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 to watch out for are high temperature (fever), a new and continuous dry cough, and/or loss or change to the sense of smell or taste. Some may suffer from a mild illness and recover easily, while in other cases, infection can progress to pneumonia. Reports suggest that the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease are the most susceptible to serious illness and death. Symptoms can appear in as few as two days after infection or as long as 14 days.

People who have symptoms of infection and live alone are asked to “self-isolate” by staying at home for 7 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.

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.

In order to halt the spread of the virus, a “lockdown” has been in place throughout the UK since March, closing down places such as pubs and restaurants and obliging people to stay indoors except for activities such as food shopping and exercise. The lockdown has been eased slightly in England since 10 May when the prime minister announced that virus transmission rates were reduced. He presented a “roadmap” for the country to recover from the pandemic which involves the gradual phased easing of the lockdown restrictions. However, despite the easing of some restrictions, people are still asked to stay at home as much as possible and, when outside for exercise, food shopping or work, they are advised to “stay alert” and maintain a “social distance” of at least 2m from others not in the same household.

The latest Government requirements can be found in Staying alert and safe (social distancing).

Schools and early years provision were closed as part of the lockdown in March, except for a partial service to support vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Plans have been introduced as part of the lockdown easing to aim for the start of a phased re-opening in England from 1 June at the earliest.

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 nurseries closed on 20 March for an indefinite period. The closure order applies to schools of all types, including private schools and sixth forms, and to nurseries.

    Wherever possible schools should remain open only for those children who absolutely need to attend. This very limited group of pupils will consist of vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers who are unable to make alternative childcare arrangements. Key workers include not only those in the NHS, fire and ambulance services and police, but also staff such as supermarket delivery drivers. Continuing local provision is required so that these workers can carry on with their vital jobs. Vulnerable children include those who have a social worker and those with Education, Health and Care Plans. Children who do not fall into these groups should remain at home with appropriate care. Children with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan should be risk-assessed by their school in consultation with the local authority and parents, to decide whether they need to continue to be offered a school place in order to meet their needs, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home. Ongoing provision for vulnerable children is covered in Supporting vulnerable children and young people during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak — actions for educational providers and other partners.

  2. Critical workers who can access schools or educational settings gives further details about who exactly should be regarded as “key workers”. The Government recognises that some special schools and residential settings will need to continue to look after their pupils. It is the responsibility of school leaders to judge whether it is safe for a school to remain open in the current circumstances. Where a school or an early years setting cannot stay open it is the responsibility of local authorities to ensure alternative provision.

  3. Schools that remain open, even at a very reduced level, should ensure that both staff and pupils follow all relevant official guidance on protecting themselves and others. Staff and pupils should adhere to high levels of hygiene and infection prevention procedures, particularly in relation to handwashing. Young children should be supervised to ensure they wash their hands more often than usual. They should be encouraged to “catch” coughs and sneezes in tissues. All activities should be based on the concept of social distancing wherever possible. Premises and procedures should be adapted to enable this.

  4. Staff or children who are considered as extremely vulnerable or “high risk” and are subject to special “shielding arrangements” should not be required to attend premises that are open. Those staff who are considered vulnerable or “moderate risk” should be supported to work from home if possible. Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19 provides more information on this group of people.

  5. Make sure that staff and pupils attending open schools stay at home if they are unwell with coronavirus symptoms or with any other communicable disease. This is essential to avoid spreading infection to others. Any staff or pupils who become unwell while on the school site with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature should be sent home.

  6. Clean and disinfect regularly touched objects and surfaces more often than usual using standard cleaning products. Check the main requirements and good practice of a cleaning operation.

  7. Communicate to visitors that they should not visit the school if they are self-isolating, displaying any symptoms of COVID-19 infection, generally feeling unwell or have recently returned from a high-risk area or had contact with someone who has coronavirus. Encourage visitors to carry out good hygiene practices, such as handwashing and using a hand sanitiser gel. Make sure that one person is responsible for keeping abreast of developments from the World Health Organization, the UK Government and the NHS.

  8. Ensure that the school is complying fully with the latest official guidance, including Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings, published by the Department for Education.

  9. All schools and nurseries that remain open should have a policy on steps to protect pupils and staff from the coronavirus.

  10. Ensure that emergency planning and business contingency planning procedures are up to date.

  11. Pupils who have to stay at home should have their ongoing learning and development supported by teachers using online learning platforms. Schools should inform parents of the arrangements and advise them how best they can support their children. Teaching staff should be given resources and support to be able to coordinate online learning from home wherever possible. Consequent to the closure of schools, the Government has also announced that SATs, GCSE, AS- and A-Level exams will not take place in May and June as planned.

  12. Where schools or nurseries are unable to look after the vulnerable/key worker children required of them (for instance, due to staff shortages) local authorities will work with DfE regional teams to ensure alternative options are available.

  13. Schools should cease planning for Ofsted inspections. Ofsted have stated that they will cease all inspections of schools and colleges with immediate effect. Primary school assessments and secondary exams will also not go ahead and performance tables will not be published.

  14. Schools must follow guidance published by the Government relating to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) school closures on pupils currently eligible for benefits-related free school meals. This guidance explains what schools must do to make sure eligible pupils have continued access to free school meals where they have to stay at home. Options include providing food parcels/meals through their catering teams or providing vouchers to parents for supermarkets or local shops. Costs will be covered by the DfE.

  15. Schools should plan for the phased re-opening of their services. The Government has stated that it wants to get all children and young people back into education and childcare as soon as the scientific advice shows that it is safe to do so.

  16. Key guidance on re-opening in England is set out by DfE in Actions for education and childcare settings to prepare for wider opening from 1 June 2020. The guidance states that, from the first week of June at the earliest, the Government is asking primary schools to welcome back children in Nursery, Reception, year 1 and year 6, alongside the priority groups already attending. At the same time, secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges will be asked to offer some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year, alongside the full-time provision they are offering to priority groups. Lastly, nurseries and other early years providers, including childminders, are also being urged to start welcoming back all children.

  17. School governors, heads, senior leadership teams and early years leaders and managers of currently closed facilities should plan ahead so that they can provide safe premises and services when they do re-open. Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings provides essential help in planning “COVID secure” facilities and in helping schools to provide effective social distancing.

Useful Q&As


Last reviewed 22 May 2020