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 Expert guidance on managing your school and staff to help you make informed and effective decisions. 


Schools in England and covid-19 - your questions answered

Can I re-start assemblies and other whole-school gatherings after stage 4 (expected 19 July)?

Yes. The guidance allows for this as bubble requirements technically finish when step 4 occurs. However, schools are under no obligation to change operational arrangements before the end of term and we expect most not to.

Can I keep staggered start times in place until the end of the summer term?

Yes, schools can continue to use staggered start and finish times until the end of term.

Can I keep bubbles in place until the end of the summer term?

Yes, schools can continue to use bubbles until the end of term.

Am I still expected to carry out any contact tracing after 19 July, eg in the last week of the summer term (for some)?

No. All test and tracing responsibilities move over to NHS test and trace after we move to step 4 (expected on 19 July). That means that school leaders will not be expected to carry out that role in the summer term (or summer holidays) after 19 July.

NAHT’s view is that school leaders should decide on how their school operates, based on their own risk assessments. If, following your risk assessment, you determine that you need to continue to use some form of bubbles at the start of next term we would support this. However, we do recommend that the rationale for this is communicated clearly to parents and governors in advance as it is a decision that might be challenged in light of the new guidance. We also recommend that you make it clear that it is a decision that remains under regular review.

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The guidance says that if a school has ‘several’ confirmed cases within 14 days, you may have an outbreak. What does several mean?

NAHT is currently asking the DfE to provide further clarity on this point. We are expecting further guidance ahead of September and will update this answer accordingly. In the meantime, we advise that any schools who might be concerned that they have an outbreak to contact the DfE helpline (0800 046 8687).

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Could I be required to reintroduce some measures such as face coverings and bubbles next year?

Yes, this is a possibility if there is an outbreak in your school or if there is a significant increase in covid cases in your local area. In the case of an outbreak in your school you could be told to implement additional safety measures once you have reported it via the DfE helpline.

Alternatively, your local director of public health/local public health team could tell you to re-implement some additional safety measures if there are concerns about case numbers in your region. 

Your local public health team should talk to you about the measures that may need to be reintroduced, but we would expect these to be measures that you have previously had in place during 2020/21.

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What needs to be in my ‘outbreak management plan’?

Many schools will have already developed some form of contingency/outbreak management plan, and of course many will have had experience of handling these. There is no requirement to write entirely new plans, instead we recommend schools review their existing plans in light of the new government guidance. We strongly recommend you draw on arrangements that have been in place in 2020/21.>

Your plan should outline what steps you would take in the event that an outbreak is identified in the school or in the scenario that you are asked by local public health teams to reintroduce some safety measures, such as use of face coverings, bubbles and increased social distancing (where possible). You may also want to plan for the scenario where groups of pupils, classes or year groups are not able to attend school and for the worse-case scenario of a short-term school closure. You should also consider plans should members of staff be unable to attend school. 

We also recommend that you read the government’s contingency framework before finalising the plan as it outlines the possible measures that could be reintroduced and the potential restrictions on attendance that could be introduced.

The plan could also outline key tasks such as communication to parents, staff, pupils and governors.

We recommend that you ask the governing board or trust board to agree the revised outbreak management plan as early as possible and you may want to discuss this with your local authority or trust if you have any concerns or want to try to align locally in terms of measures where appropriate to do so.

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Can I refuse to allow a child who has been identified as a close contact to come to school if they have not taken a PCR test?

Our understanding is that schools will not routinely be told by test and trace who has been identified as a close contact as that communication will be between test and trace and the family in question. However, you may become aware of cases or potential cases through your school community.

The DfE’s guidance to schools (via its FAQs issued on 15.7.21) states:

“In exceptional cases, settings may decide to refuse a pupil if, in the setting's reasonable judgement, it is necessary to protect those within the setting from possible infection with COVID-19. The decision would need to be carefully considered in light of all the circumstances and current public health advice. Individuals should only be asked to stay home for Covid-related reasons if:

  • they or someone in their household is symptomatic
  • they or someone in their household has tested positive with a PCR or LFD (they may return if a positive LFD result is followed by a subsequent confirmatory PCR within 2 days)
  • (until August 16th) they have been notified by NHS Test and Trace that they are a close contact.

If settings are concerned about case rates in their setting, initial support may be sought from the DfE helpline: 0800 046 8687, option 1 or by referring to local arrangements.

You may wish, in your end of term letter, to remind parents that you expect them to carry out a PCR if their child has been identified as a close contact before they come to school. This would set out the school’s expectations which may be a useful reminder or persuade some parents but as noted above it isn’t possible for the school to enforce this requirement at the moment.

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Will I be contacted by track and trace every time there is a case in the school?

The current guidance suggests that you will only be contacted in ‘exceptional cases’, which is likely to be if health protection teams believe there could be an outbreak at your school. However, we would recommend that you ask parents to inform you as soon as possible if their child has a suspected or confirmed case and that you continue to keep clear records of pupils affected. 

We have already raised with DfE the issue of younger children testing positive and questioned how that will work in practice in terms of their ability to identify close contacts. While the DfE has said schools will only be contacted in ‘exceptional cases’, we are expecting that for younger children it is quite likely NHS test and trace will need to speak with the school to help them in their identification of close contacts. We will continue to raise this issue with DfE.

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If a pupil is identified as a close contact and told to get a PCR test by test and trace, should they remain absent from school until the result is received?

Our understanding of the guidance as it currently stands is that schools cannot require pupils to remain away from school if they are a close contact and are awaiting the results of a PCR test. NAHT is challenging this stance. 

In the meantime schools may wish to work with parents and explain why it would be sensible to wait for a confirmed negative PCR test before a child returns to school.

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Do I now have to update my risk assessment?

By design, risk assessments should be dynamic documents and so these will need to be reviewed in light of the latest government guidance and reflect any changes. We would also recommend proactively reviewing the risk assessments of any members of staff previously identified as extremely clinically vulnerable or clinically vulnerable.

Further NAHT advice on risk assessments can be found here and this will be updated in advance of the return to school in September. 

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Can I still require staff/pupils/visitors to wear face coverings after step 4?

Given the change to national policy on face coverings, it is likely you will find it difficult to require people to wear face masks in school after step 4. However, you could, in line with your risk assessment, consider asking visitors and staff to wear face coverings in certain circumstances. Again, this would need to be carefully communicated in advance.

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Can I prevent pupils, staff and visitors from wearing a face covering?

While case numbers remain relatively high, we don’t recommend actively refusing to allow individual pupils, staff and visitors to wear face coverings in school. If there are concerns regarding communication, it would be reasonable to ask people to use transparent face coverings as outlined in the DfE guidance.

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Am I able to keep or re-implement additional measures next term that go beyond the government guidance?

The government guidance is clear that the ‘standard’ measures to be implemented are:

  • enhanced cleaning,
  • hand hygiene, and
  • good ventilation.

The government is also clear that it no longer sees face coverings, staggered start and end times or ‘bubbles’ as part of the standard approach.

Notwithstanding the government’s position, a risk assessment should also be completed in addition to this to see if there any setting-specific mitigations that should be put in place/retained where they don’t significantly impact the delivery of education.

The setting-specific mitigations you may wish to continue with or institute could be virtual parents evenings, staff meetings to take place in the largest and well-ventilated room in the school, one-way systems in corridors, one way-systems for collection and drop-off, split play times and hand sanitising. As you can see all these mitigations are not particularly disruptive but may help reduce the transmission of the virus.  

If you are considering more significant measures such as the wearing of face coverings or staggered start and finish times, we would recommend you speak with either the DfE covid helpline or your local health protection team in advance.

It is worth noting that on 14.7.21 the DfE sent the following message to school leaders in its regular update:

“School and college leaders can take operational decisions about their own settings, but in doing so they should consider all steps and measures available and their impact on provision for students, using national guidance, their own risk assessments, and advice from their director of public health. Initial support for decision making should be sought from the DfE COVID-19 helpline on 0800 046 8687 or by referring to local arrangements. We expect schools and colleges to deliver a full curriculum or education and training programme, including any wider school or college offer for their students.”

NAHT believes that this gives school leaders a degree of flexibility should they decide to re-implement certain measures, but we have asked DfE to provide further clarity about which specific measures this refers to and will update our advice accordingly.

We will be updating our general risk assessment guidance over the course of the summer and will update this FAQ as soon as it’s ready, but in the meantime our very detailed risk assessment guidance can be found here.

We recommend providing your suggested mitigations and completed risk assessment to your governors, local authority or trust so all parties are aware of the outcome of the risk assessment and suggested mitigations.

We have drafted a template letter that you can amend to suit your particular circumstances to send to parents noting the current position and the steps that you are taking.

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What should I do if I have particular concerns about rising case rates or positive tests in the school when I can’t reach my local public health team or the DfE helpline?

While you should follow the government guidance and add any safety measures you’ve identified in your risk assessment into the way you operate, there may be instances where you have particular concerns about your school if, for example, cases escalate and you haven't been able to get an instruction to implement your outbreak management plan. This could be because local public health teams are handling many cases and cannot respond to you in a timely manner. In this instance we recommend you consider moving to the lower level measures of your outbreak management plan if you have safety concerns that you feel must be addressed without delay. However, we also recommend that you record your attempts to contact the public health team or the DfE before doing this unilaterally. 

We also recommend that, in advance of this situation arising, perhaps at the start of term, you let your governors, local authority or trust know that you plan to take this step if extraordinary circumstances arise where you are concerned about safety and cannot get confirmation from local public health teams or the DfE that you ought to move to your outbreak management plan.

Finally, as always, we would recommend communicating any changes to parents clearly and with as much notice as possible in the circumstances.

Can I share contact details of families with NHS Test and Trace if I am asked to?

The DfE’s guidance to schools (via its FAQs issued on 15.7.21) states:

Settings must not provide any personal information if asked to by parents and/or close contacts that would be a breach of GDPR or data protection legislation. In exceptional circumstances, education and childcare settings may be contacted by NHS Track and Trace if deemed necessary by local health protection teams in response to a local outbreak, as currently happens in managing other infectious diseases. 

In this scenario settings may share proportionate and relevant information as requested by NHS Track and Trace without consent. The sharing of information in these exceptional circumstance does not require consent as it is enabled by specific legislation, but to support this, the existing privacy notices should continue to be in place and be easily accessible.

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What is happening about performance data in 2022?

On 19 July, the DfE published an update, Coronavirus (COVID-19): school and college accountability 2021/22, which sets out the way school and college accountability will operate for the 2021/22 academic year. Members should read the update, but a brief summary of the key points is below. 

For the 2021/22 academic year DfE will publish national, regional, and local authority level educational performance data for key stage 2 (KS2), key stage 4 (KS4) and 16-18 and they intend to also publish this information by pupil characteristic and school or college type.

Data from primary school tests and assessments will not be published in KS2 performance tables in academic year 2021/22. 

The normal suite of KS2 accountability measures at school level will be shared these securely with primary schools, academy trusts, local authorities and Ofsted for school improvement purposes

KS4 and 16-18 performance measures will be published on school and college performance tables, using the normal suite of accountability measures, as far as that is possible. 

The DfE recognises the uneven impact on schools and colleges of the pandemic and will ensure clear messages are placed on the performance tables to advise caution when drawing conclusions from the 2021/22 data. 

The calculation of some performance measures will need to be adjusted to take account of the fact that results of qualifications achieved in 2019/20 and 2020/21 will not be included. 

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Any views, opinions and guidance provided represent the views of NAHT and are for information purposes only. The information provided does not purport to be legal and/or professional advice or a definitive interpretation of any law for the purposes of specific individual circumstances. 

Last updated 20 July 2021

First published 13 April 2021