DfE updates to schools coronavirus operational guidance

20 April 2021

The Department for Education (DfE) last updated its Schools coronavirus (COVID-19) operational guidance on 6 April 2021 in order to set out expectations for the summer term in line with the coronavirus roadmap steps. The update includes guidance on Test and Trace support payments, current expectations for clinically extremely vulnerable pupils and staff, educational visits, wraparound provision and extra-curricular activity, physical activity in schools, inspections, confirmatory PCR tests and face coverings. The dates referenced below are indicative and subject to change.

Steps out of lockdown

Step 1 – from 29 March 2021:

  • outdoor sports and leisure facilities such as tennis courts and open-air swimming pools can reopen;
  • all students regardless of age can participate in formally organised outdoor sports, including competition between different colleges;
  • wraparound provision for any reason can take place outdoors for students aged under 18;
  • clinically extremely vulnerable staff and students can return to work and their education setting from 1 April.

Step 2 – not before 12 April 2021:

  • students can return to industry placements, where working from home is not reasonably possible, and commercial activity within colleges can reopen as the corresponding businesses begin to open in wider society, for example, personal care and retail;
  • indoor leisure facilities including gyms can reopen to the public for individual or household use;
  • on-site hospitality facilities can reopen to the public for table service if they can serve outside.

Step 3 – not before 17 May:

  • indoor adult group sport can return, meaning recreational group sport is permitted on FE premises;
  • indoor hospitality on-site can reopen to the public;
  • outside of college more students will be returning to part-time work alongside others outside of their college

Review of social distancing

Before step 4 begins, the government will complete a review of social distancing and other long-term measures that have been put in place to reduce transmission. This will inform decisions on the timing and circumstances under which the advice on 1 metre plus, and other measures may be lifted.

Step 4 –  not before 21 June:

As part of step 4 school open days can be planned. With in-person visits potentially able to resume it will be interesting to see whether there is an appetite for this from schools and/or parents right at the end of the Academic Year.

Test and Trace support payments

Some school staff, parents and carers may be eligible for a one-off Test and Trace Support Payment of £500. This is payable in one lump sum from local authorities. To be eligible for a Test and Trace Support Payment, applicants must:

  • be on a low income
  • be unable to work from home
  • be at risk of losing income as a result of self-isolating
  • be living in England
  • meet the eligibility criteria

Eligible parents or guardians of children who have been advised to self-isolate by their education setting can also apply for the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme if they are on a low income, unable to work from home and need to take time off work to care for a child who is self-isolating. The scheme is open to eligible parents and carers of children aged 15 and under, and parents of young people aged 16 to 25 with an education health and care plan.

Clinically extremely vulnerable pupils and staff

Since 31 March 2021, the latest guidance has been that all clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) pupils should attend their school unless they are one of the very small number of pupils under paediatric or other specialist care and have been advised by their GP or clinician not to attend. Pupils who live with someone who is CEV should continue to attend school as normal. Schools should provide support with remote education and pastoral support to those students unable to attend.

Return to boarding from overseas

All pupils who travel from abroad must quarantine on arrival in the UK (normally for 10 days). Boarding school pupils can quarantine in their school’s boarding facilities. They should buy a home testing package, with coronavirus (COVID-19) tests to be taken on days 2 and 8 after arrival.

If a child meets UK entry requirements and has travelled from or through a ‘red list’ country in the previous 10 days then the school must meet additional requirements covering transport from ports of entry to school, quarantine accommodation, and testing. These requirements are set out in guidance for schools. If the school has not confirmed that it has arrangements in place that allow for transport, quarantine accommodation, and testing that meet these requirements, then the child should not travel.

Furthermore, anyone who is not a British or Irish national, or who does not have the right to reside in the UK (this includes those with long-term visas), who has travelled from or through a ‘red list’ travel ban country in the previous 10 days, is not permitted to enter the UK and should not travel.

Educational visits

Educational day visits

In line with the roadmap out of lockdown, educational day visits can resume from 12 April. Any such visits must, however, be conducted in line with relevant COVID-secure guidelines in place at that time, such as maintaining consistent groups, and the COVID-secure measures in place at the destination. Furthermore, full and thorough risk assessments should be undertaken in relation to all educational visits to ensure they can be done safely. Such risk assessments should:

  • consider what control measures need to be used;
  • take account of wider advice on visiting indoor and outdoor venues; and
  • take account of the health and safety guidance when considering visits.

Domestic residential educational visits

In line with the roadmap, DfE is advising against domestic residential educational visits until step 3, and no earlier than 17 May 2021. Should step 3 commence as planned, domestic residential education visits that are already booked may go ahead at step 3 and no earlier than 17 May 2021. These must, however, be conducted in line with relevant COVID-secure guidance in place at that time. However, schools are advised not to enter into any new financial or contractual commitments at this stage.

International Visits

The Global Travel Taskforce has been commissioned to set out how to facilitate a return to international travel as soon as possible while managing the risk from imported variants of concern. It is due to report on 12 April 2021. Further advice is expected following the publication of this report.

Wraparound provision and extra-curricular activity

There are and have been restrictions on who and how children can access wraparound provision and extra-curricular activity. From 29 March, children could access outdoor provision regardless of circumstances where the provision is taking place outdoors; also, those children who are eligible for free school meals can attend provision as part of the holiday activities and food programme.

In line with the government roadmap, from 12 April all parents may access wraparound and extra-curricular provision, without any restrictions on the reasons for which they may attend.

Schools should continue to work closely with any external wraparound providers which its pupils may use to minimise mixing between children. This can be achieved by taking steps such as trying to keep children in the same school day bubble or school together, or in consistent groups.

If the provision is taking place indoors and it is not possible to group children in the same bubble as they are in during the school day, providers should try to keep them in consistent groups of no more than 15 children and at least one staff member.

Activities taking place outdoors can happen in groups of any number. This is because, according to DfE guidance, the transmission risk is lower outside.

Physical activity in schools

From 29 March 2021, outdoor competition between different schools has been able to take place, and from 12 April 2021, indoor competition between different schools can take place.


State-funded school inspection

It is intended that Ofsted will resume its full programme of routine, graded school inspections in September 2021. Inspectors have been conducting monitoring inspections of schools and colleges most in need of support - those judged ‘inadequate’ and some that ‘require improvement’. These inspections, which have not been graded, have had a strong focus on remote education.

During the summer term, Ofsted intends to restart some onsite inspections under its Education Inspection Framework. The inspections are due to start from 4 May.

Ofsted is currently piloting some changes to its inspections to take account of the challenges raised by COVID-19. It intends to publish updated inspection handbooks with full details of these changes in April.

Independent schools (not including academies) inspection

Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) will continue to undertake emergency, progress monitoring and material change inspections where appropriate in the summer term.

For the summer term 2021, from 4 May, Ofsted intend to restart some onsite standard inspections under its Education Inspection Framework and ISI intend to restart some standard inspections under its Regulatory Compliance Inspection Framework. Further information about these inspection arrangements will be available from inspectorates soon.

Home testing

Most nurseries, schools and colleges are taking part in the asymptomatic testing programme. Rapid testing using lateral flow devices (LFDs) is supporting the return to face-to-face education by helping to identify people who are infectious but do not have any COVID-19 symptoms. Those who test positive should self-isolate, helping to reduce transmission of the virus and keeping other pupils and students in face-to-face education. Whilst testing remains voluntary, it is strongly encouraged by the DfE.

Both pupils and staff in secondary schools (NB: not in primary schools) are being supplied with Lateral Flow Device (LFD) test kits to self swab and test themselves twice a week at home, although schools and colleges retain small testing sites so that pupils who are unable to test themselves at home can still participate. Staff and pupils must report their result to NHS Test and Trace as soon as the test is completed either online or by telephone as per the instructions in the home test kit. Staff and pupils should also share their result, whether void, positive or negative, with their school to help with contact tracing. Those with a negative LFD test result can continue to attend school.

Pupils aged 18 and over should self-test and report the result, with assistance if needed. Adolescents aged 12 to 17 should self-test and report with adult supervision. The adult may conduct the test if necessary. Children aged 11 attending a secondary school should be tested by an adult.

Testing remains voluntary (children will not be stopped from returning to school or college if you or they choose not to take part in testing), though it is strongly recommended.

Confirmatory PCR tests

Staff or pupils with a positive LFD test result must self-isolate in line with the stay-at-home guidance. They will also need to arrange a lab-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the result. If the PCR test is taken within 2 days of the positive lateral flow test, and is negative, it overrides the self-test LFD test and the pupil can return to school. Those with a negative LFD test result can also continue to attend school and use protective measures.

Schools were provided with an initial supply of 10 PCR test kits before the start of the autumn term in 2020. These PCR test kits are to be used in the exceptional circumstance that an individual becomes symptomatic and you believe they may have barriers to accessing testing elsewhere. You can replenish these kits when they run out by making an order through the online portal.

Face coverings

Whilst it is currently recommended that face coverings are worn by pupils when moving around school premises, outside of classrooms, and in classrooms or during activities unless social distancing can be maintained, subject to the roadmap process, as part of step 3, these precautionary measures are expected to no longer be recommended. This would be no earlier than 17 May and will be confirmed with one week’s notice.

Post-Examination Period

Whilst many schools usually incorporate a period of independent study leave in the summer term for Year 11 and 13 pupils as exams approach, this year the needs of the cohort will be different and a period of independent study leave may not be applicable.

The 2021 exams approach requires schools to submit grades by 18 June 2021. This process requires considerable staff resource and DfE recognises that in practice, for many pupils, work done after the May half term will not contribute towards their grades.

As such, they have set out guidance about valuable activities pupils should be engaged in. Schools should make appropriate judgements on the activities for their own pupils. This might not mean full-time provision and could include visits to education providers, independent study or remote provision combined with attendance in person.

DfE has confirmed it will not change the legislation that governs compulsory school age. As usual, pupils cease to be of compulsory school age on the last Friday of June in the year in which they turn 16. That means that those pupils (most of whom will be in Year 11) are not required to attend school after this date.

Schools are strongly encouraged to maximise opportunities that meet the progression needs of their students during the period after examinations.The full guidance is available here.

For further information please contact Vicky Wilson, Conor Turley or your usual Wilsons contact.

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