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Changes to the COVID-19 Guidance for schools


The previous version of the ‘Restricting attendance during the national lockdown: schools’  guidance (the “Guidance”)  was updated on 2 February 2021. Below is a summary of the changes and the implications of those changes.

  1. Close contact definition expanded
  2. Stay at home if anyone in your household has symptoms
  3. Isolation should start as soon as symptoms develop
  4. The importance of ventilation
  5. Further guidance regarding vulnerable pupils
  6. Interviewing new Staff
  7. February half term

Close contact definition expanded

The Guidance on the definition as to what counts as a ‘close contact’ has now been expanded.  A ‘close contact’ now includes:

  • anyone who lives in the same household as someone with COVID-19 symptoms or who has tested positive for COVID-19 (see below for more details);
  • the following contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19:
    • face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation within one metre;
    • been within one metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact;
    • sexual contacts;
    • been within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day);
    • travelled in the same vehicle or a plane.

The implications of this change are that schools need to ensure that they review their risk assessments to reflect this broader definition of close contacts for both staff and pupils, whilst also ensuring that staff are aware of the additions to the Guidance so that the record of close contacts , including any close contact that takes places between children and staff in different groups, can reflect this this expanded definition . Whilst the national lockdown remains in place, and only vulnerable or key worker pupils are on-site, this will be easier to manage, but education providers must remain diligent to the issue once the lockdown is eased and pupils are permitted back into face-to-face learning.

Stay at home if anyone in your household has symptoms

The previous Guidance was perhaps rather confusing as it did not make clear that staff or pupils who live with someone who has developed symptoms should remain off-site. This has now been clarified to make it clear that if they reside with anyone who has tested positive or has symptoms that they should also isolate.

“Ensuring that pupils, staff and other adults do not come into the school if they have coronavirus (Covid-19) symptoms or live in a household with someone who does or have tested positive in at least the last 10 days and ensuring anyone developing those symptoms during the school day is sent home, are essential actions to reduce the risk in schools and further drive down transmission of coronavirus (Covid-19).”

Schools therefore need to ensure that this Guidance is conveyed clearly to both staff and the school community, to ensure that no pupil or employee continues to attend the setting when they should be isolating.

Isolation should start as soon as symptoms develop

The Guidance has been slightly amended on when isolation should start. Previously it referred to the day after a member of their household had tested positive. The Guidance is now very clear that members of the same household should:

‘‘…self-isolate starting from the day the individual’s symptoms started (or the day their test was taken if they did not have symptoms, whether this was an LFD or PCR test), and the next 10 full days”.

This amendment to the Guidance will help schools and academies mitigate risk further and so therefore it is important that this message is conveyed to both staff and the school community to ensure that individuals are aware of this crucial change to the Guidance.

The importance of ventilation

As part of the ‘Systems of Control’ set out in the Guidance, there is now greater emphasis on the importance of ventilation as a preventative measure. Previously it was the  eighth  preventative measure to take, it has now been moved up to the seventh.

As a consequence of this it would be our recommendation that schools revisit their risk assessments in order to ensure that ventilation is receiving the necessary prioritisation.  The Guidance sets out further information and factors for schools to take into account in relation to ventilation.   Are there any additional measures that can be put in place? The WHO have produced some guidance which can be accessed here about improving ventilation in public spaces.

 Vulnerable pupils

The Guidance has clarified whether a pupil who struggles with remote learning may fall into the ’vulnerable’ category. The Guidance now states that it is “up to the child’s education provider or local authority to make this decision based on the needs of the child and their family, and a range of other factors, as set out in the guidance”.

Schools should therefore reconsider whether any of the pupils that are not attending the setting, may in fact benefit from being on-site. Factors to contemplate would include, but are not limited to, staffing levels and access to remote learning. Consideration would also need to be given to how to carefully approach such a discussion with the parent as they may reject their child being classed as ‘vulnerable.’


The Guidance recommends schools now consider a flexible approach to interviews, with alternative options to face to face interviews offered where possible. This blog has been provided to support schools with approaching remote recruitment.

The guidance is clear that recruitment should continue as usual. It would be our suggestion that when recruiting for roles which will start in September, you consider remote interviews for the time being as this reduces the number of visitors to school site, further mitigating risks. If the school wish to employ a member of staff from September 2021 the opportunity for them to visit the school site can occur later in the school year once the Covid-19 situation (hopefully) improves.

If the position is for a more immediate start and the school decides that it is important the candidate attends the site, it must be made clear to the candidate they must follow the strict protocols the setting has in place. It may also be beneficial to ensure the interview takes place outside of normal school hours to reduce any unnecessary contact.

Schools must continue to follow the ‘Safe recruitment’ section of the Keeping Children Safe in Education statutory guidance.

February half term

The guidance now considers February half term. There are a couple of important additions that need to be highlighted.

First, in terms of Free School Meals. The guidance states that anyone who requires support through the half-term break should contact their Local Authority to receive support through the Covid Winter Grant Scheme.

Therefore, it is vital that schools communicate that message to their school community so that any families who are eligible can apply for support.

The other change relating to February half term relates to holiday clubs or wraparound care that takes place at an education setting. Holiday clubs and wraparound care is permitted despite the national lockdown but only for children of critical workers and vulnerable children.  Schools should ensure they work with providers to consider how they can operate within their wider protective measures.


As a result of the updates to the Guidance, Schools should revisit their risk assessments ensuring they are robust considering the additional information now available.

It is also important that the information above is conveyed to both staff and the school community in clear manner, as it is critical they work alongside you to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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