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Get to grips with the protective measures that your school should have in place by June, if government monitoring of the coronavirus situation indicates it's safe to open to more pupils at that point.

This article summarises guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) on what protective measures your school should have in place to ensure it can safely reopen for some year groups in June, if the government's assessment of the coronavirus situation indicates it's safe to open more widely then. 

Please bear in mind that this guidance is subject to change – we'll update this article if it does.

For an overview of what we know so far about school reopening, take a look at our other article here. If you're the chair, get advice on how to respond to the DfE guidance here.

Which year groups to welcome back and how to organise classes

Click on your setting type below to find out which pupils your school should prepare to welcome back, how to split classes, and which pupils to prioritise if your school can't safely accommodate everyone.

For more advice on organising classes, let your school leaders know about our article on The Key for School Leaders.


Your school should prepare to start welcoming back pupils in nursery (if applicable), receptionyear 1 and year 6.

How to split classes?

Pupils should be put into groups of no more than 15, with 1 teacher to monitor each group (and a teaching assistant if needed). Your school might decide to have smaller groups if it thinks 15 pupils might still overcrowd the classroom.

Young children aren't expected to follow social distancing

According to DfE guidance, young primary pupils aren't expected to keep 2 metres apart from each other and staff when they're in class. 

Nevertheless, it's still important to try to reduce contact as much as possible. Once your leaders have designated the pupil groups, they should stay together and not mix with other groups.

Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS): note that your staff to child ratios still apply – for a summary of temporary changes to the EYFS framework under coronavirus, see here.

What if our school can't accommodate all eligible pupils?

See the section below titled 'if you're short of staff or space' for advice on what your school leaders can do. If your school still can't accommodate everyone, prioritise pupils in the following order: 
  1. Vulnerable pupils and the children of critical workers 
  2. Nursery (where applicable)
  3. Reception
  4. Year 1
  5. Year 6


The government wants your school to prepare to offer some "face-to-face support" to year 10 and year 12 pupils to supplement their remote learning.

Your school should divide classes in half and have 1 teacher for each group of pupils – the DfE hasn't specified how many pupils there should be per group.

Follow social distancing

Everyone should sit 2 metres apart.

Your school can have more than half a class in one classroom as long as pupils can sit 2 metres apart. For example, if you split a class into 2 groups of 15, and 13 pupils from one group show up but only 3 from the other group show up, then you could merge these groups if everyone can sit 2 metres apart.

Once your leaders have designated the groups, they should stay together and not mix with other groups.

What if our school can't accommodate all eligible pupils?

The DfE hasn't said you should prioritise any particular year group, but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers remain a priority. See the section below titled 'if you're short of staff or space' for advice on what your school leaders can do.

Alternative provision and special schools

Alternative provision

Your school should prepare to start welcoming back pupils in reception, year 1 and year 6. The government also wants you to prepare to offer some "face-to-face support" to year 10 and year 11 pupils. See the guidance above on primary and secondary schools for more information.

Special schools

Your school should work towards welcoming back as many pupils as it can safely cater for, without focusing on specific year groups.

If your school isn't able to accommodate everyone, it might want to prioritise attendance based on:

  • Key transitions
  • Impact on life chances and development

See also the section below titled 'if you're short of staff or space' for advice on what your school leaders could do to increase the number of pupils you can cater for.

Follow social distancing where possible

Primary pupils and pupils unable to stick to social distancing aren't expected to keep 2 metres apart from each other and staff when they're in class, according to DfE guidance.

But it's still a good idea for your school leaders to check how many pupils it's feasible to have in your classrooms without overcrowding. 

Once your leaders have designated the groups, they should stay together and not mix with other groups.

Which staff and pupils shouldn't come to school

Anyone who has coronavirus symptoms, or lives with someone who does, should not attend school.

According to DfE guidance, pupils and staff classed as:

  • Clinically extremely vulnerable due to pre-existing medical conditions shouldn't attend school
  • Clinically vulnerable should follow medical advice. Staff in this category should work from home where possible – if it's not possible, your school should give them the safest available on-site roles that allows them to stay 2 metres away from others wherever possible

If a staff or pupil lives with some who is:

School leaders should use the guidance in this section to work out how many staff would be able to attend school, if needed. (They should also take into consideration that some staff may feel uncomfortable coming in, while others might have children at home.)

If you're short of staff or space

Note: the latest DfE guidance for primary settings advises that schools should not plan on the basis of a rota system, either daily or weekly.

Lack of staff

If your school doesn't have enough teachers to cover each group of pupils, the DfE says that schools can:

  • Bring additional teachers (e.g. supply teachers) in to help. They might be agreed on temporary loan from another school or are provided by your trust or local authority
  • See how many available teaching assistants (TAs) you have – your school can use TAs to lead groups of children, working under the direction of a teacher
  • Use some senior leadership time to cover groups – but they need to make sure this is manageable

If your school still doesn't have enough staff, then leaders should contact your local authority (LA) or academy trust for support.

Lack of space

The DfE has suggested sending pupils to a nearby school. This option will require a great deal of co-operation and communication between your school and the nearby school(s) to make sure you've both completed risk assessments to cover this arrangement.

You'd also need to think about the safeguarding implications of sending pupils to a nearby school, as well as the emotional impact on pupils.

If your school doesn't have enough space, it should contact your LA or academy trust for support.

If you've exhausted all other options

If your school cannot get all the intended pupil groups back into school at the same time, the DfE says to focus on providing places for priority groups first. These are explained in section 1 of this article.

Reduce contact at busy hotspots and follow good hygiene

Avoid overcrowding

Your school should be putting practical arrangements in place to reduce the number of pupils in any one space.

Protective measures might include staggering:

  • Pick-up and drop-off times
  • Break times and lunch times
  • Assembly groups
  • Staff breaks

Other measures include:

  • Making sure toilets don't become overcrowded
  • Having one-way circulation through the school, or using a divider in the middle of corridors
  • Accessing rooms from the outside where possible
  • Using outside space where possible
  • Reducing the use of shared resources

Cleaning and hygiene

School leaders should make arrangements with cleaners to ensure your school is cleaned on a regular basis. They should make sure that: 

  • Frequently touched surfaces are cleaned often, using standard products such as detergents and bleach
  • Classrooms and shared spaces are cleaned at the end of each day, if possible
  • They follow government guidance on cleaning

School leaders need to make sure everyone knows to:

  • Clean their hands thoroughly and more often than usual
  • Use a tissue or elbow to cough or sneeze and use a bin for tissue waste
  • Avoid touching their mouth, eyes and nose

We've got more detailed advice on how school leaders can carry out these measures here.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) 

The DfE does not recommend that staff wear PPE, unless they normally wear it for their work (e.g. where they work with pupils who need intimate care).

The exception is where a child becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms at school and needs direct personal care until they can go home. In this case:

  • The supervising staff member should wear a face mask if they can't keep 2 metres away from the pupil
  • If the staff member can't avoid contact with the child, they should wear:
    • Disposable gloves
    • A disposable apron
    • A fluid-resistant surgical face mask
    • Eye protection (if there's a risk of coughing, spitting or vomiting)

Your school should use local supply chains to obtain PPE. If this isn't possible and the school needs it urgently to operate safely, then approach your local resilience forum.

Be prepared to scrutinise your school's risk assessment

The DfE guidance says school leaders should:

  • Refresh the school's risk assessment to make sure it's in line with the latest government advice, and that it identifies the protective measures outlined above
  • Make sure health and safety compliance checks have been undertaken before opening

We're currently working on an article about scrutinising the risk assessment – we'll link to it here when it's published, so watch this space.

We've also got more guidance on risk assessments for school leaders coming soon.

School leaders should update parents and staff on reopening plans

Your school should let parents and staff know about its reopening plans and any protective measures your school will implement if it gets the green light to open on 1 June.

This will allow your school to reassure staff and parents about actions it's taking to keep everyone safe, and to address concerns early. 

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