This toolkit provides a step-by-step guide for managing the coronavirus in schools. It provides links to key information and template policies on Croner-i. This information is being continually checked and updated.

Covid-19 — coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes coronaviruses (CoV) as a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). This particular episode, which first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, has been named “Covid–19” and labelled a pandemic.

According to the NHS, the most common symptoms are high temperature (fever), a new and continuous dry cough, and/or loss or change to the sense of smell or taste. Most people will only suffer mild symptoms. However, others will be very ill and recovery can be slow and difficult. Mortality is high, particularly in those most at risk such as the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, kidney and lung disease. Symptoms can appear in as few as two days after infection or as long as 14 days. Some people infected with Covid-19 can be “asymptomatic” but still spread the virus.

People who have symptoms of infection and live alone are asked to “self-isolate” by staying at home for 10 days from when the symptoms started. Those who live with others and families are being asked to self-isolate as a household for 14 days from the day that the first person became ill.

Covid-19 is a respiratory infection. The virus spreads through droplets in the breath and when coughing. It can also survive for up to 72 hours on contaminated surfaces. People can protect themselves and others by covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and by frequently washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds during the day. They should use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available. Frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned regularly and people should not touch their faces with an unwashed hand.

In order to halt the spread of the virus a UK wide “lockdown” was imposed in March, closing down places such as pubs and restaurants, banning large gatherings and obliging people to stay indoors except for activities such as food shopping and exercise. In May viral transmission rates had dropped sufficiently for the government to publish a recovery “roadmap” which plotted a gradual phased easing. People have subsequently returned to work and pubs, restaurants and shops have reopened with appropriate “COVID secure” arrangements in place.

Despite this easing people are still asked to “stay alert” and maintain “social distancing” from others who are not in the same household or “support bubble” of family and friends. The wearing of face masks or face coverings has become widespread and is a requirement in many indoor places and on public transport.

The latest Government requirements can be found in Staying alert and safe (social distancing). The measures are supported by widespread testing and by an NHS Track and Trace system which seeks to identify those who have been in contact with infected individuals. The government states that lockdown arrangements will be reintroduced on a locality basis if transmission rates rise in “hotspot” areas.

Schools and early years settings were closed as part of the lockdown, except for a partial service to support vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Plans were introduced under lockdown easing for a phased re-opening before the summer. However, in England these were delayed on safety grounds and replaced with an intention to fully reopen schools in September.

Employer duties

School employers and leaders should remember that they have a duty of care towards their staff, pupils, contractors and visitors. They should take reasonable steps to protect their health and safety, preventing them from exposure to unnecessary risk, including the risk of infectious disease.

What should you do as a school?

  1. Schools and early years providers should do all that they can to open fully in September. The government has stated that it wants all children and young people back into education wherever it is safe to do so. Each school must carry out risk assessments and put into place appropriate protective measures to keep children and staff safe. Health and safety risk assessments must be updated to consider the additional risk that the Covid-19 virus introduces.

  2. Guidance for full opening: schools, published by the Department for Education, sets out the public health controls schools must introduce in order to minimise the risks of coronavirus (Covid-19) transmission. The suggested measures are endorsed by Public Health England. All elements of the system of controls are considered essential. All schools must cover them all. However, the way different schools implement some of the requirements will differ based on individual circumstances.

  3. Schools are expected to work closely with parents, staff and unions, when agreeing the best approaches to reopening. DfE acknowledge that some parents, pupils and staff will have concerns on the return to full schooling. These should be addressed.

  4. The guidance states that essential public health controls should include:

    1. a requirement that people who are ill stay at home

    2. robust hand and respiratory hygiene

    3. enhanced cleaning arrangements

    4. active engagement with NHS Test and Trace

    5. formal consideration of how to reduce contacts between those in school, wherever possible, and maximise “social distancing”

  5. DfE require that minimising contact with people who may have Covid-19 symptoms, thorough hand hygiene, effective respiratory hygiene (i.e. using tissues to catch coughs) and enhanced cleaning must be in place in all schools all of the time.

  6. Schools must ensure that pupils, staff and other adults do not come into the school if they have Covid-19 symptoms, or have tested positive in at least the last 10 days. They must also have systems in place to ensure that anyone developing symptoms during the school day is sent home. All pupils and staff should be expected to follow the government Stay at home guidance on self-isolating.

  7. Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn by staff caring for any unwell child with Covid-19 symptoms while they await collection if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained (such as for a very young child or a child with complex needs). Schools must ensure that suitable PPE is available and that staff follow the guidance in Safe working in education, childcare and children’s social care settings, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

  8. Schools must ensure that adequate hand hygiene facilities are in place, i.e. hand washing facilities and/or hand sanitiser. Staff and pupils must be able to clean their hands regularly, including when they arrive in school. Hand cleaning “routines” may be introduced. Additional facilities may be required to avoid over-crowding in wash areas. Hand sanitiser use should be supervised to prevent risks related to ingestion.

  9. Enhanced cleaning schedules should cover all frequently touched surfaces. Schedules should include the more frequent cleaning of toilets and hand washing areas. Schools should consult COVID-19: cleaning in non-healthcare settings outside the home for further guidance.

  10. There are a number of organisational arrangements that should allow schools to reduce contacts between people while in school and maximise social distancing. The guidance points out that this will depend on the type of school (i.e. primary or secondary) and the school’s circumstances. Suggested arrangements include:

    1. grouping children together

    2. avoiding contact between groups

    3. arranging classrooms with forward facing desks

    4. staff maintaining distance from pupils and other staff as much as possible

  11. For younger children an emphasis on groups will usually be most effective. The consistent grouping of children should reduce the risk of transmission by limiting the number of pupils and staff in contact with each other to only those within each group. Such arrangements were used in schools prior to the summer holidays. Schools must address the logistical and timetabling challenges that such group arrangements will inevitably bring.

  12. For older children and young people there should be more emphasis on social distancing and personal responsibility to comply with public health messages. Such an approach should be supported by classroom adaptations. Staff in secondary schools should be supported to maintain distance from their pupils, staying at the front of the class, and away from their colleagues where possible. Ideally, adults should maintain a 2 metre “social distance” from each other, and from children.

  13. Small group arrangements are preferred wherever possible. However, Section 1 of Safe working in education contains guidance on how class size limits introduced during the pandemic may be safely expanded to enable all pupils to return to school.

  14. DfE has published guidance on the wearing of face masks or face coverings in schools. Face coverings in education applies from the start of September. It states that schools will have the discretion to require face coverings in indoor communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed, if they believe that it is right in their particular circumstances. Advice from the World Health Organization suggests that wearing masks or face coverings is a sensible measure to take in order to reduce virus transmission. They recommend that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults. Where face coverings are required, schools should ensure that instructions are clear and that they are worn correctly.

  15. Schools must have appropriate school transport, arrival and pick-up arrangements in place. Staggered start and finish times may help to keep groups apart as they arrive and leave. Face coverings must be worn by pupils on school and public transport. Arrangements must be in place for them to take these off on arrival and wash their hands. Reusable coverings should be kept in plastic bags until home time. Transport capacity will be affected by the need for social distancing on buses and coaches, etc. Schools should work closely with transport providers and with local authorities wherever necessary. It is likely that public transport will be constrained in most areas throughout the autumn term.

  16. SEND pupils and those with education, health and care plans may need additional support to return to school safely. A small number of pupils will be considered “high-risk” from Covid-19 and may need to be “shielded” due to health conditions. Formal shielding arrangements for extremely clinically vulnerable people were paused at the start of August but will be kept under review and may be reinstated in areas where lockdown restrictions need to be reimposed.

  17. Schools should do all they can to support home learning when pupils cannot attend due to the coronavirus pandemic or for health reasons. While staying at home due to coronavirus, parents and carers may be worried about their children’s development and the effect of missing school or nursery. Parents should be encouraged to follow the online DfE advice, Supporting your children's education during coronavirus (COVI-19).

  18. Staff health and safety should be a key consideration in all schools. Every effort should be made to consult and keep people safe. The government expert advisory group believes schools are a low risk setting, especially at the present time when Covid-19 virus transmission rates are much reduced. The group advise that staff who were considered high-risk or “extremely vulnerable” due to underlying health conditions during the height of the pandemic should be safe to return to work provided the necessary “essential controls” are in place. They should take particular care to observe good hand hygiene and social distancing.

  19. DfE advise against domestic (UK) overnight and overseas educational visits at this stage. However, non-overnight domestic educational visits can resume. Appropriate risk assessments should be completed and COVID-safe measures put in place.

  20. Schools should ensure that emergency planning and business contingency planning procedures are up to date. Contingency planning should cover what will happen in the event of a class needing to self-isolate. Procedures should also cover local outbreak arrangements where a PHE health protection team or local authority advises a school or number of schools to close temporarily to help control transmission. In such cases remote learning support should be reinstated.

  21. Ofsted has announced a programme of “visits” to schools when they reopen in the autumn. The visits will not be formal inspections and will not be graded. Their aim will be to reassure the public about how schools and colleges are managing to reopen safely. Inspections were cancelled at the start of the pandemic.

Useful news items


  • Crisis Management Planning: includes several practical resources available to download: COVID-19 General Workplace Safety Return to Work Risk Assessment — Completed Example for Education and Early Years; Contractor and Visitor COVID-19 Guidance; Coronavirus Return to Work Risk Assessment — Completed Example; Coronavirus Staff at Risk — Risk Assessment Template; COVID-19 Re-opening Health and Safety Checklist; COVID-19 Re-opening Hygiene Checklist; and a Coronavirus Handwashing Poster.

  • Absence, Leave and Holiday Entitlement: guidance on how to manage sickness absence effectively and rights to time off work with or without pay.

  • Maternity and Family Rights: information on family leave and statutory sick pay.

  • Cleaning Schools: covers the main requirements and good practice of a cleaning operation.

Last reviewed 1 September 2020