Coronavirus: Government strengthens advice around social distancing in early years settings and schools

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Updated guidance clarifies which children and staff can continue to attend settings and extends practical steps to implementing effective social distancing.

Education staff with serious underlying health conditions which put them at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus are being advised to rigorously follow shielding measures in order to keep themselves safe. Staff in this position must not attend work.

These specific conditions are outlined in the Government’s guidance on shielding

Those with other conditions that mean they are at increased risk of serious illness should work from home where possible, and education and childcare settings are asked to try to support this. More advice on this is included in the Government's  social distancing guidance.

Critical workers’ children can continue to attend unless they are in one of the most vulnerable health groups as set out in this advice.

Children with mild underlying health conditions, as specified, can continue to attend as long as the setting is fully aware of them and can address any issues.

If a vulnerable or critical worker child – or a member of staff – lives with someone in a vulnerable health group, including those who are pregnant, they can attend their education or childcare setting, as the number of social interactions in the education or childcare environment will be reduced, due to there being fewer children attending, and social distancing and good hand hygiene being practised.

If a child in this category lives in a household with someone who is in the most vulnerable health groups, as set out in the guidance on shielding, they should only attend the setting if stringent social distancing can be adhered to, and the child is able to understand and follow those instructions.

The guidance flags up that this may not be possible for very young children and older children who lack the capacity to adhere to instructions.

Settings should allow staff who live with someone in the most vulnerable health groups to work from home where possible.

Implementing effective social distancing
To help ensure that the risk of virus spread for both staff and children is as low as possible, education and childcare settings that remain open should:

  • tell children, parents, carers or any visitors, such as suppliers, not to enter the education or childcare setting if they are displaying any symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • consider how children arrive at the education or childcare setting, and reduce any unnecessary travel on coaches, buses or public transport
  • ensure class sizes reflect the numbers of teaching staff available and are kept as small as possible
  • stagger lunch times, break times, and the movement of pupils around the school, to reduce large groups of children gathering
  • discourage parents from gathering at school gates
  • try to follow the social distancing guidelines

Social distancing within education and childcare settings with very young children will be harder to maintain. Staff should implement the above measures as far as they are able, while ensuring children are kept safe and well cared for within their settings.

Staff should:

  • think about how the above can be implemented in your education or childcare setting
  • make sure anyone who is feeling ill stays at home (for residential special schools and colleges, this means self-isolating as a school or college ‘household’ if a resident is ill). See the guidance on isolation for residential educational settings
  • ensure all staff and children:
    • wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds frequently
    • are encouraged not to touch their faces
    • use a tissue or elbow to cough or sneeze and use bins for tissue waste
  • ensure help is available for children and young people who have trouble washing their hands
  • inform parents and communities about the measures that you are taking and get their help to implement them, including ensuring they have seen the parent Q&A
  • engage parents and children in education resources such as e-bugand PHE schools resources
  • increase cleaning of surfaces in classrooms, including desks and handles, and within toilet blocks and changing rooms, adhering to guidance on cleaning of non-healthcare settings
  • for children and young people with an EHC plan, work with the local authority as well as with parents to decide how best to continue supporting these children and young people to stay healthy

The DfE says it is working with schools, childcare settings, and local authorities, to ensure that adequate supplies of personal and domestic cleaning products are available to schools. It will issue further detailed guidance for settings regarding the supply of personal protective equipment to settings that require it.

Recognising that childcare settings may face additional costs as a result of coronavirus, it is putting in place a new process that allows us to reimburse schools for exceptional costs that they face as a result.

Separate guidance is being produced for settings supporting children and young people with complex needs.

Read the Government’s updated guidance here



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