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updated on 29 May 2020
Ref: 30885

Get to grips with the protective measures your schools should have in place by the time the government gives the go-ahead to open more widely, so you can challenge your school leaders’ preparations effectively.

Updated 27 May: we've made changes to the second section to reflect the new DfE guidance on pupil group numbers for schools with an Early Years Foundation stage (EYFS) setting and secondary schools. On 29 May we added a link to our template risk assessment in the penultimate section.

This article summarises DfE guidance on what protective measures your schools should have in place to make sure they can safely reopen for some year groups in June. 

This guidance is subject to change – we'll update this article if it does. Click the 'save for later' star in the top right corner to be notified.

Key points to keep in mind

What we do know

  • The government has confirmed schools can reopen for more year groups - they've announced this can go ahead, as they believe it will be safe to do this
  • The guidance on reopening is non-statutory – for example, this section of the DfE's planning guide for primary schools explains that schools can choose to use all, part or even none of it in their planning
  • Each school's ability to open is dependent upon a satisfactory risk assessment. Your trust (and local governing bodies, depending on how you delegate responsibility) will work with school leaders to ensure that all stakeholders – staff, parents and trustees – are satisfied that the risk assessment is robust, based on sound health and safety practices, and appropriate for each school 
  • The DfE expects you and your schools to work closely with parents, staff, unions and local authorities (LAs) as you normally would, when agreeing the best approaches for the circumstances within your schools (as explained here)
  • Schools aren't expected to provide a broad and balanced curriculum right now, and won't be penalised for failing to do so (as explained in the 'Curriculum' section here)
  • Several education unions have issued a joint statement expressing their concerns about the government's guidance and timeline. Even so, it's still worth taking steps in preparation for a phased reopening at some point in the future

What we don't know 

  • Who's ultimately responsible for approving risk assessments and making the decision on reopening – the planning guide linked to above talks about school leaders undertaking the preparation for wider opening, but consulting trustees and confirming plans and risk assessments with "relevant bodies". It refers to these bodies making "key decisions" but doesn't say whether this includes having the final say on reopening. (Note: given the strong health and safety angle to all this, the "relevant body" is likely to be the trust as the employer, though this isn't stated specifically in the guidance)
  • What role LAs and trusts play in reopening schools under their authority – some LAs have taken the decision not to open their schools, while some academy trusts have taken the decision to do so against LA advice. This relates to the point above, and has raised questions about:
    • What authority LAs have to make this decision in opposition to the government's guidance
    • What liability schools would have should they suffer an outbreak after opening against LA advice

We're seeking answers to these questions right now. Click the 'save for later' star in the top right corner to be notified when we update this article.

Which year groups to welcome back and how to organise classes

Click on the setting type below to find out which pupils your schools should prepare to welcome back, how to split classes, and which pupils to prioritise if a school in your trust can't safely accommodate everyone.

For more advice on organising classes, let your school leaders know about our article on The Key for School Leaders.


Your primary schools can now start welcoming back pupils in nursery (if applicable), receptionyear 1 and year 6.

How to split classes?

EYFS groups should ideally be no larger than 8 children, but certainly no more than 16 children. Normal EYFS staffing ratios will apply, but the qualification requirements have been relaxed (see this article on The Key for School Leaders for a full explanation).

For other years, schools should organise pupils into groups of no more than 15, with 1 teacher to monitor each group (and a teaching assistant if needed). Your schools might decide to have smaller groups if they think 15 pupils might still overcrowd the classroom space.

Young children aren't expected to follow social distancing

According to DfE guidance, young primary pupils aren't expected to keep 2 metres apart from each other and staff when they're in class. 

Nevertheless, it's still important to try to reduce contact as much as possible. Once your leaders have designated the pupil groups, they should stay together and not mix with other groups.

What if a school can't accommodate all eligible pupils?

See the section below titled 'If one of your schools is short of staff or space' for advice on what you and your school leaders can do. If a school still can't accommodate everyone, prioritise pupils in the following order: 
  1. Vulnerable pupils and the children of critical workers 
  2. Nursery (where applicable)
  3. Reception
  4. Year 1
  5. Year 6


The government wants secondary schools to prepare to offer some "face-to-face support" from 15 June to year 10 and year 12 pupils to supplement their remote learning.

Your secondary schools should only have a quarter of these pupils in school at any one time. To allow for this, they can run this support on a rota system, but:

  • The should avoid any split day rotas within the same day (e.g. morning and afternoon rotas)
  • Vulnerable children and children of critical workers in these years should still be offered full-time provision

How to split classes?

Secondary schools in your trust should divide classes in half and have 1 teacher for each group of pupils – the DfE hasn't specified how many pupils there should be per group.

Follow social distancing

Everyone should sit 2 metres apart.

Your secondary schools can have more than half a class in one classroom as long as pupils can sit 2 metres apart. For example, if a school splits a class into 2 groups of 15, and 13 pupils from one group show up but only 3 from the other group, then it could merge these groups if everyone can sit 2 metres apart.

Once your school leaders have designated the groups, they should stay together and not mix with other groups.

What if a school can't accommodate all eligible pupils?

The DfE hasn't said that secondary schools should prioritise any particular year group, but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers remain a priority. See the section below titled 'If one of your schools is short of staff or space' for advice on what you and your school leaders can do.

Alternative provision and special schools

Alternative provision

Alternative provision schools in your trust can now start welcoming back pupils in reception, year 1 and year 6. The government also wants them to prepare to offer some "face-to-face support" to year 10 and year 11 pupils from 15 June. See the guidance above on primary and secondary schools for more information.

Special schools

Special schools in your trust can now work towards welcoming back as many pupils as they can safely cater for, without focusing on specific year groups.

If a special school isn't able to accommodate everyone, it might want to prioritise attendance based on:

  • Key transitions
  • Impact on life chances and development

See also the section below titled 'If one of your schools is short of staff or space' for advice on what you and your school leaders could do to increase the number of pupils you can cater for.

Follow social distancing where possible

Primary pupils and pupils unable to stick to social distancing aren't expected to keep 2 metres apart from each other and staff when they're in class, according to DfE guidance.

But it's still a good idea for your school leaders to check how many pupils it's feasible to have in their classrooms without overcrowding. 

Once your leaders have designated the groups, they should stay together and not mix with other groups.

Which staff and pupils shouldn't come to school

Anyone who has coronavirus symptoms, or lives with someone who does, should not attend school.

According to DfE guidance, pupils and staff classed as:

  • Clinically extremely vulnerable due to pre-existing medical conditions shouldn't attend school
  • Clinically vulnerable should follow medical advice. Staff in this category should work from home where possible – if it's not possible, your schools should give them the safest available on-site roles that allow them to stay 2 metres away from others wherever possible

If a staff or pupil lives with some who is:

School leaders should use the guidance in this section to work out how many staff would be able to attend school, if needed. (They should also take into consideration that some staff may feel uncomfortable coming in, while others might have children at home.)

If one of your schools is short of staff or space

Note: the latest DfE guidance for primary settings advises that schools should not plan on the basis of a rota system, either daily or weekly. 

Lack of staff

If one of your schools doesn't have enough teachers to cover each group of pupils, the DfE says that schools can:

  • Bring additional teachers in to help – these might be supply teachers, teachers on loan from one school in your trust to another, or loaned from other schools
  • Use suitably experienced TAs to lead groups of children, working under the direction of a teacher
  • Use some senior leadership time to cover groups – but they need to make sure this is manageable

If a school in your trust still doesn't have enough staff, you can also contact your LA for support.

Lack of space

The DfE has suggested sending pupils to a nearby school. If possible, doing this within your trust will be easier to co-ordinate. Working with schools outside of your trust will require a greater deal of co-operation and communication between the schools to make sure they've all completed risk assessments to cover this arrangement.

You and your school leaders would also need to think about the safeguarding implications of sending pupils to a nearby school, as well as the emotional impact on pupils.

If you've exhausted all other options

If one of your schools cannot get all the intended pupil groups back into school at the same time, the DfE says to focus on providing places for priority groups first. These are explained in section 2 of this article.

Reduce contact at busy hotspots and follow good hygiene

Challenge your school leaders on their arrangements to avoid overcrowding and plans to uphold excellent hygiene. You want to satisfy yourself that they've covered all the bases. 

For more advice on this topic, let your school leaders know about our article on The Key for School Leaders.

Avoid overcrowding

Your schools should be putting practical arrangements in place to reduce the number of pupils in any one space.

Protective measures might include staggering:

  • Pick up and drop off times
  • Break times and lunch times
  • Assembly groups
  • Staff breaks

Other measures include:

  • Making sure toilets don't become overcrowded
  • Having a one-way circulation through the school, or using a divider in the middle of corridors
  • Accessing rooms from the outside where possible
  • Using outside space where possible
  • Reducing the use of shared resources

Cleaning and hygiene

School leaders should make arrangements with cleaners to make sure their school is cleaned on a regular basis. They should make sure that: 

  • Frequently touched surfaces are cleaned often, using standard products such as detergents and bleach
  • Classrooms and shared spaces are cleaned at the end of each day, if possible
  • They follow government guidance on cleaning

School leaders need to make sure everyone knows to:

  • Clean their hands thoroughly and more often than usual
  • Use a tissue or elbow to cough or sneeze and use a bin for tissue waste
  • Avoid touching their mouth, eyes and nose

Personal protective equipment (PPE) 

The DfE does not recommend that staff wear PPE, unless they normally wear it for their work (e.g. where they work with pupils who need intimate care).

The exception is where a child becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms at school and needs direct personal care until they can go home. In this case:

  • The supervising staff member should wear a fluid-resistant surgical face mask if they can't keep 2 metres away from the pupil
  • If the staff member can't avoid contact with the child, they should wear:
    • Disposable gloves
    • A disposable apron
    • A fluid-resistant surgical face mask 
    • Eye protection (if there's a risk of coughing, spitting or vomiting)

Depending on how you organise this within your trust, you or your schools should use local supply chains to obtain PPE. If this isn't possible and the school needs it urgently to operate safely, then approach local resilience forums.

Be prepared to scrutinise your school's risk assessment

The DfE guidance says school leaders should:

  • Refresh the school's risk assessment to make sure it's in line with the latest government advice, and that it identifies the protective measures outlined above
  • Make sure health and safety compliance checks have been undertaken before opening

Download and share this template risk assessment with your school leaders.

We've got more guidance coming soon on scrutinising the risk assessment. 

School leaders should update parents and staff on reopening plans

Your schools should let parents and staff know about their reopening plans and any protective measures the school is implementing.

This will allow your schools to reassure staff and parents about actions they're taking to keep everyone safe, and to address concerns early. 

Point your school leaders to our article on The Key for School Leaders, which has template letters to update parents on possible reopening.

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