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Education briefing – Department for Education publishes coronavirus contingency framework for colleges and schools in England

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings
  • Education - Coronavirus


On 27 November the Department for Education (DfE) published its latest coronavirus guidance for colleges and schools the Contingency framework: education and childcare settings (excluding universities)  which considers the impact of the local restrictions in England applying from 2 December 2020.

The guidance reiterates that the government has made it a priority that education and childcare settings should continue to operate as normal as possible during the coronavirus outbreak and that this remains the default position for all areas irrespective of the local restriction tiers.

The guidance commences by stating that any restrictions on education would only be as a last resort and may only be initiated following a ministerial decision and that the framework sets out how such restrictions would be implemented. It also makes it clear that educational settings should not implement the restrictive measures set out in the contingency framework without the explicit agreement of the DfE.

Any decision to initiate local restrictions will be made by a ministerial decision on a case-by-case basis in the light of local and national circumstances and the DfE will work with other government departments, the Chief Medical Officer, the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Public Health England and relevant local authorities “to ensure the decision is informed by the available evidence”. The DfE may advise implementation of this contingency framework across any geographical area - a cluster of settings, local area, local authority or region - and any restrictions will be kept under review and will be lifted as soon as the public health and scientific advice says it is appropriate to do so.

The guidance then sets out the position, where the contingency framework is implemented, for different education settings, including the following:

• further education providers - should allow daily attendance only to vulnerable young people, the children of critical workers and priority learners, such as those in exam or final assessment year groups or those who are unable to complete their educational programme remotely.

• primary schools - should continue allowing all children to attend but, in the “very unlikely event” that attendance is limited, the DfE may advise that only vulnerable children and children of critical workers should be allowed to attend.

• middle schools - may have to adopt a combined approach under which all pupils in primary year groups attend but only those vulnerable children and children of critical workers in older year groups.

• secondary schools - should only allow vulnerable children, children of critical workers, pupils in years 11 and 13 and other pupils due to take external exams in the current academic year, to attend.

• boarding schools - should follow the guidance for primary and secondary schools in determining which children should be taught in the classroom.

• alternative provision (AP) (including pupil referral units, AP academies, AP free schools) - should continue to allow all to attend full-time.

In addition, apprenticeship delivery and assessment should continue to take place in person where doing so online is not possible, including training and assessment in the workplace (unless that is required to close under local restrictions), in education and assessment settings and in community settings where a venue is being used for training or assessment.

In all settings high-quality remote education should be provided for all students, who do not attend.

Other areas covered in the guidance include the following:

• face coverings – where the school/college is in a tier 2 or 3 area under the local restrictions (currently most areas) these should be worn by adults, school pupils in year 7 and above and students at FE providers, when moving around outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.

• staff – where the contingency framework is implemented schools and colleges should consider if this offers more opportunities for staff to work at home, given the reduced numbers of students on-site.

• exams and assessments - exam centres, schools and FE providers should remain open for exams and assessments and it is for senior leaders schools and colleges to decide whether it is “appropriate, practical and reasonable” to provide exams and tests in a separate room or, in exceptional circumstances, at the candidate’s home.

• meals - schools should provide meal options for all pupils who are in school (these should be available free of charge to all pupils who meet the free school meals eligibility criteria) and should continue to provide free school meals or food parcels for eligible pupils who are not attending school as a consequence of coronavirus restrictions. Colleges should continue to support students who are eligible for, and usually receive, free meals, including if students are studying remotely due to coronavirus.