Health and safety
Returning to school will be an anxious time for a number of children and young people, parents and carers and staff. The introduction of measures such as physical distancing will have a significant impact in particular on some children and young people with additional support needs.
To support children and young people with additional support needs back to school, local authorities and schools should ensure that personalised support is in place to meet their physical and emotional needs. This support should be developed in partnership with parents and carers, children and young people and staff.
Physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE)
In line with current public health guidance, physical distancing should be implemented wherever practicable. It is recognised that this may not be possible or appropriate for some children and young people with additional support needs, e.g. where close contact with staff is necessary for their wellbeing, to undertake intimate care, or for moving and guiding. Where this is the case bespoke approaches with appropriate PPE should be determined based on an individual risk assessment.
At all times the wellbeing, safety and best interests of child, young person and staff must be paramount in any decision made. The key principles of small group sizes and reducing contact between designated groups should be observed.
In these instances the use of PPE should also be considered in the context of risk assessment. Where the use of PPE is being considered its use must comply with all applicable legislation including the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 and the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 which outlines the process of, and legal requirements for, risk assessment.
Local authorities in conjunction with the relevant trade unions should ensure that an organisational risk assessment is undertaken for all schools in their authority to ensure that where the need for PPE has been identified it should be readily available and provided.
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): physical distancing in childcare settings
- Guide to PPE at work on the Health and Safety Executive website
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): re-opening schools guide
The use of PPE by staff within schools must be based on a clear assessment of risk and need for an individual child or young person. For children and young people with additional support needs this could be in circumstances where staff are undertaking personal care and they may come into contact with blood and body fluids.
Risk assessments should exist already for children and young people with more complex needs, including those with emotional and behavioural needs. These risk assessments will require to be updated as a matter of priority in light of changes to provision such as environment and staffing, whilst also remaining mindful of the additional distress children and young people may be experiencing due to COVID-19.
If a risk assessment is not in place, then it must be undertaken as a matter of priority to ensure the health and safety of the child or young person and any member of staff supporting them in order to assist co-regulation of the child’s potential distress.
Administration of medication and intimate care
Where staff are providing support such as administering medicine or intimate care, particularly when supporting children with complex needs, consideration needs to be given as to how staff can increase their level of self-protection. Consideration could be given to whether it is possible to complete duties differently to minimise close contact, increasing cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, and carrying out more frequent handwashing in order to minimise infection risk.
Handwashing should always be practiced before and after the use of PPE. Further information on hygiene measures and the use of PPE can be found in Coronavirus (COVID-19): physical distancing in education and childcare settings.
Further guidance will be provided for early learning and childcare settings.
Read quotes from children and young people about how they feel about returning to school at the Children's Parliament website.