Employers and Universities: Work with us?

Coronavirus and schools: Your questions answered

As a parent, you will already be very aware that schools are once again closed for the third coronavirus lockdown. However, many more students have access to schools than did during the first lockdown.

All this can be very confusing as a parent. Am I entitled to send my child into school? When will schools reopen?

On this page, we explain the current situation regarding coronavirus and schools.

Last updated: 12th January

(Note: This guidance on coronavirus and schools applies to England. Measures may be different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Why are schools closed?

On 4th January, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced a third national lockdown, and said that primary and secondary schools would be closing to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Coronavirus and schools are not a good mix. By mid-November, secondary students had the highest rate of infection of all age groups, with infection rates high among primary students as well. A study also found that infection rates among school students and staff mirrored community infection rates, suggesting that infections in schools were driving community transmission.

The R rate is the number that represents the rate at which the virus is spreading. An R rate of one means that, on average, every infected person is passing the virus to one other person. If the R rate is below one, cases are falling. If it is above one, cases are rising. Since measures were first taken to control the virus in the UK, the lowest the R rate has been is 0.6. This was reached during the first national lockdown last Spring, when schools were closed. Because the new Covid-19 variant increases the R rate by between 0.4 and 0.7, schools were closed to try to keep the R rate at one or lower. Because the new variant is so infectious, this will be challenging even with schools closed.

As well as to reduce community transmission, schools are closing to protect teachers, teaching assistants and other school staff, as well as students and their families. Although young people are not usually severely affected by Covid-19, they can occasionally suffer serious symptoms, as well as infecting other, more vulnerable members of their household or bubble and those in the wider community.

Can some students go to school?

Yes. Journalists and politicians often talk about “closures” when discussing coronavirus and schools. However, schools are in fact far from “closed” – vulnerable students and children of key worker households can still go into school.

As you will know, other students continue to learn from home – schools entering the lockdown does not mean teaching has stopped, instead it is being conducted remotely. We know that this can be challenging for some students and we have linked below to some careers resources which we hope you will find useful.

Can my child go to school?

Children of key workers

Children with at least one parent who is a key (or "critical") worker can attend school. For a two-parent household, this means that if either you or your partner is a key worker, your child or children can go into school.

Sectors covered include:

  • Health and social care
  • Education and childcare
  • Key public services
  • Local and national government
  • Food and other necessary goods
  • Public safety and national security
  • Transport and border
  • Utilities, communication and financial services

The guidance may change, so you should check the GOV.UK website regularly.

Vulnerable students

Children classed as vulnerable include those:

  • With a child-in-need plan, a child protection plan and looked-after children.
  • With an education, health and care (EHC) plan.
  • Who have been identified as otherwise vulnerable by educational providers or local authorities.

A more detailed list of key worker roles and factors which may mean a child is classed as vulnerable can be found on the GOV.UK website.

Speak to your child’s school if you think they may fall into one of these categories.

What is learning like for students in school?

Children of key workers

In general, these students attend virtual lessons like their peers, but from within the classroom. Staff are there mainly to supervise them.

Vulnerable students

This is a broad category, including looked-after children, those with an EHC plan, young carers and those who have difficulty engaging with remote learning.

The kind of support offered to these children will depend on their specific needs, but in many cases – particularly where a student has a special educational need (SEN) – it is likely to be tailored and hands-on. Students may work one-to-one with a teacher or teaching assistant, benefit from more structured study than is possible via remote learning or work in groups with other students.

The government has said that, as a last resort, students without digital devices can go into school.

My child gets free school meals. Are they still eligible if they are studying from home?

Yes. The government has said that it will provide funding for food parcels to be delivered to pupils eligible for free school meals.

How can I ensure my child gets the right support?

A big concern relating to coronavirus and schools is that students will not have access to the same quality of learning. This might be because of crowded or cramped conditions at home, a bad internet connection or limited access to electronic devices which can connect to the internet.

My child cannot engage in remote learning

Students who struggle to engage in remote learning can go into school. Your child's teachers will monitor their engagement in remote lessons. You should also talk to your child's school if you feel they have difficulty engaging in remote learning for any reason.

My child doesn’t have a laptop or tablet

Many students do not have access to a suitable device for online learning. The Department for Education is providing laptops and tablets to students who are unable to access them.

Laptops may be offered to any disadvantaged children in Years 3 to 11 who do not have access to a device while learning is being conducted remotely.

Outside of remote learning, disadvantaged children in any year group who have been advised to shield because they (or someone they live with) are clinically extremely vulnerable are also entitled to a laptop or tablet. Disadvantaged children in any year group attending a hospital school are also entitled to a laptop or tablet.

You can contact your child’s school to find out if they can access a device and how to apply. There is more information about eligibility on the GOV.UK website.

We don’t have internet access at home

The Department for Education is also providing free data top-ups and wireless routers for households which meet the following three criteria:

  • No fixed broadband at home.
  • Cannot afford additional data for their devices.
  • Are experiencing disruption to their face-to-face education.

Again, you should speak to your school about how to access the scheme.

The government has said that, as a last resort, students without digital devices can go into school.

What’s happening with exams this year?

GCSEs and A-levels will not take place in 2021, and SATs have been cancelled for primary students as well.

Exam grades for GCSEs and A-levels will be awarded by teachers, not algorithm. This follows disruption and controversy last year after algorithms awarded grades many felt to be unfair and disadvantaging to students from state schools – in the end, this was reversed and teacher-awarded grades were used instead.

How can I continue careers learning from home?

Careers learning is hugely important and, if possible, shouldn’t be neglected during the lockdown. Students leaving school in the near future will face tough economic conditions and the more they can do to enhance their CV and their readiness for work, the better they will do.

We have put together a bumper pack of careers resources which you can use from home. This includes an action plan, worksheets, job profiles and more. It also includes a free eBook for parents and carers which you can access by signing up to our newsletter.

You can access all of our coronavirus careers resources here.