Guidance is updated on a continuous basis and this note is intended to flag issues and suggest practical, pragmatic solutions in the context of the general legal framework as it currently exists. We will update it as frequently as possible.
Guidance today (19th March) is that the government is aiming to provide an ‘education setting’ for 10% of the children who usually attend schools.
Schools with specific questions should contact their usual member of the Burnetts team.
- School specific advice will only be possible once schools who will be required to open and provide support to the children of key workers and vulnerable children have been identified
- Focused legal, health and safety and other advice can only be offered once the nature of the support that schools are required to provide is understood
- ‘Key workers’ usually encompasses public sector workers who are considered to provide an essential service. What the definition of ‘key workers’ will encompass in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic will be announced later today (19th March). It is likely to be wider than the standard definition – e.g. to include supermarket delivery drivers
- ‘Vulnerable children’ is likely to include those who have a social worker and those with an EHCP. Again, clarification is awaited
Health and Safety
We are in touch with Kym Allan Health and Safety Consultants and will work collaboratively with them to ensure our guidance reflects theirs. We set out below a series of high-level issues to consider:
- School buildings are safe: the specific circumstances of the pandemic do not change this
- Key issues will, to some extent, depend on what is required of schools in supporting the children of key workers
- A designated Health and Safety lead will need to be on site and, depending on the ages of the children to be accommodated, a paediatric first aider will need to be available
- Allergies: children with allergies will need to be considered: appropriately trained staff (e.g. to administer an Epipen) will need to be available. Catering provision will need to be appropriate for children with allergies
- Appropriate support will need to be available for children with particular needs, e.g. those with an EHCP (consider, for example, intimate care, hoisting, wheelchair access) and those with mental health issues
Selecting staff to provide support in schools for children of key workers and vulnerable children
An employer owes a duty of care to employees to protect them from the risk of infection. An employer can therefore insist on an employee not attending the workplace in circumstances in which there is a genuine risk of them infecting other employees. Conversely, where continuing to work, as in the circumstances we are considering, might involve a risk of infection it is unlikely (without legislative change) that an employer will be able to compel any specific employee to form part of a staffing body providing cover to children of key workers or vulnerable children.
Accordingly, for schools who are selected to open for the children of key workers or for vulnerable children, the starting point with regard to selecting staff is to ask for volunteers. The school’s duty of care should be borne in mind: volunteers who are vulnerable, or care for others who are vulnerable, to infection should not be asked to attend school.
Certain responsibilities sit with the head teacher/principal and others are delegated by reference to a school’s scheme of delegation. Schools will need to consider:
- The availability of the appropriate decision-maker for specific decisions – eg disciplinary sanctions, including exclusions
- In a multi-academy trust or other grouping of schools, how decisions are delegated to local governing bodies and whether the appropriate decision-makers are in place for the provision the school/schools will be required to provide
- Policies and procedures generally – for staff and for students/others attending the school. Depending on detail of the support schools will be asked to provide, consider whether additional emergency policies/procedures are likely to be required to guide staff and to provide information to parents/other carers
- Contingencies on a rolling basis – in the event of infections of staff or family members and the requirements in relation to self-isolation/testing at the appropriate time
- Ensure that any insurance requirements are borne in mind: these might vary depending on what is required of a particular setting and the children who attend.
As with all aspects of its response, schools will need to keep a close eye on government guidance on the prevention of spread of disease during a pandemic.
Other issues to consider
Where a school has pupils with particular needs who are now not coming into school, appropriate safeguarding measures should be borne in mind. School specific advice cannot be offered in this brief note but consider:
- Means of ensuring the student’s safety (e.g. laminated cards with emergency contact information)
- Doorstep visits where possible to ensure no signs of abuse are visible
- Access to mental health support where required (face-to-face support is obviously unlikely to be available)
If you would like to speak to someone within our education team then please contact our offices on 01228 552222 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Please note that both telephone and video appointments can be arranged during this period of self-isolation.