Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): physical distancing in education and childcare settings

Advice for schools and childcare settings who are providing care to children during the pandemic.

Contents
Coronavirus (COVID-19): physical distancing in education and childcare settings
Education and childcare provision

Education provision

Children who can continue to attend education and childcare settings

We have made provision for vulnerable children and children of key workers to continue attending education and childcare settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Local authorities will decide what learning and childcare arrangements for the children of key workers are most appropriate based on local circumstances.

Children of key workers

Key workers are defined as parents whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response, including those who work in health and social care and in other critical sectors. However, many parents working in these critical sectors will be able to ensure their child is kept at home.

Many key workers, such as those in the NHS, work shifts. Where possible the school or childcare provider should aim to support this by being as flexible as possible around the hours that they provide.

Vulnerable children

The aim of providing continued care to vulnerable children is to prioritise their continued safety and welfare which may rely on the support delivered within the educational setting.

Vulnerable children in this context includes:

  • Those on the child protection register, those who are looked after, and, those on the edge of care.
  • Children in receipt of Free School Meals
  • Children and young people who have complex additional support needs
  • Children and young people affected by poverty and deprivation

Those working with children and young people are best placed to identify those who would be considered as vulnerable and in need of support in order to secure their wellbeing, as a result of school closures.  The relevant lead professional, who may be a social worker or a health or education professional, can advise regarding this. Many of these children will already have multi-agency child’s plans, although it must be recognised that the current crisis is likely to mean that other groups of children will also become vulnerable as a result of changes to family circumstances including potential increased stresses.

Education and childcare settings and local authorities will need to consider the needs of these children, which should be informed by their plan, working closely with their parents, and make a risk assessment for each child or young person.

In circumstances where a parent does not want to bring a child who is considered vulnerable to an education setting and/or where there are concerns regarding physical health conditions, the lead professional and education or childcare setting should explore the reasons for this, directly with the parent, and help to resolve any concerns or difficulties wherever possible. 

The number of social interactions in the school or childcare environment will be reduced as there are fewer children attending, and social distancing is being practised in settings,

Children at increased or very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19

When considering the care requirements for children it is essential that their health status is taken into account. Children can usually continue to attend if they have mild underlying health conditions, as specified in the guidance on NHS inform.

Children who meet the criteria outlined in the guidance on shielding should not routinely attend the educational setting. Where a vulnerable child is identified as being at increased risk of infection or its consequences, particularly if they fulfil the criteria in the guidance on shielding, then an individual risk assessment must be conducted to ensure that appropriate placement of the child is determined. In some cases, particularly where social and health needs are complex, this may mean that alternative arrangements must be found to assure the safety and welfare of the child.

The education or childcare setting should be informed of any health conditions so that any concerns can be addressed. It is important to ensure that the social distancing advice is followed to minimise risk for both these and other children.

Children and young people with complex additional support needs

Children and young people with complex additional support needs may benefit from continuing to attend education or childcare settings to secure continuity in their care and support.

Education authorities, schools and childcare settings (including independent providers) have been asked to consider the needs of all children and young people with complex additional support needs as part of their plans for continued educational provision whilst schools are closed including arrangements for appropriate social distancing.

It is recognised that for children and young people with complex additional support needs arising from health factors, appropriate arrangements to protect their health and wellbeing, including social distancing will be required. 

Further information guidance on appropriate arrangements is available within the non-healthcare settings guidance.  It is also recognised that some parents and carers of a child with complex additional support needs arising from health factors may not wish their child to continue to attend childcare or school, in order to protect their health and wellbeing. 

Children who have household members who are at very high risk of severe illness (requiring shielding)

Children who are living with someone who is pregnant or with a known health condition can attend critical provision in education and childcare settings providing the household contact is not in the most vulnerable health group as set out in the guidance on shielding.

Children who have household members who are at very high risk of severe illness (requiring 'shielding') should have an individual risk assessment conducted before the most appropriate place of care is determined. This will need to take into account the need for continued attendance at the education or childcare setting, the risk posed by non-attendance, the alternative care provision available and the risk to the person in the household posed by the child continuing to attend.

Staff with health conditions or pregnancy

Staff with other conditions that mean they are at increased risk of serious illness as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) should work from home where possible, and education and childcare settings should endeavour to support this. More advice on this is included in the physical distancing guidance.

Education and other staff within the setting, with serious underlying health conditions which put them at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19), should rigorously follow shielding measures in order to keep themselves safe. Staff in this position must not attend work. More advice on this can be found in the NHS Inform guidance on shielding.

Staff who have household members who are at very high risk of severe illness (requiring shielding)

Although staff who live with someone in the highest risk health groups group as set out in the NHS Inform guidance on shielding are not required to follow the shielding guidance themselves, they should work from home where possible and should rigorously follow the guidance on physical distancing.

The links above provide more detail on shielding and social distancing.

Staff who are living with someone who is pregnant or with a known health condition can attend work, providing the household contact is not in the highest risk health group as defined on the NHS Inform guidance on shielding.