Coronavirus InformationCoronavirus LettersLetters

Closures of schools, childcare and other educational settings

1.1 What age groups does this cover?

The changes cover children at registered childcare providers (including nurseries and childminders), primary and secondary schools and further education colleges. This is for both state-funded and independent schools.

1.2 Will it be mandatory for all schools, colleges and registered childcare providers to remain open in some form?

We are asking schools, colleges, nurseries, childminders and other registered childcare settings to remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children where they can.

We understand that some may be unable to do so especially if they are experiencing severe staff shortages. We will work with local areas to use neighbouring schools, colleges and childcare providers to continue to support vulnerable children and children of critical workers.

1.3 How long will childcare settings, schools and colleges be closed for?

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, schools, colleges and childcare providers will remain closed until further notice, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children. We will only re-open schools when the scientific advice indicates it is safe to do so, and will engage closely with the sector on our approach.

1.4 Will this apply to independent schools and boarding schools?

Yes. We are asking independent schools and boarding schools to do the same as state schools and remain open for critical workers and vulnerable children.

1.5 Will registered childcare settings, schools and colleges be open over Easter holidays for holiday clubs and childcare?

Where possible, we would encourage childcare settings, schools and colleges to continue to look after critical workers’ children and vulnerable children throughout the Easter holidays.

1.6 I am a critical worker or have a vulnerable child – can you guarantee that my child will attend their usual educational setting, school or childcare provider?

We are expecting the majority of settings to stay open for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children so they can continue to attend their usual provider, but we acknowledge this will be impossible for some – such as small rural schools.

Where a setting is unable to stay open, we will work with local authorities, regional school commissioners and neighbouring providers to find an alternative setting for their pupils.

1.7 I am a critical worker or have a vulnerable child – how will my child get to school if the only school open is not nearby?

We are working closely with local authorities to ensure the necessary arrangements are in place to support children.

1.8 I am a critical worker or have a vulnerable child but my child’s educational setting has closed. What should I do?

Arrangements will be made in your local area to ensure that your child can still attend an educational setting. If your setting has not already informed you about those arrangements, please contact your local authority. They will be working with regional school commissioners and neighbouring providers to make alternative arrangements. You can find out your local authority by entering your postcode.

1.9 What if I have to leave my children at home unattended?

Read the government advice on the law on leaving children unattended.

There is no law about when you can leave your child on their own but it is an offence to leave them alone if it places them at risk. As parents, you should use your judgement on how mature your child is before you decide to leave them at home.

It is important to be aware that you can be prosecuted if you leave a child alone ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’. If you are at all unsure, the NSPCC recommends that children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time, children under 16 should not be left alone overnight and babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone.

1.10 Does this affect universities and other higher education institutions?

Universities and other higher education providers should make their own judgements based on latest guidance for educational settings. Vice chancellors are well placed to make decisions about their own institution, and many have already moved all their teaching online. The government is supporting them with these decisions.

Advice continues to be that all student accommodation should remain open unless advised otherwise by Public Health England. Many universities provide homes to international students, estranged students and care leavers who might not have anywhere else to go.

The Department for Education is working with the Home Office to avoid individuals and institutions being penalised if online provision inadvertently leads to non-compliance with Tier 4 visa rules.

1.11 Does this apply to special schools?

We recognise that children and young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND) and their parents and carers are facing numerous challenges as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19). Residential special schools and other special settings should be supported to remain open, wherever possible.

Special schools, colleges and local authorities are advised to make case by case assessments of the health and safeguarding considerations of pupils and students on an education, health and care (EHC) plan. For some, they will be safer in an education setting. For others, they will be safer at home. We trust leaders and parents to make these decisions and will support them as required.

The government acknowledges that in many cases, the insurance that early years providers have will not cover them for income lost during coronavirus (COVID-19) related closures.

That is one of the reasons why it was announced on 17 March that the government would not claw back early years entitlements funding from local authorities during closures, or where children do not attend because of coronavirus (COVID-19). This protects a significant proportion of early years providers’ income.

In addition, the government has set out a range of support for businesses to reduce the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on them. This includes a business rate holiday for all private childcare providers for one year from 1 April. Local authorities will be fully compensated for the cost of this. The government has also announced significant support for workers, which will help support private early years providers.

In light of these steps taken already, we are asking providers to be reasonable and balanced in their dealings with parents.

2. Exams

2.1 What will happen to exams?

Primary assessments, including SATs, and exams including GCSEs, AS levels and A levels, will not go ahead this summer.

The exam regulator, Ofqual, and exam boards will work with teachers and other educational staff to provide grades to students whose exams have been cancelled this summer. Further information is available for schools and colleges, students and parents on how qualifications will be awarded in summer 2020.

3. Admissions

3.1 Have parents received offers of primary school places for 2020 admissions on 16 April 2020?

Yes, primary National Offer Day has continued as expected on 16 April 2020.

4. Free school meals

4.1 Will children eligible for free school meals still receive a meal or food voucher when schools close?

Yes. Headteachers can decide which of the available options will be best for families in their area. Schools can either provide food on site, arrange deliveries or purchase a voucher to be given to the family. Colleges are also supporting free school meals for those eligible through a variety of routes. Contact your school or college to find out what they are providing. More information on support for pupils eligible for free school meals is available.

5. Vulnerable children

5.1 Is my child counted as vulnerable?

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak vulnerable children and young people are defined as those who:

  • are assessed as being in need under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, including children who have a child in need plan, a child protection plan or who are a looked-after child
  • have an education, health and care (EHC) plan whose needs cannot be met safely in the home environment
  • have been assessed as otherwise vulnerable by education providers or local authorities (including children’s social care services), and who are therefore in need of continued education provision. This might include children on the edge of receiving support from children’s social care services, adopted children, or those who are young carers

5.2 Is it compulsory for parents of vulnerable children to accept their place offer?

There is an expectation that vulnerable children who have a social worker will attend provision, so long as they do not have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk than others. In circumstances where a parent does not want to bring their child to an education setting, and their child is considered vulnerable, the social worker and education provider should explore the reasons for this directly with the parent.

Where parents are concerned about the risk of the child contracting the virus, the education provider should talk through these anxieties with the parent following the advice set out by Public Health England.

Those with an EHC plan should be risk-assessed by their education setting in consultation with the local authority and parents, to decide whether they need to continue to be offered a school/college place in order to meet their needs, or whether they can safely have their needs met at home. This could include, if necessary, carers, therapists or clinicians visiting the home to provide any essential services. Many children and young people with EHC plans can safely remain at home.

5.3 How can I report if I am worried a child or young person might be at risk of harm?

To further protect children and young people from harm, we are working with the NSPCC to expand and promote its helpline.

Parents or any adult will be able to call if they want someone to talk to, and they should get in touch if they are worried about a child or young person. Anyone with concerns should email help@nspcc.org.uk or call 0808 800 5000.

6. Critical workers

6.1 Will I be counted as a critical worker?

Critical workers include NHS staff, police, farmers and food retail workers, who need to be able to go out to work.

Children with a parent or carer who is listed on the government’s critical worker list should be considered for a school place.

If children can stay safely at home, they should, to limit the chance of the virus spreading. That is why the government has asked parents to keep their children at home, wherever possible, and asked schools to remain open only for those children who absolutely need to attend.

6.2 If only one parent or carer is a critical worker, can I send my children into school?

Children with at least one parent or carer who is critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response can attend school if required.

However, many families with a parent or carer working in critical sectors will be able to ensure their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.

6.3 I am a critical worker but I do not want to send my child to school or to childcare, do I have to?

Children with a parent or carer who is listed on the government’s critical worker list should be considered for a school place. However, many parents working in these sectors will be able to ensure their child is kept at home. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be, to limit the chance of the virus spreading.

This is an offer to parents and carers and there is no requirement for parents and carers to send their children to school if they do not need or wish to do so.

7. Resources and support

7.1 What support is available to parents to help them educate their children at home?

We want to support schools and parents to ensure children and young people’s education can continue.

To help our most disadvantaged young people access online learning, devices will be ordered for children preparing for exams (in Year 10) and for those who receive support from a social worker or are a care leaver, who would otherwise not have access to a device. Where care leavers, children with a social worker at secondary school and children in Year 10 do not have internet connections, we are providing 4G routers to them so that they can learn at home. And the country’s major telecommunication providers will make it easier for families to access selected educational resources by temporarily exempting these sites from data charges.

For support to access social care services, you should first contact your local authority. For Year 10 children, you should contact your child’s school, who will be able to offer advice.

Other available support includes:

  • a list of online educational resources which have been identified by some of the country’s leading educational experts to help pupils to learn at home
  • enhanced education provision from the BBC to include daily lessons starting from 20 April 2020

For parents with children under 5 years old, who have not yet started school, the Department for Education (DfE)’s Hungry Little Minds campaign features tips and practical activities that you can do at home with children to support their early learning.

There are many simple ways to help your children learn and it does not have to feel like ‘learning’. Having everyday conversations, make-believe play, and reading together, all make a big difference to your child’s development.

You can find more ideas and content from the BBC’s Tiny Happy People campaign and the National Literacy Trust Family Zone.

The Department for Education has guidance for parents of children aged 2 to 4 years and primary school age to support learning at home.

Any 16 to 19-year-olds in education, without a suitable device or connectivity to study remotely, and whose family can’t afford these costs, will be eligible for support via the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund. Decisions on support will be made by colleges, schools and other providers.

7.2 My child qualifies for a device and connectivity at home but I don’t know how to apply for one. How can I do this?

Devices and routers will be sent to schools and children’s social care teams. They will contact you once they have the devices and routers to let you know how to access them.

7.3 Which children are eligible for a device or a router and why?

There are two groups of young people eligible for a device and connectivity who currently lack access. The first is children who receive support from a social worker and care leavers, who need to keep in touch with social care services. The second group are disadvantaged Year 10 students, as these pupils are preparing for exams.

Any 16 to 19 year-olds in education, without a suitable device and/or connectivity to study remotely and whose family can’t afford these costs will be eligible for support via the 16-19 Bursary Fund. Decisions on support will be made by colleges, schools and other providers.

7.4 There is too much pressure on broadband connections in my area – how can my child do online learning?

The government is having regular calls with the major fixed and mobile operators, and with Ofcom, to monitor the situation and ensure that any problems on the networks are rapidly addressed and rectified.

We fully understand the importance of having reliable internet connectivity, particularly at this time, so that people can work from home wherever possible, and access critical public services online, including health information.

7.5 Where can I go to get support to help keep my child safe online?

There is support available to keep your child safe online. Below are some useful links to help parents and carers:

  • Thinkuknow (advice from the National Crime Agency to stay safe online)
  • Internet matters (support for parents and carers to keep their children safe online)
  • Parent info (support for parents and carers to keep their children safe online)
  • LGfL (support for parents and carers to keep their children safe online)
  • Net-aware (support for parents and carers from the NSPCC)
  • Let’s Talk About It (support for parents and carers to keep children safe from online radicalisation)
  • UK Safer Internet Centre (tips, advice, guides)

7.6 What support is available to parents to help them maintain their family’s wellbeing while their children are at home?

Social connections, alongside exercise, sleep, diet and routine, are important protective factors for mental health. Materials to promote and support mental wellbeing are included in the list of online resources we have published to help children to learn at home. Public Health England’s Rise Above platform supports young people. The Department of Health and Social Care is providing £5 million of additional funding to support mental health charities to increase their provision for adults and children at this time.

Social isolation, reduced exercise, and bereavement, may affect children’s wellbeing in this period.

Resources to promote and support children and young people’s mental wellbeing include:

All NHS mental health trusts are setting up 24/7 helplines, and seeking to use digital and virtual channels, to continue delivering support during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.