Schools reopened to all children again in September. Our education law solicitors have answered some frequently asked questions about what this means for your child.
Schools reopened to some children in June and July, before the school holidays. Both mainstream and schools for children with special educational opened to all school years and all children in September. This includes the clinically vulnerable children who were previously ‘shielding’ at home.
The government has published guidance about what measures schools should put in place to protect children and reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading. There’s also specific guidance about measures for special schools.
If you have any questions or concerns about these changes, our education law solicitors may be able to help. Call us today on 0370 1500 100 or contact us online.
You can also listen to our experts discuss these issues on the Irwin Mitchell Podcast.
What is the government guidance for schools reopening?
The key points to be aware of are:
- Schools will need to balance minimising coronavirus risks with providing a full educational experience for children and young people
- There’s no one size fits all approach – each school will have to come up with its own way of ensuring the safety of staff and students
- Schools will need to produce their own risk assessments, outlining the measures they’ll take and processes for preventing or controlling coronavirus outbreaks – read more about specific safety measures
- The guidance acknowledges that staff should prepare for the extra help that some pupils with SEN will need
- Schools should consider individual risk assessments detailing how to support children with SEN through their return to school. They should contact parents and young people to find out what measures will help.
For more detail, you can read the official guidance for mainstream schools or guidance for schools for children with special educational needs in full on the gov.uk website.
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Does my child now have to go to school?
The government expects all children to attend mainstream and special schools from September, with some exceptions for health reasons.
At the start of the pandemic, school attendance rules didn’t apply and the government didn’t fine parents who didn’t send their children to school.
The government has confirmed that this will no longer be the case from September.
This means that you risk a fine if you don’t send your children to school in September.
However, the attendance rules don’t apply if:
- Your child is clinically vulnerable and the school or local authority asks them to stay at home for their own safety due to a local coronavirus outbreak
- Your child has coronavirus symptoms, lives with someone who has symptoms, or the NHS Test and Trace programme has contacted them
- A health professional advises that your child should not return to school yet.
In these cases, your child’s school should not penalise them for absence and should “immediately” offer access to remote education.
We expect that some children will also be allowed to return to school gradually to help them cope with the change.
If you’re concerned about your child’s health for a return to school in September, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
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Will my child get “catch up” support?
The government has announced a new funding scheme for schools to provide catch up support as well as a National Tutoring programme. The funding should help schools provide additional support to children who may have been affected by staying off school.
This could include small group or 1:1 tuition for certain pupils, or summer programmes in 2021.
The government will publish more guidance about how schools should use the funding later this summer.
The existing guidance for this additional funding notes that the extra support will be particularly important for “vulnerable children”. They have previously defined “vulnerable children” to include children who have EHC plans.
We therefore expect that schools will include children with SEN or with EHC plans in their catch-up programmes when they reopen in September.
If you’re concerned that your child has fallen behind in recent months, you can ask their school what catch-up support they’re planning.
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Will my child’s EHC Plan have legal force again?
We expect that the legal duties associated with EHC Plans will be back in force as usual by the time children return to school in September. This means that your child should have all the provision in Section F and G of their EHC plan.
During the initial coronavirus outbreak, local authorities didn’t need to meet the requirements in Section F of EHC Plans as usual. Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) also didn’t need to provide healthcare as listed in Section G. The government amended these duties so that public bodies only needed to use “reasonable endeavours” to provide the support that was in EHC plans.
So far, the Secretary of State for Education has renewed the “Notice” that made these changes twice, for one month at a time. However he has now confirmed that he doesn’t intend to issue a further notice at the end of July. We expect EHC Plans to apply as normal from September onwards.
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What will school transport be like?
Schools and local authorities must provide transport as they would usually, when schools reopen in September, while taking steps to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.
The legal duties around school transport haven’t changed. The government is encouraging schools and local authorities to work together to make suitable arrangements, including social distancing measures.
The statutory guidance sets out what schools and local authorities will need to do before September. For example, schools and local authorities might:
- Arrange transport so that children can travel to school in their own “bubbles”
- Stagger start times at school to reduce overcrowding on public transport
- Arrange additional cleaning between journeys for specialist transport such as minibuses.
If you have any concerns about your child’s school transport, we would recommend speaking to the local authority before September.
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What measures are in place to protect my child at school? Do they need to wear a mask?
The government has published guidance on a range of measures that schools should take to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.
Whether your child has to wear a face mask will depend on their school and where you live - read more about the government's advice for masks in schools and colleges
All schools will need to carry out their own risk assessment and each school’s risk assessment will be different depending on its size and layout. You could ask to see a copy of your child’s school’s risk assessment if you’re concerned about the measures they will be putting in place.
Some examples of ways to minimise risk, as set out in the government guidance, include:
- Minimising contact with anybody who may have COVID-19
- Encouraging frequent hand washing
- Cleaning facilities more frequently or intensively
- Minimising contact between individuals and encouraging social distancing
- Avoiding large assemblies
- Staggering start times where appropriate.
There are also plenty of other measures that schools might take on an individual basis and depending on the school’s circumstances.
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Have there been changes to the timescales for EHCP processes?
The government relaxed EHCP timescales during the coronavirus pandemic. We expect the ordinary timescales to apply again after 25 September 2020.
The government issued ‘Amendment Regulations’ which changed the ordinary timescales for EHCP processes and will stay in place until 25 September. The government hasn’t confirmed exactly what will happen after this date, but we expect the timescales to revert to normal.
The Regulations have relaxed local authorities’ duties to take action within the standard timescales if it’s impractical due to coronavirus-related reasons. Instead, the local authority now only needs to take action as soon as it’s practical to do so.
Local authorities must set out reasons to justify any delays, and those reasons must be specifically related to coronavirus. The local authority should consider the specific circumstances of each case before using the exception and only use it when necessary.
Although the government has relaxed timescales, their guidance states that local authorities must continue to consider assessment requests. So don’t be put off requesting an assessment – just bear in mind that it may take longer than usual.
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Our specialist education law solicitors advise on a wide range of issues affecting children with special educational needs. See our Special Educational Needs (SEN) Solicitors page for more information.