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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): physical distancing in education and childcare settings
Hygiene measures including PPE

Hygiene measures including the use of PPE

The aim of physical distancing measures is to slow the transmission of the virus.  This is one part of a range of measures that are recommended to help reduce the spread and to protect people at increased risk of severe illness. 

As set out earlier, the other measures are: stay at home and shielding.  In addition, National Guidance on COVID-19 sets out that general infection prevention and control measures should also be followed. 

These are:

  • hand hygiene  
  • catch coughs and sneezes in tissues or cover mouth and nose with sleeve or elbow (not hands)
  • dispose of the tissue into a bin and wash hands immediately

It is recognised that for some key frontline workers outwith the NHS – such as staff working in education and childcare settings - delivering essential public services can mean that physical distancing is not always practical and that there may be circumstances where there is a need for PPE for close contact (within 2 metres).

Where the use of PPE is being considered within an education and childcare setting the specific conditions of each individual setting must be taken into consideration and 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 authority guidance on the use of PPE (which will include guidance on how to order stock) should also be followed.

Risk assessments

The use of individual and organisational risk assessments at a local level must be used to inform PPE.  Risk assessments should include droplet and contact infection risks.  The use of PPE by staff within education and childcare settings must be based on a clear assessment of risk and need for an individual child or young person.  Such as personal care where staff come into contact with blood and body fluids.  Schools and local authorities already have set risk assessment processes for the use of PPE.  Following any risk assessment (individual or organisational), where the need for PPE has been identified it should be readily available and provided.

Where the use of PPE is risk assessed as being required, all staff should be trained in how to put on and take off PPE (as required by Health and Safety Regulations) and to ensure staff limit the spread of COVID-19.

Risk assessments should already exist 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 young people may be experiencing due to COVID-19.  If risk assessments are not in place, then they must be undertaken swiftly in accordance with this guidance and local risk assessment guidance. 

HPS non-healthcare settings guidance makes clear that staff should continue to use PPE in line with current health and safety policies and risk assessments.  Staff should only wear PPE when it is appropriate to the task they are undertaking. The exception is where, following an individual or organisational risk assessment it is found that a higher level of contamination, such as respiratory secretions, may be present or the risk assessment identifies that there is an identified need for PPE then it should be readily available and provided in line with Health and Safety guidance.

All staff, including children and young people, must inform a member of staff or responsible person if they begin to feel unwell.  If the affected person has respiratory symptoms they should go home as soon as possible and self-isolate. There should be clear guidance for staff to follow implementing the measures outlined in the non-healthcare settings guidance.  

Face coverings

We published guidance on 28 April 2020 on the use of textile face coverings by members of the public for situations where physical distancing is not possible.

The guidance relates to use of face coverings by members of the public in specific circumstances (for short periods of time in crowded public situations). This precautionary guidance for the public should not be conflated with the PPE guidance for the workplace.

The face coverings advice is not intended as an infection prevention and control measure for the workplace where there are other health and safety considerations and measures in place such as physical distancing and hygiene controls, such as hand washing with soap and water or using alcohol based hand rub. In the case of the childcare hubs this includes a risk-based assessment of the need for PPE (as set out above).

Physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene, remain scientifically proven to be the most important and effective measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.