Returning to school in September

Schools are set to reopen full-time in September and there will be a lot of changes to expect due to the continued risk of Coronavirus (Covid-19). This page will outline the main points to consider.

Health & Safety

Protective measures will have to be taken and these include:

  • minimise contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend school
  • clean hands thoroughly more often than usual
  • ensure good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach
  • introduce enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, using standard products such as detergents and bleach
  • minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing wherever possible
  • where necessary, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)


In March, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was increasing, it was made clear that no parent would be penalised or sanctioned for their child’s non-attendance at school. The normal rules on school attendance once more apply now that schools are set to reopen full-time including:

  • parents’ duty to secure that their child attends regularly at school where the child is a registered pupil at school and they are of compulsory school age;
  • schools’ responsibilities to record attendance and follow up absence
  • the availability to issue sanctions, including fixed penalty notices in line with local authorities’ codes of conduct

Where a pupil is unable to attend school because they are complying with clinical and/or public health advice, schools are expected to be able to immediately offer them access to remote education and their absence will not be penalised.

If parents of pupils with significant risk factors are concerned, it is recommended that schools discuss their concerns and provide reassurance of the measures they are putting in place to reduce the risk in school.

For the school year 2020 to 2021, a new category has been added to record instances when a pupil is ‘not attending in circumstances relating to coronavirus (COVID-19)’. An addendum has been published which goes into further detail on the use of this particular category.

School meals

It is expected that kitchens will be fully open from the start of the autumn term and normal legal requirements will apply about provision of food to all pupils who want it, including for those eligible for benefits-related free school meals or universal infant free school meals.

School kitchens can continue to operate, but must comply with the guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19).

Physical education

Schools have the flexibility to decide how physical education, sport and physical activity will be provided whilst following the measures in their system of controls. Pupils should be kept in consistent groups, sports equipment thoroughly cleaned between each use by different individual groups, and contact sports avoided.

Outdoor sports should be prioritised where possible, and large indoor spaces used where it is not, maximising distancing between pupils and paying scrupulous attention to cleaning and hygiene.


For the summer 2021 exams, it is recognised that pupils in years 11 and 13 will have missed a critical period of their education due to lockdown in the 2019 to 2020 academic year. It is vital that these pupils are able to catch up and access exams that lead to the qualifications they need to progress. It is anticipated that GCSEs and A levels will take place in summer 2021 but with adaptations, including those which will free up teaching time. Ofqual is currently consulting on proposed adaptations to exams.

There will also be an exam series taking place in autumn 2020. Following the cancellation of summer 2020 exams, the exam boards will be providing students with calculated grades (except in some exceptional cases) this summer, which students will use to move onto their next step. DfE has, however, also announced that there will be an opportunity for students to sit exams in the autumn and Ofqual has confirmed these exams will be available in all subjects.

On the 12th August the Dfe accounced that the final results of A-Level and GCSE students will be no lower than their mock exams. There will be a ”triple lock” – so results will be the highest out of their estimated grades, their mocks and an optional written exam in the autumn. Please see DfE guidance for further details.

On Saturday 15th August, Ofqual set out what constituted a “valid” mock exam for students appealing against A-level results in England. However, the regulator has now suspended those criteria, and further information will be published “in due course”.

In the meantime, those applying for university or college places should tell admissions officers if they have mock exam results higher than the grade they received from Ofqual.

See our page on the Child Law Advice Service website for further information.

Face coverings

The World Health Organisation published a statement on 21 August about children and face coverings. They now advise that “children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.”

Nationwide, the government is not recommending face coverings are necessary in education settings generally because a system of controls, applicable to all education environments, provides additional mitigating measures. Schools and colleges will have the discretion to require face coverings in indoor communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed, if they believe that it is right in their particular circumstances.

Examples of where education leaders might decide to recommend the wearing of face coverings – for pupils, staff and visitors – in communal areas of the education setting include:

  • where the layout of the school or college estate makes it particularly difficult to maintain social distancing when staff and pupils are moving around the premises
  • where on top of hygiene measures and the system of controls recommended in the full opening guidance to schools and FE colleges and providers, permitting the use of face coverings for staff, pupils or other visitors would provide additional confidence to parents to support a full return of children to school or college

In primary schools where social distancing is not possible in indoor areas outside of classrooms between members of staff or visitors (for example, in staffrooms), head teachers will have the discretion to decide whether to ask staff or visitors to wear, or agree to them wearing face coverings in these circumstances. But children in primary school do not need to wear a face covering.