to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) by alerting people who may have been exposed to infection so that they can take action."

The guidance advises employers to communicate with staff about use of the app and says that they may wish to recommend that staff download and use the app if they think it would be beneficial. It goes on to say that settings should also discuss with staff their own use of the app, including pausing it if there are periods of time when they will not be near their phone, and appropriate processes to follow should they receive a notification themselves. 

Government advice is that if a staff member receives this notification, they should also follow the usual process of informing an appropriate person at the setting before self-isolating. 

There is nothing in legislation or regulations that prevents schools from requesting that staff turn off the app whilst at work.  What schools must continue to do is protect employees, as far as is reasonably practicable, whilst in the workplace by carrying out risk assessments, implementing control measures and reviewing those measures to ensure that they are working in practice, and adapting those control measures if necessary,

Employers should consult any relevant policies with relation to work phones. Additionally, they should consult with the workforce, and their Union Reps, if they are going to ask employees to turn off the app whilst on school premises.  

Employers should communicate decisions and reasons for those decisions (after appropriate consultation with Unions, health and safety committees) with all. 

It would also be beneficial, if they have not done so already, for schools and trusts to develop links and foster a good relationship with local public health protection teams and local authorities – in this way they can communicate decision-making around whether or not it is disproportionate to require colleagues to self-isolate and use information sharing ( for example, about infection rates and local statistics e.g. high infection rates amongst student populations rather than the general public) to assist in making such decisions.


ASCL has been in contact with the DfE and they have confirmed that the following activities are still able to go ahead during this period: 

  • Any activities which take place during school hours – so any lunch or break-time club is permitted, as long as it follows the government’s broader schools’ guidance. 
  • Clubs that enable parents to work, seek work, or to undertake education or training, and for the purposes of respite care (i.e. for vulnerable children). 
  • Any school activities which are focused on education or ‘training’, including 1:1 or group tuition, catch-up clubs, revision clubs, etc. 
  • School breakfast clubs (including those whose primary purpose is providing food for vulnerable children). 
The major ambiguity in this relates to after-school clubs such as sports, drama, music or arts clubs. Our understanding, following discussions with DfE this morning, is that clubs could go ahead if schools and colleges can justify them on one of the following grounds:  
  • they cater for vulnerable children
  • they enable parents or carers to work, seek work, or to undertake education or training 
  • they form part of the school’s core education provision

Ultimately, schools and colleges will have to make decisions based on their unique circumstances, but if they can demonstrate that the club in question does cater for vulnerable children; enable parents to work, seek access to work or undertake education or training; or form part of the school or college’s core education provision, then it can still go ahead. The key here is that it is not the nature of the activity that drives the decision, but whether or not the club is intended to fulfil one of these three purposes. 

Of course, when making such decisions, leaders also have a duty of care to their staff and will need to consider that carefully when deciding if extra-curricular provision can continue. 
We recognise that there are still some ambiguities in this position, and we will continue to push the government for greater clarity on this issue. We have liaised with our colleagues in NAHT and CST, as well as with the DfE, to ensure we are giving as consistent a message as possible to all schools, colleges and trusts. 

The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that, from 28 May, testing will be available for children aged under 5.

The following information was include in the government’s press release on its new Test and Trace service: “The government has also today expanded testing availability for children aged under 5, to help support the phased opening of schools and childcare settings in England from 1 June. From 28 May, all symptomatic individuals in England will be able to access a test if they need one, with all symptomatic individuals in Wales able to book tests from Saturday.”

The government’s guidance for primary schools on wider opening has now been updated to reflect this change. 


Reception pupils
The DfE’s planning guide for early years and childcare settings guidance has caused confusion about the size of groups that the DfE is recommending for Reception age pupils. This guidance states that “Keeping group sizes to a maximum of 8 children, while adhering to EYFS ratios, is preferable so groups are as small as possible. Providers are expected to ensure that there are no more than 16 children in a group in early years settings.”
Reception aged pupils attending primary or infant schools are normally covered by the School Admissions Infant Class Size Regulations, including the ratio of 1 QTS teacher to 30 children. The DfE has confirmed that primary and infant schools should follow the guidelines set out for primary schools, which recommends a maximum limit of 15 pupils per group in Reception.

Schools with nurseries
Schools are expected to ensure that there are no more than 16 children in a group in early years settings. This is because the early years ratios and floor space requirements consider 1:8 ratios for 3s and over in settings where practitioners have level 3 qualifications. 

The guidance states: “Providers should use professional judgement when planning groups but may wish to use EYFS ratios to guide this. Keeping group sizes to a maximum of 8 children is preferable so groups are as small as possible, and providers are expected to ensure that there are no more than 16 children in a group in early years settings. Sessional nurseries that have different cohorts of children at different times of the day may wish to consider having smaller group sizes to limit the number of children staff are in contact with. Each setting’s circumstances will be different. If your setting cannot achieve these small groups at any point, options should be discussed with the local authority.”

Space considerations
The planning guide for early years and childcare settings guidance also recommends considering the size and layout of your site(s) and individual spaces available. EYFS providers must meet the following indoor space requirements: children under 2 years need 3.5 metres squared per child; 2-year-olds need 2.5 metres squared per child; and children aged 3 to 5 years need 2.3 metres squared per child. The DfE guidance also suggests that area/space dividers may help to keep children in different parts of the room, and floor markings could be helpful in assisting staff with keeping groups apart.

Though prep schools are not mentioned per se in section 4 of the revised DfE primary guidance, middle schools are and so the age range is covered. 

It is imperative that prep schools, like middle schools, follow the PRIMARY school guidance in this instance.

The relevant wording in Section 4 of the primary guidance is:

"Where schools have capacity, they may choose to welcome back additional pupils. It is up to schools to decide which pupils to prioritise, based on their knowledge of their children and communities. They may choose to welcome back pupils in another year group. Where middle schools choose to invite year 8 pupils back, they should be confident they can manage this within the strict measures we have asked primary schools to adopt (including no more than 15 in a class, and consistency of these groups).

Year 7 is not specifically mentioned, but is not excluded and so, as long as a prep school can adhere to all the safety and ‘bubble’ guidance for primary schools, and wishes to do so, it would be logical to include Year 7.  Schools should also get written confirmation that they are appropriately insured.

There is no compulsion to bring back any pupils or year groups: capacity to adhere to the DfE guidelines and any individual insurance requirements is paramount."


The national voucher scheme has been developed to provide support for families who are eligible for FSM but are not attending school during the COVID-19 outbreak as the school is closed or partially closed. Schools will not have to pay for these vouchers during term time as the costs will be picked up centrally by DfE. 

Costs of the national voucher scheme to provide free school meals for eligible pupils have also been met by DfE over the Easter and May half-term holidays, and a version of the scheme will operate over the summer holiday. 

Some schools have made their own local arrangements which continue to be effective for the families of their pupils. In these situations, schools will be able to reclaim the cost of providing food or vouchers to eligible pupils, up to a maximum of £15 per week per pupil, through the DfE exceptional costs fund.  

However, there are some conditions applied here:

  • a ceiling on the overall total that can be claimed; and
  • an expectation that schools will not claim if they are able to add to any historic reserves in their current financial year (September 2019 to August 2020 for academies and April 2020 to March 2021 for maintained schools).

These conditions do not prevent schools from working with alternative voucher providers, or from being fully reimbursed where doing so will have a negative impact on their financial position. The claims process for the exceptional costs fund is due to be launched shortly. 

The Providing free school meals during the coronavirus outbreak guidance from the DfE has been updated in anticipation of more pupils from certain primary and early years groups (nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6) returning from 1 June at the earliest.
As leaders will be aware, there are two mechanisms for providing free school meals to children in this age group. All children in reception, year 1 are entitled to a free meal under the Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM) scheme, and eligible pupils in all year groups are entitled to Free School Meals (FSM). The requirements for continuing to provide meals for primary pupils in and not in school are different under these two mechanisms. 

Eligible pupils in school - UIFSM
Reception and year one pupils who return to school should have the option of a free meal under the universal infant free school policy. 

Eligible pupils not in school – UIFSM
While most pupils have not been able to attend school, there has not been a requirement to provide meals for pupils eligible for UIFSM. This principle continues as schools open further. There is no requirement to continue to provide UIFSMs to infant age pupils who are not in school, but do continue providing meals if they are eligible for free school meals. Please also read and consider the details below about FSM, FSM applications and the temporary extension of granted for eligibility for FSM.

Eligible pupils in school – FSM
Meals should be available for all pupils in school as a priority, and these should also be free of charge for pupils that qualify for benefits-related free school meals. 

Eligible pupils not in school – FSM
Under normal circumstances, schools do not provide free school meals to eligible children who are not in school. But during the coronavirus outbreak, schools are expected to continue to support children eligible for benefits-related free school meals who are at home. There is flexibility on how you can do this. For example, you could provide meals or food parcels through your food provider, you could use the DfE’s centrally funded national voucher scheme being delivered by EdenRed, or you could provide alternative vouchers for a local shop or supermarket. See our FAQ ‘Do schools have to use the national voucher scheme?’ for more details about this.

Next steps – Free school meal eligibility
You should continue to accept and verify free school meal applications. The eligibility criteria for free school meals can be found at apply for free school meals.

During the coronavirus outbreak, the DfE has temporarily extended free school meals eligibility to include some groups who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF). This temporary extension covers both children who are attending school and who are at home. See guidance for the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to NRPF groups for more information.

The Providing free school meals during the coronavirus outbreak guidance from the DfE has been updated in anticipation of more pupils in year 10 and 12 being in school from 15 June.
Schools should provide meal options for all pupils who are in school, and meals should be available free of charge to all pupils who meet the benefits-related free school meals eligibility criteria.
Schools should continue supporting children eligible for benefits-related free school meals who are at home.
The steps you take will depend on your circumstances. This could include:

  • providing meals or food parcels through your food provider
  • using the Department for Education’s (DfE) centrally-funded national voucher scheme
  • providing alternative vouchers for a local shop or supermarket
See our FAQ ‘Do schools have to use the national voucher scheme?’ for more details about this.

Free school meals should be offered to eligible pupils not attending school during term time weeks. Costs of the national voucher scheme to provide free school meals for eligible pupils have been met by DfE over the Easter and May half-term holidays. However, this cannot be considered a precedent for the summer holiday period. We will let members know when a decision has been made about this.

On 15 June, the DfE updated its planning guide for primary schools, setting out ways in which primary schools with the capacity to do so can bring more pupils into school in the summer term. 

We know that most primary schools don’t have the capacity to bring back any pupils beyond those already eligible, i.e. the children of critical workers, vulnerable children, and children in nursery, Reception, Year 1, and Year 6. Indeed, many schools are unable to offer places to all children in these groups while following the protective measures guidance. 

However, there are some schools which do have some capacity to bring back additional pupils. The changes to the primary guidance allow you to do this as long as the following criteria are met: 

  • you have already made provision available for children currently eligible for places
  • you can accommodate more children while still following the protective measures guidance and your own risk assessment 
  • you do not require additional funding, staff, or classrooms to do so 

If your school meets these criteria, you can choose to offer places to other children if you wish. There is no expectation that you should do so, and it is up to you to decide which children would most benefit from time in school. While the guidance doesn’t say this explicitly, the implication is that any places offered to additional children should be on the same basis as those offered to currently eligible children, i.e. full-time provision.

In addition to the above, primary schools can also invite in any pupils who aren’t returning to school this term for a face-to-face meeting – presumably with a parent or carer, although this isn’t explicitly mentioned. The idea is that this time could be used to discuss how children have found remote learning, to check on their wellbeing, and to help teachers to plan further learning. 

These face-to-face meetings are entirely optional. If they take place, they should do so in line with the protective measures guidance. 

If schools feel that check-in meetings along these lines would be beneficial, but don’t have the capacity to hold these on site, they could choose to do so virtually.

The government's Face coverings in education guidance states that with effect from 1 September, new advice for settings with children in Year 7 and above (in England) applies. It is important to note that it is not recommending that they are mandatory or necessary in all schools. The guidance provides examples where they may be considered an appropriate recommendation, including where it is difficult to social distance when moving around the school or college site. With regards to classrooms, the guidance states “face coverings will not generally be necessary in the classroom even where social distancing is not possible”. 

Types of face coverings and using them safely
Information on the types of masks, how to choose them, and how to wear them is available here and details are available on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings.

Precautionary measures
We are aware of schools and colleges using a range of precautionary measures, including: acrylic/perspex screens/panels to divide desks and workstations, visors (made in school), outdoor structures such as marquees to maximise space and utilise ventilated spaces, and extended lunchtimes between 11am and 2pm.

Local lockdowns
There is additional guidance for schools in local intervention (lockdown) areas (in England). In this situation the guidance states in settings where Year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn by adults and pupils when moving around, where social distancing is difficult to maintain, for example, in corridors and communal areas.

The guidance on implementing protective measures says that “the majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of 2 metres from others”. Exceptions to this include:  

  • children, young people and students whose care routinely already involves the use of PPE due to their intimate care needs should continue to receive their care in the same way
  • if a child, young person or other learner becomes unwell with symptoms of coronavirus while in their setting and needs direct personal care until they can return home. A face mask should be worn by the supervising adult if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained. If contact with the child or young person is necessary, then gloves, an apron and a face mask should be worn by the supervising adult. If a risk assessment determines that there is a risk of splashing to the eyes, for example from coughing, spitting, or vomiting, then eye protection should also be worn
Individual school leaders can take the decision in their own settings, taking into account disability considerations (e.g. lip reading) and exemptions. Face coverings (or any form of medical mask where instructed to be used for specific clinical reasons) should not be worn in any circumstance by those who may not be able to handle them as directed (for example, young children, or those with special educational needs or disabilities) as it may inadvertently increase the risk. Also refer to the guidance providing advice on when you do not need to wear a face covering.

Scientific background information
The World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef guidance advise “that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.” 

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies published a paper by NERVTAG/EMG on the Role of Aerosol Transmission in COVID-19  on 7 August, that was considered at SAGE 48 on 23 July. The paper states it is “advisable to encourage face covering in addition to ventilation, social distancing and hand hygiene to interrupt transmission. They should particularly be encouraged in indoor environments with poor ventilation or when large numbers of people congregate to reduce risk of super spreading events.” It also advises that the highest risk of transmission is close range (i.e. less than 2m) due to the potential combination of droplets, aerosols, and contaminated surfaces.

The section titled ‘Control Measures for Airbourne Infection' makes the following specific reference to schools in the context of good ventilation being recognised a primary measures for controlling the risk of transmission of airbourne diseases: “Those spaces where there are several people in close proximity for a period of 30 minutes or more (e.g. social spaces, schools and university lecture rooms, meeting rooms, performance spaces) or where an infectious person is more likely to be present (e.g. GP surgeries, pharmacies) should be prioritised for mitigation.

Please also refer to: Risk assessment: Do pupils have to wear face coverings on school buses? where there is specific transport-related information.

School and college leaders must consider the vulnerable groups within their pupil and staff population. We have added more information on this in the latest update to our wider opening planning checklist. This includes staff and pupils returning to school, and existing staff and pupils who are potentially more at risk due to their race, age, disability or pregnancy. 

Emerging evidence, currently under review by Public Health England, shows that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. This concerning evidence suggests that the impact may also be higher among men and those in the higher age brackets.

Consideration could be best undertaken in the form of written risk assessments particularly for vulnerable groups, to understand the specific risks staff members and pupils face from exposure to COVID-19 and actions which employers can take to keep them safe. This methodology also provides a documented audit trail of decision making, with information about the specific risks and measures that can be shared with appropriate stakeholders. 

Guidance produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will help schools and colleges identify who is at risk of harm and how this guidance should be closely followed. It includes templates and examples that organisations can adopt, along with specific guidance on some vulnerable groups. HSE’s guidance on vulnerable workers should also be used where appropriate.

Networks such as those for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) or disabled staff will also be an important area of support to schools and colleges. Here is a link to the information shared by BAMEed.


The guidance on implementing protective measures says that if a pupil or member of staff displays potential symptoms of Covid-19 they should be sent home, self-isolate and get tested. Other members of their ‘bubble’ can continue to attend school while they wait to hear the results of that test. Only if the person with symptoms tests positive should the rest of the ‘bubble’ be sent home and asked to isolate. 

We put it to the DfE that this appears to risk the virus spreading in the meantime, and asked whether all members of the ‘bubble’ should not be sent home and asked to isolate until they know whether or not the person with symptoms has the virus or not. Their response was as follows: 

Our guidance, including on outbreak control, has been drafted with advice and input from Public Health England. The approach is proportionate to the low likelihood that symptoms displayed in a classroom would be Covid-19. Only around 5% of symptomatic children tested have the virus, and PHE expect this number to drop further as incidence in the community decreases. If we were to recommend isolating bubbles on the basis of symptoms alone, schools would be isolating a lot of children and staff unnecessarily. This approach is consistent with the wider approach to track and trace in which household contacts isolate on the basis of symptoms, non-household contacts on the basis of a positive test.”

The government has updated its guidance on isolation for residential educational settings, including residential special schools and colleges, and mainstream boarding schools and FE colleges. This includes updated information on the symptoms of coronavirus and the definition of a ‘household’ in a residential setting. 

The key point in this guidance is that it may be that only parts of the whole setting should be considered to be a household. For example, if residential provision is spread across several separate buildings, it would be reasonable to treat these as different households. A setting’s approach to deciding what constitutes a household and who should self-isolate because they are part of this household will depend on the physical layout of the residential educational setting, considering who shares a kitchen/bathroom, dormitories, and staffing arrangements. 


For hospital schools a phased return is encouraged. However it is understood that there will be many infection prevention and control and safety considerations to be taken into account as part of the risk assessment process protective measures guidance. Again, regular risk assessment is encouraged as the driver influencing decisions about safe return.

These certificates have been developed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Service for other workplaces. There is no requirement for schools or colleges to display these, and there are no expectations from DfE on this. It is down to individual employers to determine what they what they require.

Unfortunately not. ASCL has provided guidance on undertaking risk assessments but our officers and local representatives are not indemnified to advise on risk assessments or undertake health and safety reviews. It is for the employer to seek their own legal and HR advice on these issues taking into account the following:

  • the current advice from Public Health England 
  • their duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAW) as amended and associated legislation to protect the health, safety and welfare at work of their workforce, as well as others who may be affected by their operations
  • their common law duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their workforce
  • the express and implied terms of contracts of employment and other contracts for the personal performance of work or services, including the implied duty of trust and confidence
  • the duty under the Equality Act 2010 not to discriminate against employees/workers with protected characteristics
  • the duty under the Equality Act 2010 on employers to make reasonable adjustments for the disabled

The Department for Transport has published guidance on safer travel for passengers on public transport. This makes it clear that, while everyone over the age of 10 is now required to wear a face covering when travelling in England on public transport, this does not apply to children travelling on school transport. School transport is defined as ‘transport provided by local authorities, academy trusts or schools for the specific purpose of transporting children to and from their home and school’. 

Transport to school and other places of education: autumn term 2020 Department for Education guidance was published on 11 August 2020. This guidance advises where home to school transport is used, the face covering law does not apply, but they recommend that local authorities “advise people aged 11 and over to wear a face covering when travelling on dedicated school transport to secondary school or college from the start of the autumn term” (this does not apply to those who are exempt). It also advises that schools should have a process for children and young people to remove face coverings when they arrive at school. This should enable them to wash their hands immediately on arrival and then wash their hands again after removing their face covering.

We understand that for some schools and colleges, using staggered times for arriving and leaving education sites is causing more issues than it is solving. In some circumstances, large numbers of people need to move around the school site in short time slots, which is causing queues and making it difficult to adequately socially distance. This is also challenging due to the requirement that children and young people receive their entitled amount of teaching time. It is particularly difficult where sites have one exit and one entrance. There are reported instances of issues in surrounding areas outside settings where parents/carers need to wait with siblings who have different allocated timeslots and parents/carers trying to access college sites where they are not allowed. This is causing some schools and colleges to re-consider their measures and procedures for the start and end of the day.

It is not compulsory for schools and colleges to use staggered timings. In the DfE Guidance for full opening: schools the prevention section covers the measures for arriving at and leaving school which states:

We know that travel to school patterns differ greatly between schools. If those patterns allow, schools should consider staggered starts or adjusting start and finish times to keep groups apart as they arrive and leave school. Staggered start and finish times should not reduce the amount of overall teaching time. A staggered start may, for example, include condensing/staggering free periods or break time but retaining the same amount of teaching time, or keeping the length of the day the same but starting and finishing later to avoid rush hour. Schools should consider how to communicate this to parents and remind them about the process that has been agreed for drop off and collection, including that gathering at the school gates and otherwise coming onto the site without an appointment is not allowed.”

Here are some examples of strategies that schools and colleges are trying:

  • Sibling groups (at the same school) come in together at the earliest time slot and leave at the latest time slot
  • Sibling groups (at the same school) come in together at the earliest time slot and leave at the earliest time slot
  • A sibling drop-off time slot in between key stages
  • Staggered times allocated alphabetically
  • In primary settings, asking Year 6 parents/carers not to come on site
  • Opening school earlier and extending drop-off period
  • Open arrival between 8.30am and 9.00am
  • Swapping to using hand sanitiser on arrival at the classroom rather than handwashing on arrival
  • Using 10-15 minute gaps between drop off/pick up times
  • Re-starting clubs and wrap around facilities
  • Introducing walking buses
  • Designated drop off points using outdoor space
  • Asking one parent/carer/adult to drop off and pick up


No.  DfE’s autumn term guidance for schools confirms that, as usual, "schools should engage with their local immunisation providers to provide immunisation programmes on site, ensuring these will be delivered in keeping with the school’s control measures".

ASCL cannot respond to consultations on risk assessments as we do not train officers or local representatives to do this, but where there are trained health and safety representatives in place consulting with them would be good practice. However, it cannot be the case that a union has a veto over the plans or the widening of provision.

Yes. This is available here

This planning checklist is intended to supplement the government’s planning framework. It takes the DfE framework as its starting point, adds further suggested actions, and provides links to sources of additional information and support. It is designed to help schools, colleges and trusts to consider risks and trigger points, and to plan measures to mitigate these as much as possible. 

Inevitably, any generic checklist cannot anticipate specific risks in every institution. We hope, however, that this will serve as a useful starting point for an organisation’s own planning, or as a checklist against which organisations can compare their existing risk assessments. 

Employers should follow the latest government advice at all times. Where this is done and the employer’s own HR and legal advice has been followed in relation to this, then that should be sufficient.

Consultation with trade union Health and Safety Representatives on plans for the widening of provision would be in line with best practice. This consultation does not mean that trade union H&S representatives should have a veto on re-opening. Rather, as with any meaningful consultation, employers should consider the points raised and make a note of those which they agree with and the resultant changes as well as the rationale behind any recommendation they have not adopted.

ASCL representatives cannot engage with any health and safety inspections as we do not train our officers or local representatives in this field, and therefore they are not indemnified to advise.

However, where there are trained union health and safety representatives, it would be sensible to engage with them through a joint inspection. This is not the same, however, as the health and safety representatives being able to have a veto on the widening of provision.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), as Great Britain’s workplace health and safety regulator, has maintained its regulatory functions during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Its approach in relation to regulatory activity in schools and other workplaces is available here

HSE considers that if an employer is following the relevant Public Health guidance for their sector in terms of controlling the public health risks, they will be taking reasonably practicable precautions to control risks in the workplace, and this would extend to guidance from the Department for Education where it is based on Public Health guidance.

Duty holders continue to have obligations to comply with health and safety at work legislation and requirements to manage and control workplace risks, including protecting workers and others from the risk of COVID-19 infection in the workplace. HSE guidance is available on their website and they have a dedicated Coronavirus (COVID-19) page, with the latest information and advice.

HSE will continue to maintain regulatory oversight of how duty holders are meeting their responsibilities in the context of the current public health risk. Their regulatory approach will continue to take proportionate account of the risks and challenges arising from the pandemic.

If it comes to the HSE’s attention that employers are not complying with the relevant PHE guidance or equivalent guidance from devolved administrations, which includes enabling social distancing where it is practical to do so, the HSE will consider actions ranging from providing specific advice to employers through to issuing enforcement notices, which could include prohibition notices.

We know many of our members are unsure what to do about holding open days and visits for prospective parents and carers this term. We have raised these questions with the DfE. We understand that the DfE had been about to issue some guidance on this, but is reviewing this in light of the new ‘rule of six’ announcement.
We would advise members to proceed with virtual options. Given the increasing general restrictions being brought in it is likely that the DfE will be minded to follow with a similar line advising against physical open days. We are expecting a more formal line from the DfE on this shortly, and that we are expect this to be encouraging virtual options.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts and ideas that schools and colleges are considering for you to appraise within your own context and risk assessment:

  • Cancelling physical visits to school sites.
  • Recording videos which are uploaded to school website or other platforms such as YouTube.
  • Virtual/video school tours utilising videos or photo slide shows.
  • Online appointments and meetings using platforms such as MS Teams.
  • Creating a list of FAQs.
  • Live or pre-recorded presentations/interviews.
Where schools and colleges have been cautiously planning to arrange physical tours (prior to the latest restrictions), some were considering the following arrangements: 
  • By appointment only with one adult per family.
  • Planned outside of usual school hours, for example after school, on weekends and inset days.
  • Not allowing children attend.
  • Insisting on safety measures and communicating them in advance, such as, face masks, socially distancing, hand washing, following one-way systems.
  • Maximum group sizes of 4/5 adults.
  • Walking around mainly outdoor areas.
  • Not going into classrooms or learning spaces.
As with all school, college and education related activities we would strongly recommend robust planning, detailed risk assessment and control measures are at the core of your planning and decision making.

The DfE has updated its guidance on Managing school premises during the coronavirus outbreak to include advice on preparing for the wider opening of schools. 

The general principle that they are recommending is that school buildings which have been fully or partially closed should be recommissioned, as you would do at the end of the school summer holiday period. The guidance advises identifying a member of staff as responsible for managing premises, reviewing risk assessments, and implementing measures to ensure that safety is maintained for wider opening. It is likely that, in larger organisations, these will be distributed functions undertaken by an operations team.

The guidance recommends reviewing and checking all building-related arrangements and systems, prioritising the following:

  • Water systems – operational capacity, chlorinating, flushing, legionella
  • Drinking water – supply bottled water if it has not been possible to maintain the system
  • Hot water – temperature and generation
  • Ventilation – utilise natural ventilation, adjust recirculatory system to full fresh air
  • Fire safety – fire doors, emergency lighting, fire alarm systems, review and plan drills
  • Cleaning – regular and additional cleaning arrangements, drainage systems
  • All other systems – examples include gas, heating, water, mechanical and electrical, catering equipment, etc

Detailed DfE information on maintenance arrangements can be found in their guidance on good estate management for schools, in the section on maintenance checks and testing.

Keeping a record of your response to each of the points and the rationale behind the non-adoption of any will help support your risk assessment. Where an issue is accepted, but following advice from your own HR and legal team is not deemed necessary in order for the widening of provision, you should make the appropriate progress and have an agreed plan of action.  

In the week beginning 18 May, four trade unions – the National Education Union, Unite, GMB, and Unison – jointly wrote to school and college leaders suggesting, “it is important you fully understand the potential liability you are exposing yourself to by following the current deeply flawed guidance.”
For the sake of reassurance, this is a brief summary of the legal position. 
As far as employees are concerned, if members are following DfE guidance and their employers’ instructions, they should not find themselves personally liable for matters not within their control. 
In the event that a mistake is made, employers are ‘vicariously liable’ for the consequences of an employee’s error. This principle means that the employer is liable for the mistake rather than the employee being personally liable.
An employee who has suffered illness or injury at work and alleges it to be the fault of another employee or employees or because of an unsafe place or system of work would be advised to bring their claim against the employer, not individual employees, because:

  • the employer has insurance and/or the resources to pay any compensation
  • for a claimant, it is likely to be less difficult to blame an employer for an unsafe system or place of work than it would be to identify the alleged failings of individuals which contributed to causing the injury or illness.

For these reasons, ‘employer liability’ claims for compensation against individuals are extremely uncommon.

Employers are advised to ensure that appropriate risk assessments are in place and updated at regular intervals, along with appropriate policies and procedures being adopted in line with the official guidance issued by the DfE in respect of schools and colleges opening more widely.

On 4 June, the DfE gave us the following answer to this question: 

We have looked at a range of options regarding the best way to bring more children and young people back into education, balancing the importance of pupils returning to their teachers and friends and the clear need to minimise the level of risk. 

We took advice from a sub-group of SAGE, the Interdisciplinary Task and Finish Group on the Role of Children in Transmission, to help us get that balance right, and have focused on bringing the youngest children back first, in clear recognition of that advice.  

The cautious, phased approach for allowing a limited number of pupils back into classrooms has been, and will continue to be, guided by the best possible scientific and medical advice.

On 22 May, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) published a set of papers which detailed the evidence and modelling behind the decision to open schools and colleges more widely. 

Key points from these papers are as follows:  

  • There are varying degrees of confidence in what we know about the way in which children catch and spread Covid-19. The evidence seems to be strong that, if children catch the virus, they’re usually less severely affected than adults. It is mixed in terms of whether children are as likely to become infected in the first place. It is inconclusive in terms of whether they transmit the virus to the same extent as adults. 
  • It is clear that decisions about when and how to open schools to more pupils need to be mindful not only of how this might directly increase the R rate, but also of more indirect effects. For example, if people see children going back to school, that might give the impression that the virus is more under control than it really is, and so lead them to relax their own behaviours. This could have as much, if not more, impact on R than any spread directly related to schools opening. But this is very difficult to model. 
  • The evidence suggests that bringing back younger children is less risky than older ones. This is less to do with their inherent susceptibility to the virus, and more to do with the extent to which they mix outside the classroom. 
  • Educationally, though, younger children are less impacted by schools being closed than older children. 
  • The impact of nine different scenarios for wider opening was modelled (including ‘no change’ and ‘all pupils back at once’). There were pros and cons to all of these, in terms of the impact both on public health and on education. The model that appeared to have been discussed at most length was one that involved splitting schools in half, and bringing back all children on either a week on / week off, or a two-weeks on / two weeks off basis. 
  • The model the government has actually decided on (i.e. bringing in all children in nursery, Reception, Y1 and Y6, plus some face-to-face contact for Y10 and 12s) wasn’t one of the nine scenarios modelled. 

 On 4 June, the DfE gave us the following answer to this question: 

SAGE [advised] that rotas (and particularly those which offered full weeks on and off, rather than shorter time periods) could have some potential benefits, but they also noted that the relevant modelling was the least robust of the scenarios under consideration, and said that further exploration was needed. 

For the period from the 1 June, when only Reception, year 1 and year 6 will be attending school, alongside vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, we have asked primary schools not to plan on the basis of daily or weekly rotas as they do not provide the consistency of education and care required for the youngest children, who also require more support with remote education.

Rotas are also likely to require more regular and burdensome cleaning between groups, may limit staffing options as staff will also need to be on the same rota, and are more challenging to combine in a low-risk way with full-time provision for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.”

The secondary guidance makes it clear that secondary schools may use rota systems as part of their plans to offer some face-to-face contact for students in Years 10 and 12, with no more than 25% of students in these year groups in school at any one time. 

All schools and colleges should avoid using split-day rotas, as these are likely to make it easier for the virus to spread. 

For both primary and secondary schools, if rotas are used, vulnerable children and children of critical workers in all year groups should still be encouraged to attend full-time.

The over-arching principle, in all cases, should be to avoid different groups of pupils mixing. 

We have suggested to government that they should consider doing this, to provide more information on the extent to which children appear to spread the virus, and to enable schools and colleges to act quickly if a pupil or member of staff tests positive. 

The government has told us that they are seriously considering this, and are working with Public Health England to scope what this might look like. They hope to be able to give a fuller answer shortly. 

We received the following response to this question from the government on 4 June: 

Our guidance is based on the best scientific advice and so we would advise schools to follow it if they can. The really critical ‘must’ is the hierarchy of controls, as set out in our protective measures guidance. Beyond that, school leaders can use their judgement within, of course, the context of existing statutory responsibilities. In addition, the schools Q&A now makes it clear that we expect compliance with HSE guidance as part of school responsibilities to provide safe working environment.

All of our guidance is non-statutory. We are not currently planning on delineating between ‘essential’ and ‘advisory’.”

We put this proposal to government at the end of May, and received the following response on 4 June: 

There are some examples of regional estimations of R published online by individual academic groups, however the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) does not currently publish the R value on a regional level. 

R is an average value that can vary in different parts of the country, communities, and subsections of the population. It cannot be measured directly so there is always some uncertainty around its exact value. SAGE does not rely therefore on one model but builds consensus and presents R as a range. 

The newly-established Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) is considering how government should respond to the change in alert levels and to spikes of the infection at a national and local level. The JBC will provide a single authoritative information picture to local, regional and national decision makers to help them respond rapidly to any outbreak.

On the advice of JBC, a range of different measures may be applied across a local area. This may include consideration for partial or temporary closure of schools.” 

From 15 June, secondary schools have been able to bring up Year 10 and 12 pupils for some face-to-face support, as long as no more than a quarter of the pupils in this cohort are on site at any one time. This is in addition to the children of key workers and vulnerable children who have been able to attend school throughout this period. 

The DfE’s guidance for secondary schools also gives schools the option to invite in any pupils who aren’t returning this term for a one-off face-to-face meeting if this would be beneficial. The idea is that this time could be used to discuss how pupils have found remote learning, to check on their wellbeing, and to help teachers to plan further learning or support learners in moving into employment or the next stage of education. 

These face-to-face meetings are entirely optional. If they take place, they should do so in line with the protective measures guidance, and the guidance on the numbers of pupils permitted on site at any one time. In other words, if schools or colleges already have a quarter of their Year 10 and 12 pupils on site, they will not be able to invite other pupils in for these face-to-face meetings. If less than a quarter of Year 10 and 12 pupils have taken up the offer of some time on site, then schools and colleges might have the capacity to offer these one-off face-to-face meetings. 

If schools or colleges feel that check-in meetings along these lines would be beneficial, but don’t have the capacity to hold these on site, they could choose to do so virtually.

There is nothing in the updated guidance to allow secondary schools or colleges to bring back more pupils in other year groups for more than these one-off check-in meetings. 

For dual registered pupils it may be possible to retain two setting placements but this will be considered based on complex risk assessment. 


The government has the same expectations that pupils with SEN are welcomed back to school as soon as possible. However, for specialist settings and children with EHC plans (or where a risk assessment is deemed necessary) in mainstream schools and colleges the government are supporting flexible approaches to transitioning: part-time timetables, attendance rotas, blended onsite and home learning, phased return for individuals or groups and CYP being offered blocks of time on-site on a rotating basis. 

Provision for pupils with EHCPs does not have to be delivered as usual but what is put in place should be based on reasonable endeavour by school or college and LA guidance on the changes to the law on education, health and care needs assessments and plans.

Risk assessments for pupils with EHCPs or for whom there are additional concerns should be regularly revisited and reviewed. 

It is understood that some children and young people may return on a part time basis and online learning at home will continue for these pupils. The DfE signposts online learning opportunities for parents and pupils with complex needs  - Oak National Academy’s specialist curriculum for children and young people with profound needs and a list of online learning resources for children with SEND.


Special settings that have been closed during lockdown are encouraged to work toward re-opening from June 1st. For Special Schools, Hospital Schools, Post 16 Institutions and AP plans to welcome pupils back to education should not be based on year groups but on the basis of their needs. 

Where specialist settings are experiencing high staff absence this will affect risk assessment outcomes. They are encouraged in these circumstances to prioritise.

  • Children & Young People (CYP) at key transition points
  • CYP who are most in need of on-site provision to support their development. .

Schools and colleges are also encouraged to liaise with their local authorities over the needs and risks of children and young people with EHCPs.

In June the government updated its guidance on supporting children and young people with complex SEND) The update includes a new section with information for settings on the of re-admission of pupils who are clinically extremely vulnerable or with EHC plans.  

The guidance for secondary schools states that only a quarter of pupils in Year 10 and  12 should be in school at any one time, including vulnerable children and children of critical workers in those year groups who are still encouraged to attend full-time. 

However, it also makes it clear that this is in addition to vulnerable pupils and children of critical workers who might be in full-time attendance from other year groups.


We received some information from DfE on this question on 4 June. The key points are as follows: 

  • The ‘no more than a quarter on site at any one time’ rule applies to Year 10 and 12 students collectively. In other words, a hypothetical school with 200 Year 10 students and 200 Year 12 students could plan to have 50 Year 10s and 50 Year 12s on site, but equally they could have 75 Year 10s and 25 Year 12s, or no Year 10s and 100 Year 12s. Schools and colleges have the flexibility to implement whatever system works best for them, providing that attendance each day is no more than a quarter of the total Year 10 and 12 cohort.
  • Schools with no Year 12s can still only have 25% of their Year 10s in at any one time. 
  • Similarly, colleges with no Year 10s can only have 25% of their Year 12s (or equivalent) in. 
  • The 25% rule applies regardless of cohort size, and regardless of whether a school or college’s risk assessment indicates that they might be able to safely have a larger percentage of pupils on site. This is because secondary and college students are more likely to use public transport, and to mix socially outside of school, so limiting numbers in this way is an important part reducing the risk of transmission.
  • No pupils in other year groups should be invited back at this time, beyond the vulnerable children and children of key workers who have always be eligible to attend. 
  • There may be some Year 10 and 12 pupils who would particularly benefit from more face-to-face support, such as disadvantaged pupils or pupils who have not been engaging in remote education. These pupils may attend more frequently than others, as long as the number on site does not exceed 25% of the total Year 10 and 12 cohort.
  • The government would like schools to offer some face-to-face (on site) support to as many Year 10 and 12 students as possible (other than those who are shielding). However, schools and colleges have the flexibility to implement this face-to-face support in the way that best suits their circumstances and their students, including by prioritising the physical attendance of some students over others if they believe that is the best approach for them.
  • Schools and colleges need to avoid using split-day rotas. 


The government has indicated that it would like schools to offer some face-to-face (on site) support to as many Year 10 and 12 students as possible (other than those who are shielding). However, schools and colleges have the flexibility to implement this face-to-face support in the way that best suits their circumstances and their students, including by prioritising the physical attendance of some students over others if they believe that is the best approach for them.


If the employee does not wish to attend the workplace and is not in one of the groups PHE says should self-isolate, the employer must listen to the concerns of the employee. 

On 2 June, Public Health England published a review of the disparities in the risk and outcomes from coronavirus, including disparities associated with age, ethnicity, gender and geography. This review will inform the Government’s approach. When considering their preparations for wider opening, schools should be especially sensitive to the needs and worries of individuals who may be more severely affected by coronavirus. 

Employers should especially consider the needs of any employees who may have particular cause for concern about the risk of infection, such as pregnant women, those with compromised immunity and employees in the groups identified by PHE and the WHO as at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19. 
If an employee has a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010 which results in a compromised immune system or a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19, the employer may have a legal duty under that Act to make reasonable adjustments to the employee’s working arrangements.

The employer should carefully consider concerns expressed by staff in the light of its obligations to take reasonable steps to provide a safe working environment.   ASCL would advise employers to ensure that they address these areas in their risk assessments.

Whilst staff not in the groups identified by the PHE of the WHO should be able to come into school, it is natural that some employees will be worried about doing so even if the risks for them are very low. 

In agreeing the best approaches for their schools, headteachers and school leaders should work closely with employees and unions, where appropriate. School leaders will be in the best position, knowing their staff and school circumstances, to decide how to proceed in individual cases. 

We are working in an unprecedented context, and more reassurance and discussion than usual may be required. It is always best, if at all possible, to work out a sensible way forward in individual cases that acknowledges any specific anxieties but which also enables the school’s responsibilities to be effectively discharged. If you need support in finding a solution, speak to your local authority or trust.

Acas has recommended that, where there are genuine concerns, the employer must try to resoIve these to protect the health and safety of their staff by, for example, offering flexible working. Alternatives which might be agreed are taking annual leave or taking a period of unpaid leave.

Where an employee says they are unwilling to attend work because one or more work colleagues or pupils are not following hygiene rules and they fear they are placed at increased risk, the employer will need to consider the employee’s concerns very carefully before deciding how to respond.

In addition, in some extreme cases the anxiety caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 will itself render the employee unfit to work and entitled to sick pay.

We received confirmation in writing from the DfE on 26 June that schools and colleges will not be required to remain open over the summer holiday for vulnerable children and children of critical workers. They have provided us with the following two Q&As on this issue:   
Q: Are schools open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers over the summer holidays?   

  • We are not asking schools to open over the summer holidays and there is not the expectation that schools should open for vulnerable children and children of critical workers over this period. Teachers, support staff and school leaders deserve a break, to recharge and rest. 
  • However, we are aware that some school leaders may be considering using their catch-up premium to provide summer school activities for their pupils. Where this is the case, they have the flexibility, discretion and autonomy to decide how they want to do this.  
  • To support schools in planning how to use the catch-up premium, the Education Endowment Foundation has produced a guide which includes advice on summer schools and contains a link to a Teach First toolkit specifically focused on summer schools, for schools that choose to do this.   
Q: What provision will there be for vulnerable children and children of critical workers over summer holidays?   
  • We can confirm that providers offering paid childcare will also be able to operate over the summer holidays, in line with protective measures guidance. Additional funded activities may be available in local areas, such as the Holiday Activities and Food scheme.  
We understand that the DfE intends to include this information in formal guidance shortly. 


The update to the DfE’s planning guide for primary schools on 15 June provides the flexibility for infant schools to bring back pupils in all years if they are able to do while following the protective measures guidance. 

This update also allows middle schools to invite Year 8 pupils back, if they are confident they can manage this within the strict measures the government has asked primary schools to adopt (including no more than 15 in a class, and consistency of these groups).

Middle schools are asked to ensure that the use of public transport to travel to and from school is minimised as far as possible, and where it is totally necessary, this should not be during peak times. They should also consider the potential risks inherent in broader social mixing outside school and communicate with pupils about not socialising with each other in groups outside school. They may also want to consider staggered starts and finishes.


The DfE’s primary guidance says the following: 

Though visits to secondary schools for induction will not take place this year, some secondary schools may have capacity to undertake remote induction briefings or other types of sessions for pupils, for example, to meet form tutors, heads of year, or other key staff, or have a tour of the school virtually. You should discuss the options with your secondary schools.

The clear implication is that secondary schools should not be inviting Year 6 pupils into school, but instead should consider offering some form of transition activity remotely. 


Related Pages

Updated guidance for FE and skills providers

  • Leadership
  • Post-16
  • FE
  • Health and safety
  • Government
  • Coronavirus

Equality, diversity and inclusion

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  • ASCL
  • Council
  • Ethics
  • Equalities
  • Inclusion
  • Diversity
  • Independent