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

According to the NHS, the most common symptoms of Covid-19 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.

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.

People who have symptoms of infection are asked to “self-isolate” by staying at home for 10 days from when the symptoms started.

The latest Government requirements for self-isolation can be found in Stay at home: guidance for households with possible or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. 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 response throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has been to impose a series of public health restrictions designed to limit transmission of the virus. These have included both national and local lockdowns including the closure of places where people gather, such as schools, early years settings, pubs, restaurants, sporting events and shops. A “second wave” of infection exacerbated by more contagious variants of the virus necessitated another national lockdown at the start of 2021 during which schools were instructed to restrict attendance to the children of key workers and vulnerable children. Early years services were allowed to stay open.

In England a “roadmap” has been published to guide the easing of the lockdown. Schools have been told to reopen on the 8th March. The plan for reopening is based on extensive testing for infection and the continuing success of an ambitious Covid vaccination programme which seeks to offer vaccination to every adult in the UK by the summer.

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. During the pandemic schools must carry out risk assessments and use appropriate protective measures to keep children and staff safe. Health and safety risk assessments must consider the additional risk that the Covid-19 virus introduces.

  2. During national lockdowns, schools should restrict attendance to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers only. Children and young people from these groups should be encouraged to attend. All other pupils and students should stay at home.

  3. Restricting attendance during the national lockdown: schools, published by the Department for Education, applies to schools of all types and sets out what they needed to do during the national lockdown which started in January 2021. Schools coronavirus (COVID-19) operational guidance applies to schools of all types after reopening from March.

  4. Schools must do all they can to support home learning when pupils cannot attend due to pandemic restrictions (eg during periods of national lockdown) or for health reasons (eg if self-isolating). Pupils who do not have resources at home to access online learning during lockdown periods should be supported to obtain appropriate equipment or be allowed to attend school as part of the “vulnerable children” group.

  5. Some people are considered “vulnerable” or “highly vulnerable” to the virus because of underlying health conditions or illnesses. Heads must take into consideration staff who fall into these categories when deciding who should work from home and who should work on the school site. During periods of high virus transmission it is the governments expectation that everyone who can work from home should do, especially “shielding” individuals.

  6. The following protective measures (system of controls) must be in place in all schools:

    1. Steps to minimise contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who are required to stay at home do not attend school

    2. Appropriate use of face coverings, where recommended

    3. Robust hand hygiene arrangements – pupils and staff should clean hands thoroughly more often than usual

    4. Effective respiratory hygiene arrangements – schools should promote the “catch it, bin it, kill it” approach

    5. Enhanced cleaning arrangements - including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, using standard products such as detergents

    6. Steps to minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing wherever possible

    7. Keeping occupied spaces well ventilated

  7. Additional safety measures required include:

    1. Engaging with the NHS Test and Trace process

    2. Promoting and engaging in asymptomatic testing, where available

    3. Managing confirmed cases of coronavirus (Covid-19) amongst the school community

    4. Ensuring staff wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary

    5. Containing any outbreak by following local health protection team advice.

  8. Schools are expected to work closely with parents, staff and unions.

  9. 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.

  10. 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).

  11. Schools must ensure that adequate hand hygiene facilities are in place, ie handwashing 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.

  12. 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.

  13. There are a number of organisational arrangements that should allow schools to reduce contacts between people while in school and maximise social distancing. DfE guidance points out that this will depend on the type of school (ie 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. Schools coronavirus (COVID-19) operational guidance contains recommendations on the use of masks in education.

  17. 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.

  18. Providing school meals during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak describes what schools need to do to ensure that pupils have appropriate access to food and drink during the pandemic. This includes arrangements during nationwide lockdowns to ensure that those pupils and young people who rely on free school meals can still access help despite having to stay at home.

  19. SEND pupils and those with education, health and care plans may need additional support during all stages of the pandemic. A small number of pupils will be considered “high-risk” from Covid-19 and may need to be “shielded” due to health conditions.

  20. Staff health and safety should be a key consideration in all schools. Every effort should be made to consult and keep people safe.

  21. 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.

  22. Formal inspections were cancelled at the start of the pandemic. Ofsted announced a programme of support “visits” to schools in England when they reopened in the autumn. These are not formal inspections and no grading is made. Ofsted have announced routine graded inspections will be reintroduced in September 2021.

  23. Schools must comply with testing requirements and guidance, including plans for mass asymptomatic testing (ATS) in secondary schools. All schools should ensure that their staff, pupils and parents understand and engage with the NHS Test and Trace process. DfE states that schools must take swift action if they become aware that someone who has attended has tested positive for coronavirus.

  24. Three vaccines have so far been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for use in the UK and urgent plans for a national vaccination rollout devised. This begun in December and will progress through 2021 as a national priority. The Government hope that all adults will be offered a vaccine by the summer. There are no vaccines yet available for those under 16 years of age.


  • 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.

  • Medical Conditions and Communicable Diseases: covers all aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic as they relate to schools.

Last reviewed 12 April 2021