Do I have to send my child back to school?
It is vital that children and young people return to school and college, for their educational progress, personal wellbeing, and their wider development.
School attendance is mandatory from the beginning of the new academic year, which has already begun for residents in Leicestershire. This means that parents of compulsory school aged children have a legal duty to send their child to school.
There is no corresponding legal duty for post-16 education, but if a young person fails to attend, their college may believe they have left the course.
I recognise that some children and young people found lockdown exceptionally difficult. In this case, their school or college may suggest a brief, phased return. This will only be if it suits the needs of the child and is agreed with the parents in advance. The objective is to support the child to return to full time attendance as soon as they can.
If parents are concerned about their child’s return to college or school because they believe they may have other risk factors, I urge them to discuss these with the school or college directly. I have been told by constituents that this leaflet is particularly helpful in preparing for these conversations: https://www.sendgateway.org.uk/whole-school-send/find-wss-resources/
How are schools going to keep our children safe?
The Government has provided extensive guidance on how schools can keep our children safe, and I am confident that our local schools have worked hard to implement this guidance in preparation for students’ return.
I have summarised the actions schools must take as stipulated by the Government here:
- Ensuring pupils, staff and other adults do not come into the school if they have COVID—19 symptoms or have tested positive in the last 10 days.
- Ensuring those developing symptoms in the school day are sent home quickly and ensuring there are appropriate facilities e.g. a purposed bathroom for anyone with symptoms awaiting collection.
- Ensuring pupils clean their hands regularly, including when they arrive at school, return from breaks, change rooms and after eating.
- Introduce enhanced cleaning, especially of frequently touched surfaces.
- Minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing where possible
- Consider allocating different groups of students to different toilet facilities to reduce transmission.
- Ensure they understand the NHS Test and Trace process and how to contact their local Public Health England protection team – urging parents/staff to inform them immediately of COVID-19 test results.
- Take swift action when they become aware that someone who has attended has tested positive for COVID-19.
Will students be in ‘social bubbles’ at school?
Minimising contacts and mixing between people reduces transmission of COVID-19. This is important in all contexts and schools must and have considered how to implement this.
Schools must do everything possible to minimise contacts and mixing while delivering a broad and balanced curriculum.
The overarching principle to apply is reducing the number of contacts between children and staff. This can be achieved through keeping groups separate (in ‘bubbles’) and through maintaining distance between individuals. These are not alternative options and both measures will help, but the balance between them will change depending on:
- children’s ability to distance
- the lay out of the school
- the feasibility of keeping distinct groups separate while offering a broad curriculum (especially at secondary).
It is likely that for younger children the emphasis will be on separating groups, and for older children it will be on distancing. For children old enough, they should also be supported to maintain distance and not touch staff where possible
My child/someone in our household was shielding, do they have to go back to school?
Shielding advice for adults and children was paused from 1st August, meaning children who are on the shielded patient list, or live with someone on the shielded patient list, can return to school or college.
Specialists in paediatric medicine have reviewed the latest evidence on the level of risk posed to children and young people from COVID-19.
The latest evidence indicates that the risk of serious illness for most children and young people is low. In the future, we expect fewer children and young people will be included on the shielded patient list.
If a child or young person is removed from the shielded patient list, they will no longer be advised to shield in the future if COVID-19 transmission increases.
To decide whether a child or young person should be removed from the shielded patient list, you should talk to your paediatric specialist or GP.
You can find updates on guidance for shielding children here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19/covid-19-guidance-for-young-people-on-shielding-and-protecting-people-most-likely-to-become-unwell-if-they-catch-coronavirus
What happens if a student at my child’s school tests positive for COVID-19?
Schools must take swift action when they become aware that someone who has attended has tested positive for COVID-19. Schools should contact the local health protection team if they have not been in touch already.
The health protection team will carry out a rapid risk assessment to confirm who has been in close contact with the person during the period that they were infectious, and ensure they are asked to self-isolate.
The health protection team will work with schools in this situation to guide them through the actions they need to take.
Based on the advice from the health protection team, schools must send home those people who have been in close contact with the person who has tested positive, advising them to self-isolate for 14 days since they were last in close contact with that person when they were infectious. Close contact means:
- direct close contacts - face to face contact with an infected individual for any length of time, within 1 metre, including being coughed on, a face to face conversation, or unprotected physical contact (skin-to-skin)
- proximity contacts - extended close contact (within 1 to 2 metres for more than 15 minutes) with an infected individual
- travelling in a small vehicle, like a car, with an infected person
The health protection team will provide definitive advice on who must be sent home.
Schools are more than ready to enact this guidance
Can I still take my children to school on public transport?
Everyone needs to play their part in reducing the demand for public transport. If possible, you should look for alternative transport options, especially walking or cycling, particularly at peak times.
This will help to ensure that there is enough public transport capacity to allow those who need to use it to travel safely.
If you and your child rely on public transport to get to their nursery, childminder, school or college, the safer travel guidance for passengers will apply. This means you must wear a face covering at all times, and ensure you sanitise or wash your hands before and after your journey.
If you do have to travel on public transport I urge you to consider the following to keep yourself and others safe:
- Travel at off peak times
- Use quieter stations and stops – get off a stop early if it’s less busy
- Keep changes to a minimum, for example, between bus and train
- Walk for more of your journey
- Maintain 2 metres distance from anyone outside your household where possible
Can my child use dedicated school/college transport?
Significant work has been done by schools and Local Authorities, and I’ve lobbied Government to ensure schools received specific funding for school transport to make it as safe as possible.
The social distancing guidance for public transport does not uniformly apply for children and young people who use dedicated school or college transport. This is because:
- dedicated school transport often carries the same group of young people on a regular basis
- children and young people on dedicated school transport do not mix with members of the public
Local Authorities, schools and transport providers will do all that is reasonably practicable to maximise social distancing where possible and minimise the risk of transmission. What is practical is likely to vary according to local circumstances. This might include:
- asking your child to use a regular seat on this transport
- asking your child to wear a face covering if they are over the age of 11
- making sure boarding and disembarking is orderly and/or managed
- making sure vehicles are cleaned regularly
- ensuring that transport operators maximise the flow of fresh air
It is important that you follow any local advice provided and that your child knows and understands the importance of following any rules that are set by the school or Local Authority.