Coronavirus Update Page
Statement from the UK Chief Medical Officers on schools and childcare reopening
Statement from the Chief Medical Officers and Deputy Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on the evidence of risks and benefits to health from schools and childcare settings reopening.
Published 23 August 2020
This is a consensus statement from the Chief Medical Officers and Deputy Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on the current evidence of risks and benefits to health from schools and childcare settings reopening. It takes into account UK and international studies, and summaries of the scientific literature from SAGE, the DELVE Group of the Royal Society, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and data from the Office for National Statistics. The current global pandemic means that there are no risk-free options, but it is important that parents and teachers understand the balance of risks to achieve the best course of action for their children.
We are confident that multiple sources of evidence show that a lack of schooling increases inequalities, reduces the life chances of children and can exacerbate physical and mental health issues. School improves health, learning, socialisation and opportunities throughout the life course including employment. It has not been possible to reduce societal inequalities through the provision of home-based education alone. School attendance is very important for children and young people.
We are confident in the extensive evidence that there is an exceptionally small risk of children of primary or secondary school age dying from COVID-19. The infection fatality rate (proportion of those who are infected who die) for those aged 5 to 14 is estimated at 14 per million, lower than for most seasonal flu infections. Every death of a child is a tragedy but COVID-19 deaths in children and teenagers are fortunately extremely rare and almost all deaths are in children with significant pre-existing health conditions.
We are confident that there is clear evidence of a very low rate of severe disease in children of primary and secondary school ages compared to adults, even if they catch COVID-19. The percentage of symptomatic cases requiring hospitalisation is estimated to be 0.1% for children aged 0 to 9 and 0.3% among those aged 10 to 19, compared to a hospitalisation rate of over 4% in the UK for the general population. Most of these children make a rapid recovery.
We are confident that there is clear evidence from many studies that the great majority of children and teenagers who catch COVID-19 have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. There is reasonable, but not yet conclusive, evidence that primary school age children have a significantly lower rate of infection than adults (they are less likely to catch it).Evidence that older children and teenagers are at lower risk of catching COVID-19 is mixed. They are either less likely to catch COVID-19 than adults or have the same risk as adults.
Transmission of COVID-19 to children in schools does occur. On current evidence it is probably not a common route of transmission. It may be lower in primary age children than secondary age children.
Control measures such as hand and surface hygiene, cohorting to reduce number of daily contacts, and directional controls to reduce face-to-face contact remain key elements of maintaining COVID-19 secure school environments and minimising risk.
Children and young people who were previously shielding were identified on a precautionary basis at a stage when we had less data on the effects of COVID-19 in children than we do now. Based on our better understanding of COVID-19 the great majority have now been advised they do not need to do so again, and that they should return to school. A small number of children under paediatric care (such as recent transplant or very immunosuppressed children) have been or will be given individual advice about any ongoing need to avoid infection.
Our overall consensus is that, compared to adults, children may have a lower risk of catching COVID-19 (lowest in younger children), definitely have a much lower rate of hospitalisation and severe disease, and an exceptionally low risk of dying from COVID-19. Very few, if any, children or teenagers will come to long-term harm from COVID-19 due solely to attending school. This has to be set against a certainty of long-term harm to many children and young people from not attending school.
Teachers, other school staff and parents
Data from the UK (Office for National Statistics (ONS)) suggest teachers are not at increased risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to the general working-age population. ONS data identifies teaching as a lower risk profession (no profession is zero risk). International data support this.
Transmission of COVID-19 to staff members in school does occur, and data from UK and international studies suggest it may largely be staff to staff (like other workplaces) rather than pupil to staff. This reinforces the need to maintain social distancing and good infection control inside and outside classroom settings, particularly between staff members and between older children and adults.
If teachers, other school staff, parents or wider family catch COVID-19 their risks of severe illness are similar to those of other adults of the same age, ethnicity and health status. Younger adults have a much lower risk of severe COVID-19 than older adults. The greatest risk is to those over 80 years old.
Current international evidence suggests transmission of COVID-19 from children of school age to parents or other adult family members is relatively rare compared to transmission from adults, but this evidence is weak. Teenagers may be more likely to transmit to adults than younger children.
Children and young people should be engaged in the process of establishing COVID-19 secure measures as key participants and promoters of safe communities to help protect their wider families, teachers and other school staff and other social networks. This will help reduce the risk of school outbreaks.
Impact of opening schools on wider transmission (R)
Because schools connect households it is likely opening schools will put some upward pressure on transmission more widely and therefore increase R. We have confidence in the current evidence that schools are much less important in the transmission of COVID-19 than for influenza or some other respiratory infections. Other work and social environments also increase risk and are likely to be more important for transmission of COVID-19.
The international real-world evidence suggests that reopening of schools has usually not been followed by a surge of COVID-19 in a timescale that implies schools are the principal reason for the surge. There has, however, not been sufficient time to say this with confidence.
On the other hand, a local or national surge in transmission in the community may lead to an increased risk of school outbreaks occurring. Opening schools may be as important in linking households indirectly as through direct transmission in school. For example allowing parents to go back to work, or meeting at the school gates, on public transport or in shared private vehicles, via after school social or sport activities or wrap-around care may be as important as what happens within the school.
It is possible that opening schools will provide enough upward pressure on R that it goes above 1 having previously been below it, at least in some local areas. This will require local action and could mean societal choices that weigh up the implications of imposing limitations on different parts of the community and the economy.
Early identification and quickly managing outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools is essential as part of a local response to COVID-19. Clear advice for pupils and staff not to attend school with symptoms, and prompt availability of testing, appropriate isolation advice, and careful public health surveillance and monitoring of educational establishments are key to support the safe return to schools.
- Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, England
- Dr Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer, Northern Ireland
- Dr Gregor Smith, Chief Medical Officer, Scotland
- Dr Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer, Wales
- Dr Lourda Geoghegan, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Northern Ireland
- Dr Nicola Steedman, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Scotland
- Prof Jonathan Van Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, England
- Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, England
- Prof Chris Jones, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Wales
- Dr Naresh Chada, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Northern Ireland
- Dr Aidan Fowler, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, England
- Prof Marion Bain, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Scotland
Letter from Local Authority
Mental Health Support
During these unsettling times, as a parent you may be worried about your child’s health and wellbeing and be unsure about how to get the help you need. There are several websites and organisations that offer both self-help resources and telephone advice should this be needed.
Anna Freud – Offers clear, simple advice to help minimise the impact of lockdown. Resources are created with children in mind and support is offered in the way of self-care activities which can be completed at home.
Mental Health - A way of engaging children with movement and mindfulness videos created by child development experts. For children of all ages.
GoNoodle - https://www.gonoodle.com
The Calm Team - Free resources page created in response to the COVID-19 There is meditations, stories, music, talks and more, all hand-picked to support your mental and emotional wellness. Suitable for all ages (parents included!)
The British Red Cross - Children across the UK are all experiencing a lot of change, so it is natural that they may become more agitated or stressed. Below is an exercise from the British Red Cross which you can do at home with your parents, to help you tune into your feelings and keep calm. https://www.redcross.org.uk/stories/health-and-social-care
Young Minds- Advice pages and resources to any families struggling due to isolation and forced school closures. https://youngminds.org.uk
Mind- Offer online resources and support with access to counsellors should these be required.
Alternatively call the helpline – 0800 915 4640- Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Urgent Update RE: Wider Phased Opening 06.06.2020
The Director of Public Health has advised all schools in Blackburn with Darwen to delay their wider opening until at least 22 June in response to the regional rise in the R rate. Therefore, we unfortunately will not be starting our phased opening from Tuesday 9th June as planned.
Please see Parents > Letters for further information.
Please see below the announcement from Blackburn with Darwen's Director of Public Health, Professor Dominic Harrison:
This revised guidance is a direct result of information released at 2pm today (5th June 2020) by PHE and central government which estimates the R value is now above the critical value of 1 for the North West, at R = 1.01.
Following government advice, one of the five tests we set ourselves was that the R value was below 1 before schools returned. Until this afternoon that was the case. This new assessment provides a significant red warning light that two of the government’s own 5 tests that had to be met before restrictions were eased are at risk of being breached.
Test 3 The rate of infection decreasing to 'manageable levels'
Test 5 : Being confident any adjustments would not risk a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS
Our local approach has been to be cautious, making safe and sensible decisions. This delay will allow us to continue to review all of the evidence made available to us in the next two weeks and to seek to be more assured that the rate of infection is reducing and R is firmly below 1.
I will continue to monitor what is a fast-evolving situation very closely. I am seeking further clarity from Public Health England and central government and will keep my advice to you under constant review.
We fully appreciate that headteachers and their staff, in partnership with the Local Authority, have done excellent preparatory work undertaking and completing risk assessments in their schools.
All settings should continue to remain open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers as they have been since the start of the national lockdown.
Safeguarding/ Welfare Concerns
If you have any safeguarding concerns or need support in terms of food bank vouchers or mental-health and well-being please call Mrs Clucas 07561684292.
Return to School
Information for parents and carers to help prepare for the wider opening of nurseries, schools and colleges from 1 June from the DFE.
Why can more children now attend school and childcare settings?
We want to get all children back into education as soon as the scientific advice allows because it is the best place for them to learn, and because we know it is good for children’s mental wellbeing to have social interactions with other children, carers and teachers.
As a result of the huge efforts everyone has made to adhere to strict social distancing measures, the transmission rate of coronavirus has decreased. We anticipate with further progress that we may be able, from the week commencing 1 June, to welcome back more children to early years, school and further education settings. We will only do this provided that the 5 key tests set by government justify the changes at the time, including that the rate of infection is decreasing and the enabling programmes set out in the recovery strategy are operating effectively. As a result, we are asking schools, colleges and childcare providers to plan on this basis, ahead of confirmation that these tests are met.
What does the latest scientific advice say?
We have been guided by scientific advice at every stage. The latest scientific advice to government is that:
- there is high scientific confidence that children of all ages have less severe symptoms than adults if they contract coronavirus and there is moderately high scientific confidence that younger children are less likely to become unwell if infected with coronavirus
- limiting the numbers of children going back to school and college initially then gradually increasing numbers, guided by scientific advice, reduces risk of increasing the rate of transmission
- schools and other settings can make changes to how they are organised and put measures in place to reduce risks
We have provided advice to schools and other settings on the steps they should consider taking, this includes:
- limiting the amount of contact between different groups of children (such as smaller class sizes with children and staff spread out more)
- additional protective measures, such as increased cleaning and encouraging good hand and respiratory hygiene
Can my child return to school?
From the week commencing 1 June, we are asking:
- nurseries and other early year providers, including childminders, to begin welcoming back all children
- primary schools to welcome back children in nursery (where they have them), reception, year 1 and year 6
- secondary schools, sixth form, and further education colleges to begin some face to face support with year 10 and 12 pupils, although we do not expect these pupils to return on a full-time basis at this stage
- all schools and childcare providers to continue to offer places to the priority groups – vulnerable children and children of critical workers – they have been supporting since the end of March
- special schools, special post-16 institutions and hospital schools to work towards a phased return of more children and young people without a focus on specific year groups and informed by risk assessments
- alternative provision to welcome back children in reception, year 1 and year 6 and begin some face to face support with year 10 and 11 pupils (as they have no year 12)
This approach aims to limit numbers within schools and further education settings while ensuring that the children and young people who can benefit from attending most are able to do so.
What if my child is eligible but has siblings who are not?
We are asking that only these year groups return to childcare providers, schools and colleges from 1 June. This does not include siblings in different year groups unless those siblings are in a priority group, for example, the children of critical workers.
We hope that all primary school children can come back to school before the summer holidays, for a month if feasible, although this will be kept under review. Reducing the risks for children and staff is our utmost priority.
How will risks to children, teachers and families be managed?
We have provided guidance and support to schools, colleges and childcare settings on implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings to help them to reduce the risk of transmission as more children and young people return.
To prevent the spread of coronavirus, schools and other settings will use a range of protective measures to create safer environments in which the risk of spreading the virus is substantially reduced. Whilst such changes are likely to look different in each setting, as they will depend upon individual circumstances, they are all designed to minimise risks to children, staff and their families.
Schools and other settings should communicate their plans to parents once they have had a chance to work through them in detail. Approaches we are asking schools and other settings to take include:
- carrying out a risk assessment before opening to more children and young people - the assessment should directly address risks associated with coronavirus so that sensible measures can be put in place to minimise those risks for children, young people and staff
- making sure that children and young people do not attend if they or a member of their household has symptoms of coronavirus
- promoting regular hand washing for 20 seconds with running water and soap or use of sanitiser and ensuring good respiratory hygiene by promoting the catch it, bin it, kill it approach
- cleaning more frequently to get rid of the virus on frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, handrails, tabletops, play equipment and toys
- minimising contact through smaller classes or group sizes and altering the environment as much as possible, such as changing the layout of classrooms
- reducing mixing between groups through timetable changes, such as staggered break times or by introducing staggered drop-off and collection times
If my child is eligible, is it compulsory for them to attend school?
We strongly encourage children and young people in the eligible year groups and priority groups (such as children of critical workers) to attend, as requested by their school or college, unless they are self-isolating or there are other reasons for absence (such as shielding due to health conditions).
You should notify your child’s school or college as normal if your child is unable to attend so that staff are aware and can discuss with you.
Parents will not be fined for non-attendance at this time.
Do all vulnerable children and young people who are not currently attending have to go back to childcare settings, school or college now?
Educational settings should continue to offer places to priority groups. In particular, as per the existing guidance on supporting vulnerable children and young people during the coronavirus outbreak, vulnerable children of all year groups continue to be expected and encouraged to attend educational provision where it is appropriate for them to do so.
For children who have a social worker, attendance is expected unless their social worker decides that they are at less risk at home or in their placement.
For children who have an education health and care (EHC) plan, attendance is expected where it is determined, following a risk assessment, that their needs can be as safely or more safely met in the educational environment.
For children who are deemed otherwise vulnerable, at the school, college or local authority discretion, attendance is expected where this is appropriate.
Should I keep my child at home if they have an underlying health condition or live with someone in a clinically vulnerable group?
Children and young people who are considered extremely clinically vulnerable and shielding should continue to shield and should not be expected to attend.
Clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable) people are those considered to be at a higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus. A minority of children will fall into this category, and parents should follow medical advice if their child is in this category.
Children and young people who live in a household with someone who is extremely clinically vulnerable and shielding should only attend if stringent social distancing can be adhered to and the child or young person is able to understand and follow those instructions.
Children and young people who live with someone who is clinically vulnerable (but not extremely clinically vulnerable) as defined in the social distancing guidance and including those who are pregnant, can attend.
Can children be tested for the virus?
Once settings open to more children and young people, staff and pupils in all settings will be eligible for testing if they become ill with coronavirus symptoms, as will members of their household. This will enable children and young people to get back to childcare or education, and their parents or carers to get back to work, if the test proves to be negative.
A positive test will ensure rapid action to protect their classmates and staff in their setting.
What happens if there is a confirmed case of coronavirus in my child’s school, college or childcare setting?
When a child, young person or staff member develops symptoms compatible with coronavirus, they should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 7 days. Their fellow household members should self-isolate for 14 days. All staff and students who are attending an education or childcare setting will have access to a test if they display symptoms of coronavirus.
Where the child, young person or staff member tests positive, the rest of their class/group within their childcare or education setting should be sent home and advised to self-isolate for 14 days. The other household members of that wider class/group do not need to self-isolate unless the child, young person or staff member they live with in that group subsequently develops symptoms.
As part of the national test and trace programme, if other cases are detected within the child or young person’s cohort or in the wider education or childcare setting, Public Health England’s local Health Protection Teams will conduct a rapid investigation and will advise schools and other settings on the most appropriate action to take. In some cases, a larger number of other children and young people may be asked to self-isolate at home as a precautionary measure - perhaps the whole class, site or year group.
Where settings are observing guidance on infection prevention and control, which will reduce risk of transmission, closure of the whole setting will not generally be necessary.
Will education be provided as normal to children and young people who are attending?
Education settings still have the flexibility to provide support and education to children and young people attending school in the way they see fit during this time.
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) sets the standards that schools and childcare settings must meet for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5 years old. Early years settings should use their best endeavours to deliver the learning and development requirements as far as possible in the current circumstances.
Schools and colleges continue to be best placed to make decisions about how to support and educate their pupils during this period. This will include:
- consideration of pupils’ mental health and wellbeing
- assessment of where pupils are in their learning in order to make any necessary adjustments to their curriculum over the coming weeks
- prioritisation of high needs groups and support for those in transition years
Schools and colleges should use their best endeavours to support pupils attending as well as those remaining at home, making use of the available remote education support.
For pupils in year 10 and 12, we are asking schools and colleges to supplement remote education with some face to face support for these year groups from 1 June. We do not expect these pupils to return to school or college on a full-time basis at this stage, and so we do not expect a full timetable to be offered as schools and colleges look to minimise the number of pupils in school or college each day. Schools and colleges should consider how to best use additional year 10 and 12 time to support those pupils who are starting their final year of study for GCSEs, A levels and other qualifications next academic year.
How should my child travel to and from their childcare, school or college?
Children, young people and parents are encouraged to walk or cycle where possible and avoid public transport at peak times. The government will shortly publish guidance on how to travel safely, which schools, parents and young people can refer to when planning their travel, particularly if public transport is required.
Home to school transport provided or organised by schools, trusts or local authorities varies widely. Schools, trusts and local authorities should work together and with relevant transport providers to put in place arrangements which fit the local circumstances, including the measures being put in place to reduce contact. Further guidance is available on implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings.
Will school meals be available for children and young people who are in school?
Schools should provide meal options for all children who are in school, and meals should be available free of charge where pupils meet the free school meal eligibility criteria. To ensure food is available for pupils who attend, educational settings are expected to reopen their kitchens if they have closed and ensure staff are able to work safely.
We are also continuing to ask schools and colleges to work with their food providers to offer meals or food parcels for benefits-related free school meal pupils not attending school. Now that schools are opening more widely, school catering teams will be better placed to do this. The provision of food vouchers for those eligible under the benefits criteria will also continue to be available where needed for those not attending.
Will childcare, schools and colleges keep their usual opening hours?
It is possible that some settings will make changes to their start and finish times or introduce processes for drop-off and collection times to keep children and families safe.
Start and finish times will be clearly communicated to parents and carers alongside any other new arrangements.
Government Guidance and links for Parents and Carers