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 Organisation (WHO) defines coronaviruses as a family of viruses that cause infectious illness ranging from very mild to very severe diseases, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Covid-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2. It originated in China at the end of 2019 and quickly spread as a pandemic worldwide.
Symptoms include a high fever, a new, continuous cough, and loss of, or change to, sense of smell or taste. Some may suffer from a mild illness and recover easily. However, in other cases people can become seriously ill and suffer a range of complications. The elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes 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. Some people infected with Covid-19 can be “asymptomatic” but still spread the virus. Protection can be provided through Covid-19 vaccination. Vaccines not only prevent illness but also help prevent the spread of the virus.
The Covid-19 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 by frequently washing their hands with soap and water or using hand sanitiser gels. Frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned regularly and people should not touch their faces with an unwashed hand.
Throughout the pandemic a series of public health restrictions have been required to suppress transmission of the virus and reduce pressure on health and social care systems. Measures have included compulsory self-isolation if infected, periods of national “lockdown” and the mandatory wearing of face masks in some settings, such as in healthcare premises.
A vaccination programme was rolled out in all areas of the UK during 2021. This has proved effective in protecting people and has allowed the Government to gradually ease restrictions. On 24 February 2022 the Government in England relaxed the last of its formal restrictions, that of legally requiring people to self-isolate if they have Covid symptoms or following a positive test.
With formal restrictions now lifted, Government guidance for the general public over the prevention of infection and transmission has been changed to advisory recommendations.
In February 2022 the Government published its strategy for living with Covid-19 in the future. COVID-19 Response: Living with COVID-19 is built on the fact that the Covid-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, is still a risk and will continue to circulate and evolve for the foreseeable future, possibly producing more dangerous variants. The document includes a range or advisory guidance for the UK population.
Vaccines will continue to underpin the response to Covid-19. Their deployment will continue to be guided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
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?
Schools should follow the latest official Department for Education guidance. Schools coronavirus (COVID-19) operational guidance applies to schools of all types. It sets out in detail the Covid-19 risk mitigations measures that schools must have in place. The guidance has been updated to cover the relaxation of restrictions.
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.
DfE recommends that the following control measures are in place in all schools:
Ensure good hygiene for everyone (both regular handwashing and use of tissues, etc)
Maintain appropriate cleaning regimes
Keep occupied spaces well ventilated
Follow public health advice on testing, self-isolation and managing confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Schools should do their best to ensure that pupils, staff and other adults do not attend school if they have Covid-19 symptoms, have tested positive for the virus, or for any other reasons requiring them to stay at home due to the risk of them passing on the virus. The latest Government recommendations on self-isolation are set out in online guidance, COVID-19: people with COVID-19 and their contacts. All pupils and staff should be expected to follow the guidance and attendance rules should be clearly communicated to parents. Note that in the latest guidance the requirement to self-isolate is advisory only. The legal requirement to self-isolate has been relaxed.
Schools should have procedures in place to deal with any pupil or adult becoming unwell with Covid-19 during the school day. Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn by staff caring for any unwell child with Covid-19 symptoms while they await collection where close contact is involved. Schools must ensure that suitable PPE is available and that staff follow the guidance in The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in education, childcare and children’s social care settings, including for aerosol generating procedures (AGPs).
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.
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. See also our topic on Cleaning Schools.
As part of their arrangements to minimise the risk of Covid-19 virus transmission, schools should consider the latest advice on the importance of ensuring good levels of ventilation. Areas with poor ventilation should be identified in risk assessments and actions taken to improve the flow of fresh air. For further information, see our feature article Fresh air — a top autumn school priority.
During the pandemic schools have been asked to carry out extensive asymptomatic testing. However, from 21 February 2022, staff and pupils in mainstream schools, and staff in primary schools and early years, will no longer be expected to continue taking part in regular asymptomatic testing. Instead they are advised to follow asymptomatic testing advice for the general population.
Face coverings are no longer advised for pupils, staff or visitors in communal areas or classrooms. However, it is possible that schools are advised to temporarily re-introduce face coverings and contingency plans should cover this. Further information can be found in Schools COVID-19 operational guidance.
In all other settings the Government has also relaxed the mandatory requirement to wear face coverings, although it still recommends considering wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces when rates of transmission are high, especially when in contact with people not usually met. Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread.
Schools are expected to work closely with parents, staff and unions when implementing control measures. Clear communication of policies and procedures is vital to ensure that everyone knows the rules and stays safe.
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 or when self-isolating should be supported to obtain appropriate equipment.
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 to ensure that those pupils and young people who rely on free school meals can still access help despite having to stay at home when self-isolating.
SEND pupils and those with education, health and care plans may need additional support during all stages of the pandemic. Further information can be found in Special schools and other specialist settings: coronavirus (COVID-19). Others requiring additional support will include those who may have suffered mental health issues during the pandemic, including stress and anxiety, or may have been bereaved.
During the pandemic some people have been considered vulnerable to the virus because of underlying health conditions or illnesses. Some were identified by the NHS as “clinically extremely vulnerable” (CEV) and required to “shield” themselves and take additional precautions against infection. This may include staff members or some pupils attending a school. Public health opinion is that most people who were identified as CEV are now well protected after receiving their Covid vaccinations and are no longer at substantially greater risk than the general population. They are advised to follow the same guidance as everyone else on staying safe, including ensuring that they access Covid booster vaccinations, if eligible, and following any additional guidance from their doctors. For more information, see Guidance for people previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.
Domestic educational day visits and residential school trips may be resumed but must be subject to appropriate risk assessment and Covid-secure safety precautions. DfE advises that schools can proceed with international visits that have previously been deferred or postponed. They can also organise new international visits for the future.
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 an increase in local or national virus transmission rates and in the event of an outbreak of Covid-19 infection in the school.
Ofsted has announced that a full programme of inspections has resumed.
Vaccines remain the best way for people to protect themselves and their families from infection and schools should therefore do all that they can to support the Covid vaccination programme. They should encourage their staff to access vaccinations wherever possible and support vaccination clinics for pupils as required. Children aged 12 to 15 have been added to the vaccination programme are eligible to be fully vaccinated (two primary doses of vaccine). Full vaccination decreases the risk of catching the virus and reduces the severity of symptoms if the virus is contracted. Following a successful “third” jab booster campaign for adults in the autumn of 2021, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended another booster campaign for vulnerable adults in the spring of 2022. For more information see the NHS Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination webpage.
Useful feature articles
Useful news items
Boost in expert mental health support
Ofqual confirms autumn assessment arrangements
Covid-19 linked to increased risk of mental health disorders
Rapid Covid-19 tests for all households with children of school 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 8 March 2022