Legal Q&A on Schools in England Reopening in September

Author:
Samantha Hale
Partner, Education & Community Care Solicitor
Date:
28/07/2020

Following the outbreak of Covid-19, parents and children have been left unsure about what their education may look like in the next academic year. But on 2 July 2020 the UK Government announced that all schools will be reopening in September to nearly all children.

This may bring up many questions for you about how your children are going to be kept safe from Coronavirus in their return to school. We answer some of your questions below and this page will be updated as the news changes.

Q. Which Year Groups Will Return to School in September?

All children in all year groups will be expected to go back to school in September. The only exception will be if your child is shielding due to a serious medical condition or if they are self-isolating because they are experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus.

Q.Will Children be Social Distancing?

The Government have proposed that children will be put into ‘bubbles’ with other children whom they can mix with. These bubbles can be of any size, which will depend on your child’s school. For example bubbles could include an entire year group.

In order to encourage children in different bubbles not to mix, schools should consider staggering playtime and dinner time for each year group. This is an attempt to keep the majority of children socially distanced while also allowing for some socializing.

Q. How Will Schools Keep Children Safe?

The Government have asked that certain precautions are put in place in order to keep children safe in school. These precautions include:

  • Staff and children will be tested for Coronavirus if they show symptoms
  • Staff, children and other adults are not to come into school if they have Coronavirus symptoms or have tested positive in the last 7 days
  • Anyone displaying symptoms during the school day will be sent home
  • Large gathering including assemblies and collective worship should be avoided
  • Schools should consider staggered start times and finish times for different year groups, as well as staggered dinnertimes
  • All desks should face forward so that children aren’t facing each other
  • Children will be expected to wash their hands before and after school
  • Staff are expected to avoid staff rooms

Q. Will There be Changes to the Curriculum?

Schools can change the curriculum if they feel the changes are necessary to help children catch up with any work they may have missed. But the law states they must return to the standard national curriculum by the summer term of 2021.

Q. Can I Decide Not to Send My Child Back to School?

As of September you could be fined if you choose not to send your child back to school, unless they have a serious medical condition or symptoms of Coronavirus. We recommend you obtain medical evidence if this applies to your child.

After the breakout of the Coronavirus pandemic, the government suspended the law that stated that parents could be prosecuted for not sending their children to school, but this will be reversed in the new academic year of 2020/21. Therefore it is really important you obtain medical evidence to support where an absence has been due to medical reasons.

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary has said that unless you have a “very good reason” for not sending you child to school, from September you could be fined £60 by your Local Authority. If you don’t pay this in 21 days then the fine increases to £120. If the fine goes unpaid for 28 days then you could face prosecution.

Q. Will My Child with SEN Attend School in September?

Yes. The Education Secretary has insisted that every child who can attend school in September will be expected to. This includes children with EHCPs and SEND, who will be required to attend school as normal if they can.

We understand that you may be worried about the safety of your child when sending them back to school in September. Especially if your child has SEND and hasn’t received the provision they need throughout lockdown.

Our Education Law Solicitors and SEN Lawyers can advise you if you feel your Local Authority hasn’t shown a reasonable effort to put the right provision in place for your child with SEN.

Q. Will the Covid-19 Changes to SEND Law be Changed Back?

One of the changes to SEN Law following the outbreak of Covid-19 meant that Local Authorities only had to show they had used ‘reasonable endeavors’ to secure or arrange provision for children with SEND. This raised a lot of concern for parents whose children weren’t receiving appropriate provision because it meant that in certain cases parents were left unable to challenge their Local Authority.

The Government has announced that after 31 July 2020, the duty of Local Authorities will return to an absolute duty to secure provision for children who have EHCPs. This means that parents can rest assured that in the new academic year their children should have the provision they need.

However, the changes to the law that state Local Authorities don’t have to meet certain deadlines for putting provision in place ‘for a reason relating to the incidence or transmission of Covid-19’ will remain in place until 25 September. This will continue to be monitored but the changes are not expected to be lifted before this date.

The Department of Education are also currently considering whether flexibilities to the law in this area might be needed locally to respond to local outbreaks of Covid-19. We’ll be updating this page as things develop, so Bookmark or Favourite this page so you can easily check back.

Our Education Lawyers are hopeful that as SEN Law changes back to what it was before coronavirus, it will offer your child’s provision more security when they go back to school.

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