Coronavirus: children returning to school

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, has published a new briefing setting out the key actions needed to ensure children are at the heart of planning for any future coronavirus lockdowns, including making sure all children are back in school in September. The Children’s Commissioner argues that if any local or national lockdown takes place, schools should be the last places to be locked down, after pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops.

Given what we know about how Covid-19 affects children, and how much children travel outside the home, the Children’s Commissioner says the scientific argument for keeping educational settings open is strongest for nurseries, followed by primary schools, followed by secondary schools. But once the wider social costs of school closures are factored in, it is clear that all schools should be kept open as far as possible, and only closed as a last resort once other options have been exhausted.

Click on the image  above to download a pdf copy of the guidance document


It argues that the results of testing on teachers and students should be pooled with attendance data to model risks of transmission and test effective strategies for minimising risk. Any outbreak in a school should be thoroughly investigated so that potential links in the chain of transmission can be pre-emptively broken in future.


The Children’s Commissioner says that if schools do have to close they must remain open for children of keyworkers and vulnerable children as before the summer holidays. This latter group of children should be renamed ‘priority children’ and a concerted effort must be made to work with these families to increase their child’s attendance. The Government should consult on the type of children covered by the priority list and allow more flexibility for teachers to identify children as a priority where they have specific concerns.


The briefing argues that where other children need to work online, the Department for Education must expand its laptop programme so that children in all year groups who need them can receive devices and 4G Wi-Fi routers quickly, in order for them to undertake home working. Work should be undertaken now to assess the real level of need and ensure more flexibility for headteachers to get laptops to the children who need them.


Consideration should also be given to the impact on those children expected to take exams next summer so that these children are not disadvantaged, especially in the case of extended local lockdowns.


The briefing warns there is risk that some children will struggle to transition back to school after a period away and that this could manifest in a number of ways, including failing to attend (or low attendance) and challenging behaviour. The Children’s Commissioner argues schools should make pastoral care a clear priority and identify reasons for non-attendance or challenging behaviour and what support children need. The Department for Education should closely monitor attendance and exclusion figures within areas which have experienced a local lockdown or increasing cases of Covid-19, in order to identify where further help is needed.


With evidence of a rise in mental health issues among certain children because of the lockdown, the Children’s Commissioner calls for local NHS mental health teams to work with schools to provide advice and support to prevent problems.



The Children’s Commissioner for England is Anne Longfield OBE.


She speaks up for children and young people so that policymakers and the people who have an impact on their lives take their views and interests into account when making decisions about them.


Independent of Government and Parliament, the Children’s Commissioner has unique powers to help bring about long-term change and improvements for all children, particularly the most vulnerable.

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