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What all schools will need to do during the COVID-19 outbreak from the start of the autumn term.



Section 1: Public health advice to minimise COVID-19 risks;

Section 2: School operations

Section 3: Curriculum, behaviour and pastoral support;

Section 4: Assessment and accountability;

Section 5: Contingency planning for outbreaks; Annex A: Health and safety risk assessment


It is our plan that all pupils, in all year groups, will return to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term.

This guidance is intended to support schools, both mainstream and alternative provision, to prepare for this.  It applies to primary, secondary (including sixth forms), infant, junior, middle, upper, school-based nurseries and boarding schools.  We expect independent schools to follow the control measures set out in this document in the same way as state-funded schools.

The guidance also covers expectations for children with SEND, including those with EHCPs, in mainstream schools.

Separate guidance is available for EY, FE colleges and for special schools.

This guidance is in 5 sections.  The first section sets out the actions school leaders should take to minimise the risk of transmission in their school.  This is public health advice, endorsed by PHE.  The rest of the guidance is focused on how the DfE expects schools to operate in this new context.  This includes:

  • school operations;
  • curriculum, behaviour and pastoral support;
  • assessment and accountability (including plans for inspection); and
  • contingency planning to provide continuity of education in the case of a local outbreak. 

This guidance has been prepared with input from school leaders, unions and sector bodies and in consultation with PHE and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  We will keep this guidance under review and update as necessary.


Purpose of this guidance

The first section of this guidance sets out the public health advice schools must follow to minimise the risks of COVID-19 transmission.  It also includes the process that should be followed if anyone develops COVID-19 symptoms while at school.  This guidance has been developed with advice from PHE.

The public health advice in this guidance makes up a PHE-endorsed ‘system of controls’, building on the hierarchy of protective measures that have been in use throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.  When implemented in line with a revised risk assessment, these measures create an inherently safer environment for children and staff where the risk of transmission of infection is substantially reduced.

The system of controls provides a set of principles and if schools follow this advice, they will effectively minimise risks. All elements of the system of controls are essential.  All schools must cover them all, but the way different schools implement some of the requirements will differ based on their individual circumstances.  Where something is essential for public health reasons, as advised by PHE, we have said ‘must’.  Where there is a legal requirement, we have made that clear.  This guidance does not create any new legal obligations.

 There cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach where the system of controls describes every scenario.  School leaders will be best placed to understand the needs of their schools/communities and to make informed judgments about how to balance delivering a broad and balanced curriculum with the measures needed to manage risk.  The system of controls provides a set of principles to help them do this and, if schools follow this advice, they will effectively minimise risks.

 We expect schools and trusts to work closely with parents, staff and unions, as they normally would, when agreeing the best approaches for their circumstances.  Where the personal circumstances of parents and/or staff create added concerns, schools and trusts should discuss these, and we have offered advice in this document about how to do this. We want all pupils and staff to be back in schools, and believe the conditions are right for this, but some people will understandably have worries that should be heard and addressed.  The rest of the guidance sets out more details on how DfE expects schools to operate in the autumn term.  This covers: school operations, including attendance, workforce, estates, catering; curriculum, behaviour and pastoral support; assessment and accountability, including plans for inspection; and contingency planning in case of self-isolation of multiple pupils or staff or local outbreaks.



Curriculum expectations

This section sets out some key principles and expectations for curriculum planning in school based nursery, mainstream and special schools, and AP, so that all pupils – particularly disadvantaged, SEND and vulnerable pupils – are given the catch-up support needed to make substantial progress by the end of the academic year.

The key principles that underpin our advice on curriculum planning:

  • Education is not optional: all pupils receive a high quality education that promotes their development and prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.
  • The curriculum remains broad and ambitious: all pupils continue to be taught a wide range of subjects, maintaining their choices for further study and employment.
  • Remote education, where needed, is high quality and aligns as closely as possible with in-school provision: schools and other settings continue to build their capability to educate pupils remotely, where this is needed.


Informed by these principles, DfE asks that schools and other settings meet the following key expectations if considering revisions to their school curriculum for academic year 2020/21:

Teach an ambitious and broad curriculum in all subjects from the start of the autumn term, but make use of existing flexibilities to create time to cover the most important missed content.

Up to and including KS3, prioritisation within subjects of the most important components for progression is likely to be more effective than removing subjects, which pupils may struggle to pick up again later.  In particular, schools may consider how all subjects can contribute to the filling of gaps in core knowledge, for example through an emphasis on reading.


Aim to return to the school’s normal curriculum in all subjects by summer term 2021

Substantial modification to the curriculum may be needed at the start of the year, so teaching time should be prioritised to address significant gaps in pupils’ knowledge with the aim of returning to the school’s normal curriculum content by no later than summer term 2021.


Plan on the basis of the educational needs of pupils

Curriculum planning should be informed by an assessment of pupils’ starting points and addressing the gaps in their knowledge and skills, in particular making effective use of regular formative assessment (eg quizzes, observing pupils in class, talking to pupils to assess understanding, scrutiny of pupils’ work) while avoiding the introduction of unnecessary tracking systems.


Develop remote education so that it is integrated into school curriculum planning

Remote education may need to be an essential component in the delivery of the school curriculum for some pupils, alongside classroom teaching, or in the case of a local lockdown.  All schools are therefore expected to plan to ensure any pupils educated at home for some of the time are given the support they need to master the curriculum and so make good progress.

Schools may consider it appropriate to suspend some subjects for some pupils in exceptional circumstances.  Schools should be able to show that this is in the best the interests of these pupils and be subject to discussion with parents during the autumn term.  They should also have a coherent plan for returning to their normal curriculum for all pupils by the summer term 2021.

Relationships and health education (RHE) for primary aged pupil schools and relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) for secondary aged pupils becomes compulsory from September 2020 and schools are expected to start teaching by, at least, the start of the summer term 2021.


Specific points for EYFS to KS3

For children in nursery settings, teachers should focus on the prime areas of learning, including: communication and language; personal, social and emotional development (PSED); and physical development.

For pupils in YR, teachers should also assess and address gaps in language, early reading and mathematics, particularly ensuring children’s acquisition of phonic knowledge and extending their vocabulary.  Settings should follow updates to the EYFS disapplication guidance.  For nursery settings and YR, consider how all groups of children can be given equal opportunities for outdoor learning.

For pupils in KS1 and KS2, school leaders are expected to prioritise identifying gaps and re-establish good progress in the essentials (phonics and reading, increasing vocabulary, writing and mathematics), identifying opportunities across the curriculum so they read widely, and developing their knowledge and vocabulary. 

The curriculum should remain broad, so that the majority of pupils are taught a full range of subjects over the year, including sciences, humanities, the arts, PE/sport, RE and RHE.

For pupils in KS3, the curriculum should also remain broad from Y7-Y9 so that the majority of pupils are taught a full range of subjects over the year, including sciences, languages, humanities, the arts, PE/sport, RE and RSHE.  For pupils in Y7, it may be necessary to address gaps in English and mathematics by teaching essential knowledge and skills from the KS2 curriculum.


Specific points for KS4 and KS5

As with earlier key stages, it is likely that pupils in KS4 and KS5 will need extra support to catch up on any content they have missed, but the school curriculum may be less flexible given the requirements of qualification specifications.

To ensure exams and assessments next summer are as fair as possible, and take into account any public health requirements and the well-being of students, Ofqual will consult on proposals for next year shortly, and will confirm its decisions as soon as possible to allow time for schools to prepare.


The vast majority of pupils in Y10 and Y11 are expected to continue to study their examination subjects.  This will support them towards their preferred route to further study.  In exceptional circumstances, it may be in the best interests of a Y11 pupil to discontinue an examined subject because the school judges that, for example, they would achieve significantly better in their remaining subjects as a result, especially in GCSE English and mathematics.

School leaders are expected to make such decisions in discussion with pupils and parents and informed by ongoing assessment of a pupil’s progress and wellbeing, using the existing discretion that schools already apply on these matters.

Schools are expected to review any plans for early entry among Y10 pupils in summer 2021.  It may be in the best interests of the pupil to take their exams and assessments the following year when they are in Y11, if the curriculum can be adjusted to provide further teaching and study time in the summer term and academic year 2021/22.

Pupils in Y12 and Y13 are more likely to undertake self-directed study, but may still need additional support.  Compared to KS4, there is less scope to drop an examined subject as fewer qualifications are studied at this key stage. Discontinuing a subject is therefore likely to significantly limit choices for further study and employment, so is expected to be rare.


Schools should note that there may be an additional risk of infection in environments where you or others are singing, chanting, playing wind or brass instruments or shouting.  This applies even if individuals are at a distance.  Schools should consider how to reduce the risk, particularly when pupils are playing instruments or singing in small groups such as in music lessons by, for example, physical distancing and playing outside wherever possible, limiting group sizes to no more than 15, positioning pupils back-to-back or side-to-side, avoiding sharing of instruments, and ensuring good ventilation.  Singing, wind and brass playing should not take place in larger groups such as school choirs and ensembles, or school assemblies.  Further more detailed DfE guidance will be published shortly.


Physical activity in schools

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.  This is particularly important in a sports setting because of the way in which people breathe during exercise.  External facilities can also be used in line with government guidance for the use of, and travel to and from, those facilities. 

Schools should refer to the following advice:


Schools are able to work with external coaches, clubs and organisations for curricular and extra-curricular activities where they are satisfied that this is safe to do so. Schools should consider carefully how such arrangements can operate within their wider protective measures.

Activities such as active miles, making break times and lessons active and encouraging active travel help enable pupils to be physically active while encouraging physical distancing.


Pupil wellbeing and support

Pupils may be experiencing a variety of emotions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, such as anxiety, stress or low mood.  This may particularly be the case for vulnerable children, including those with a social worker and young carers. It is important to contextualise these feelings as normal responses to an abnormal situation.  Some may need support to re-adjust to school; others may have enjoyed being at home and be reluctant to return; a few may be showing signs of more severe anxiety or depression.  Others will not be experiencing any challenges and will be keen and ready to return to school. 

The return to school allows social interaction with peers, carers and teachers, which benefits wellbeing.  The DfE, PHE and NHS England are hosting a free webinar for school/college staff on 9 July to set out how to support returning pupils and students, and a recording will be available to access online afterwards.

See DfE Supporting pupil and student mental wellbeing for further details.  This includes hearing from experts on the impacts of the pandemic on pupils’ mental wellbeing and recovery techniques and from education leaders about the actions they have been taking.

 The Whole School SEND consortium will be delivering some training for mainstream school teachers (including free insets and webinars) on supporting pupils with SEND to return to their mainstream school after the long absence and on transition to other settings.

Details of future training sessions are held on the events page of the SEND Gateway.  You can opt to join Whole School SEND’s community of practice when you sign up for an event to receive notifications about future training and resources as they are published.

 DfE has also published the first of the relationship, sex and health education training modules for teachers to support them in preparation to deliver content on mental health and wellbeing.  The training module on teaching about mental wellbeing, which has been developed with clinical experts and schools, will improve teacher confidence in talking and teaching about mental health and wellbeing in the classroom.  It was published early given the importance of supporting pupils’ mental health and wellbeing at this time.

Schools should consider the provision of pastoral and extra-curricular activities to all pupils designed to:

  • support the rebuilding of friendships and social engagement;
  • address and equip pupils to respond to issues linked to COVID-19; and
  • support pupils with approaches to improving their physical and mental wellbeing.


Schools should also provide more focused pastoral support where issues are identified that individual pupils may need help with, drawing on external support where necessary and possible.

Schools should also consider support needs of particular groups they are already aware need additional help

(eg children in need) and any groups they identify as newly vulnerable on their return to school.

To support this, teachers may wish to access the free MindEdlearning platform for professionals, which includes a COVID-19 staff resilience hub with materials on peer support, stress, fear and trauma and bereavement.


Schools should consider how they are working with school nursing services to support the health and wellbeing of their pupils; school nursing services have continued to offer support as pupils return to school – school nurses as leaders of the healthy child programme can offer a range of support including:

  • support for resilience, mental health and wellbeing including anxiety, bereavement and sleep issues;
  • support for pupils with additional and complex health needs; and
  • supporting vulnerable children and keeping children safe.

Schools and school nurses need to work together to ensure delivery of the healthy child programme (which includes immunisation), identifying health and wellbeing needs which will underpin priorities for service delivery.


Behaviour expectations

Schools should consider updating their behaviour policies with any new rules/policies and consider how to communicate rules/policies clearly and consistently to staff, pupils and parents, setting clear, reasonable and proportionate expectations of pupil behaviour.

Further details are available at Behaviour and discipline in schools.  Schools should set out clearly at the earliest opportunity the consequences for poor behaviour and deliberately breaking the rules and how they will enforce those rules including any sanctions.  This is particularly the case when considering restrictions on movement within school and new hygiene rules.  Schools will need to work with staff, pupils and parents to ensure that behaviour expectations are clearly understood, and consistently supported, taking account of individual needs and should also consider how to build new expectations into their rewards system.


It is likely that adverse experiences and/or lack of routines of regular attendance and classroom discipline may contribute to disengagement with education upon return to school, resulting in increased incidence of poor behaviour. Schools should work with those pupils who may struggle to reengage in school and are at risk of being absent and/or persistently disruptive, including providing support for overcoming barriers to attendance and behaviour and to help them reintegrate back into school life.


We acknowledge that some pupils will return to school having been exposed to a range of adversity and trauma including bereavement, anxiety and in some cases increased welfare and safeguarding risks.  This may lead to an increase in social, emotional and mental health concerns and some children, particularly vulnerable groups such as children with a social worker and young carers, will need additional support and access to services such as educational psychologists, social workers, and counsellors.  Additionally, provision for children who have SEND may have been disrupted during partial school closure and there may be an impact on their behaviour.  Schools will need to work with local services (such as health and the LA) to ensure the services and support are in place for a smooth return to schools for pupils.


The disciplinary powers that schools currently have, including exclusion, remain in place.   Permanent exclusion should only be used as a last resort.  Where a child with a social worker is at risk of exclusion, their social worker should be informed and involved in relevant conversations.

Any disciplinary exclusion of a pupil, even for short periods of time, must be consistent with the relevant legislation. Ofsted will continue to consider exclusions, including the rates, patterns and reasons for exclusion and to look for any evidence of off-rolling.  Off-rolling is never acceptable.  Ofsted is clear that pressuring a parent to remove their child from the school (including to home educate their child) is a form of off-rolling.  Elective home education should always be a positive choice taken by parents without pressure from their school.


Healthy child programme 0 to 19: health visitor and school nurse commissioning


The guidance has been republished to reflect new evidence and guidance to support local authorities commissioning ‘public health services for children and young people’ and in particular delivering the healthy child programme 0 to 5 and 5 to 19.

It focuses on the contribution of health visiting and school nursing services leading and co-ordinating the delivery of public health for children aged 0 to 19.

The healthy child programme aims to bring together health, education and other main partners to deliver an effective programme for prevention and support.

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