The Prime Minister has confirmed that childcare provision and schools across England can open up to more children on 1 June, as the five tests have been met.
The five tests were:
- Making sure the NHS can cope
- A sustained and consistent fall in the death rate
- Rate of infection decreasing to manageable levels
- Enough testing capacity and enough PPE for NHS staff and health and care workers
- To avoid a second peak of infections that would overwhelm the NHS
Primary schools will welcome back children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, while nurseries, childminders and other early years providers will welcome back children of all ages.
A difficult decision to make
Whether or not to send children back in June has polarised parents and carers. Some will be desperately waiting for the doors to open so their children can return to education, while other parents may feel too anxious about infections rates and will prefer to keep them at home.
The Department for Education (DfE) strongly advises that any children who can, should return on 1 June but as a parent or carer, it is your decision to make and yours alone. Only you will be able to choose what is best for your child and for your family.
Families will not be penalised if children don't attend.
If you are undecided or feel you don't have information about reopening, we have provided a Q&A below based on the government's guidance for parents. Or you can read it in full here.
Reopening on 1 June - Frequently asked questions
Can my child return to school?
From the week beginning 1 June, the DfE is asking:
- nurseries and other early year providers, including childminders, to begin welcoming back all children
- primary schools to welcome back children in nursery (where they have them), reception, year 1 and year 6
- all schools and childcare providers to continue to offer places to the priority groups – vulnerable children and children of critical workers – they have been supporting since March
- special schools and hospital schools to work towards a phased return of more children
- alternative provision to welcome back children in reception, year 1 and year 6.
Why can more children now attend school and childcare settings?
The DfE wants children back into education because it says it is the best place for them to learn and it is good for children’s mental wellbeing to have social interactions with other children, carers and teachers.
The government was waiting to make the decision about going back based on whether it was satisfied that the five tests (mentioned above) had been met.
What does the latest scientific advice say?
The latest scientific advice to government is that:
- there is high scientific confidence that children of all ages have less severe symptoms than adults if they contract coronavirus and there is moderately high scientific confidence that younger children are less likely to become unwell if infected with coronavirus
- limiting the numbers of children going back to school initially then gradually increasing numbers reduces risk of increasing the rate of transmission
- schools and other settings can put measures in place to reduce risks.
The government has provided advice to schools and childcare providers on the steps they should consider taking including smaller groups or 'bubbles' of children and staff spread out where possible, increased cleaning procedures and good hand and respiratory hygiene.
How will risks to children, teachers and families be managed?
Schools, colleges and childcare settings have been given guidance on implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings to help them to reduce the risk of transmission as more children return.
To prevent the spread of coronavirus, schools and settings will use a range of protective measures to create safer environments in which the risk of spreading the virus is substantially reduced. Changes are likely to look different in each setting but all changes are designed to minimise risks to children and staff.
By now, your child's childcare provision or school should have communicated to you any changes they are planning to make.
Changes will include measures such as:
- carrying out a risk assessment before opening to more children
- making sure children do not attend if they or a member of their household has symptoms of coronavirus
- promoting regular hand washing for 20 seconds with water and soap or use of sanitiser and ensuring good respiratory hygiene by promoting the catch it, bin it, kill it approach
- cleaning more frequently to get rid of the virus on frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, handrails, tabletops, play equipment and toys
- minimising contact through smaller group sizes and altering the environment such as changing the layout of classrooms
- reducing mixing between groups through timetable changes, such as staggered break times or by introducing staggered drop-off and collection times
If my child is eligible, do they have to attend their childcare provision or school?
Children below the age of five do not have to be in any type of formal education so there is no legal requirement for them to attend anything if you don't want them to.
However if you have a childcare place at a nursery or with a childminder, then you will need to check your contract or agreement with them and have an open and cordial discussion with them about your family's situation and discuss the best way forward for you, your child and the provider.
The DfE strongly encourages Reception-aged children to attend school, unless they are self-isolating or there are other reasons for absence (such as shielding due to health conditions).
If you don't want to send your child back to school, you should contact the school so staff are aware.
Parents will not be fined for non-attendance.
What if my child is eligible but has siblings who are not?
If you have children outside of Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 then they will not be able to attend school unless they are in a priority group, for example, the children of critical workers.
It is hoped all primary school children can come back to school before the summer holidays, for a month if feasible, although this will be kept under review.
Do all vulnerable children who are not currently attending have to go back to childcare settings or Reception now?
Educational settings should continue to offer places to priority groups. In particular, as per the existing guidance on supporting vulnerable children and young people during the coronavirus outbreak, vulnerable children of all year groups continue to be expected and encouraged to attend educational provision where it is appropriate for them to do so.
For children who have a social worker, attendance is expected unless their social worker decides that they are at less risk at home or in their placement.
For children who have an education health and care (EHC) plan, attendance is expected where it is determined that their needs can be as safely met in the educational environment.
Should I keep my child at home if they have an underlying health condition or live with someone in a clinically vulnerable group?
Children and young people who are considered extremely clinically vulnerable and shielding should continue to shield and should not be expected to attend.
Clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable) people are those considered to be at a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus. A minority of children will fall into this category, and parents should follow medical advice if their child is in this category.
Children and young people who live with someone who is clinically vulnerable (but not extremely clinically vulnerable) as defined in the social distancing guidance and including those who are pregnant, can attend.
Children who live in a household with someone who is extremely clinically vulnerable and shielding should only attend if stringent social distancing can be adhered to and the child or young person is able to understand and follow those instructions.
Can children be tested for the virus?
Yes. Staff and pupils in all settings will be eligible for testing if they become ill with coronavirus symptoms, as will members of their household.
Anyone with one or more of the symptoms of coronavirus should self-isolate immediately and book a test on the NHS website or by calling NHS 111.
What happens if there is a confirmed case of coronavirus in my child’s setting or school?
When a child or staff member develops symptoms compatible with coronavirus, they should be isolated immediately, sent home and advised to self-isolate for 7 days. Their fellow household members should self-isolate for 14 days. All staff and children at the childcare setting will have access to a test if they display symptoms of coronavirus.
Where the child or staff member tests positive, the rest of their class/group within their childcare or education setting should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 14 days. The other household members of that wider class/group do not need to self-isolate unless the child or staff member they live with in that group subsequently develops symptoms.
As part of the national test and trace programme, if other cases are detected within the child or young person’s cohort or in the wider education or childcare setting, Public Health England’s local Health Protection Teams will investigate and advise schools and other settings on the most appropriate action. In some cases, a larger number of other children and young people may be asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure.
Where settings are observing guidance on infection prevention and control, closure of the whole setting will not generally be necessary.
How should my child travel to and from their childcare or school?
Children and parents are encouraged to walk or cycle where possible and avoid public transport at peak times.
The government is due to produce further guidance on travelling to childcare and school soon.
Will school meals be available for children who are in school?
Schools should provide meal options for all children who are in school, and meals should be available free of charge where pupils meet the free school meal eligibility criteria. To ensure food is available for pupils who attend, educational settings are expected to reopen their kitchens if they have closed and ensure staff are able to work safely.
The DfE is asking schools to work with their food providers to offer meals or food parcels for benefits-related free school meal pupils not attending school. The provision of food vouchers for those eligible under the benefits criteria will also be available for those not attending.
Will education be provided as normal to children who are attending?
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) sets the standards that schools and childcare settings must meet for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5 years old. Early years settings should use their best endeavours to deliver the learning and development requirements as far as possible in the current circumstances.
However settings and schools will be best placed to make decisions on how to support and educate their children and will have the flexibility to do this in the way they see fit during this time.