Written: September 2020 

We wrote this article just before schools in England opened in September, 2020.  The article explores a range of issues that might still be helpful to your family as the pandemic develops.

With rules about coronavirus ongoingly changing as the pandemic develops, it can be hard to keep track of what is and is not allowed - which is totally normal given the vast amount of information there is out there for us all to digest.

It can be hard to keep track of what the changes will mean at your child’s school too. If you are unsure of what the rules are at your child’s school, then know that you can ask the school for help in understanding them. In this short article, we have set out what sorts of questions you can ask different members of staff in your child's school who are there to support you.

Schoolgirl sitting at her desk

What questions can I ask the school and who do I ask?

We know that sometimes it can feel overwhelming to cope with lots of information. This is especially the case when that information often changes. Some parents tell us that it feels scary or uncomfortable to contact their child’s school, especially if it might be for the first time. However, the school has a responsibility to make sure that families feel supported and understand information about coronavirus that they have. It is their job to communicate this information to you. Teachers and staff at your school will be in the best position to tell you about the changes that have happened at the school since opening. You should expect your child’s school to give you the information you need, especially as things change. There might also be information that you would like more help to understand, or information you feel you have not been given. In either case, ask your child’s teachers to explain this information to you.

Below are some examples of questions that you could ask your child’s school:

Regarding your child’s health:

My child has asthma. What steps are you taking to protect children with asthma from coronavirus while they are at school?
What happens if my child is taken ill at school?
What happens if someone gets coronavirus at the school? How will you inform us? What will we need to do?

Regarding your child’s school work:

What are the procedures with homework? Have these changed?
What can you tell us about exams in 2021? What support will you give to children worried about their exam prospects?

Regarding SEND needs:

My child has a SEND need. What are you doing to support them?
My child was assessed for SEND needs but this assessment process hasn’t finished. What can you do to ensure my child still receives support?
My child has an individual healthcare plan, can we review this as things change?

Note: You can also use this link for information about Education Healthcare Plans (EHC or EHCP) and SEND needs.

Regarding school policy:

What are you going to do to support children who are isolated from their friends by a system of bubbles?
How does the school intend to deal with bullying related to COVID-19?
How does the school intend to deal with race related issues?

What if I don’t want to send my child to school?

Some families have told us that they feel very worried about their child being in school due to the risk of catching coronavirus.

Young girl at school

This is a completely normal and understandable feeling. If you are feeling worried about your child being in school it can be helpful to speak with the school's teachers to share your concerns as they can help in ensuring you feel supported through the transition. The school will also be able to give you details of how they can help your child to feel more comfortable at school if this is something they worry about too. If the school is aware of your concerns then it is also more likely that any agreements over your child’s attendance can be made if they have to miss school for a particular reason. 

Each school will be different but this might include:

  • Support for your child from pastoral members of staff.
  • Agreeing specific strategies and techniques that your child can use to feel calm and safe (see our resource here for some examples).
  • Arranging for class work to be sent home for your child while they are absent either in the post or to be completed online.

What does the law say?

UK law requires children to be in formal education between the ages of 5 and 16. This is either at school or through elective home education. Elective home education means that you choose to educate your child at home. (For more information on home education see here)

If your child is registered with a school and does not attend then you will receive contact from either the school or an Education Welfare Officer from the local council. Their job is to work with families to make sure children feel happy, well and safe to go to school. Each council will have slightly different arrangements for school attendance. To find out more about the specific arrangements in your area, then visit this link.

If your child does not attend school because of concerns around coronavirus, it can help to make the school aware, so they are aware of your child’s feelings and can think about how best to support them in their attendance. Schools can give permission for children not to attend in agreed circumstances. Schools will always try to encourage children to attend, so whilst these agreements can happen, they are more likely to happen if there is regular contact with the school to share your concerns. See the government’s advice on this here.

If your child does not attend school and the school has not given permission for your child to be absent, it can lead to a fine. For more information on this, see the government guidelines here for an explanation. However, the school will be less likely to take any action if you speak with them about your concerns and come to an agreement about your child’s attendance like the one described above. 

Young boy standing and smiling

How can I contact school?

Contact information for the school will be found on the school’s website or on any letters that have been sent to you. You may also be able to email the school’s office email address and they can forward your questions to the right person on the school’s staff. This email address will be displayed on the website or on any letters you have been sent. 

Some useful staff to be in touch with are:

  • Your child’s classroom teacher who can answer any questions about the changes to the classroom.
  • The Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator or SENCO for questions about Special Educational Needs or additional support.
  • The Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) if you want to report information about difficult experiences your child may have had during lockdown.
  • Some schools have a pastoral manager or house manager. These are people you can ask about any concerns you have for your child’s emotions and feelings about school.
  • The Attendance Officer (if your child’s school has one) for questions about your child’s attendance or non-attendance at school. If your child’s school does not have an attendance officer then the school may work with an Education Welfare Officer from the local council.
  • The school’s Business Manager (if your child’s school has one) for questions about financial support for your child or free school meals. It may be that the school reception staff can also answer some of your questions about this or put you in touch with the right person in the school.

For any further support with anything discussed throughout this article call our See, Hear, Respond number on 0800 157 7015 where one of our project workers is waiting to take your call, or self-refer into the service here.