Covid-19 update for schools: January 2021

Staffing – Clinically Extremely Vulnerable staff should now be shielding, working remotely where possible and receiving a letter confirming their shielding status soon.  Pregnant staff in their third trimester should also be working remotely and it is recommended that similar arrangements are put in place for all pregnant employees given the current extent of the virus in NE London.  For staff that are Clinically Vulnerable, individual risk assessments should be undertaken.  Where it is necessary for such staff to be in school appropriate controls should be in place including effective social distancing based on 2m as opposed to 1m plus. 

Risk Assessments – Given the most recent strain of the Covid-19 virus and its increased rates of transmission we are recommending that your risk assessment is reviewed and updated.  The communication guidance is a prompt with regards to the area of your risk assessment that you should review.  In particular, you will note;

  • Controls are largely consistent with those recommended previously.  Social distancing, effective maintenance of bubbles etc continue to be the best way of containing the virus, the new strain is a reminder to us all of the processes we should have in place
  • The use of face coverings is now recommended to be used more widely i.e. at all times for staff and students in Secondary Schools and at all times for staff in Primary Schools.  Special Schools and Alternative Provision should consider what arrangements work best for their wider school community
  • Schools should remember wearing a face covering is in addition to the controls already in place.  Face coverings are generally one use only, so when you take a face covering off it should be placed directly into a plastic bag to keep separate from clean face coverings.  It is very likely wearers will need to have at least two face coverings to use each day and possibly more. There are several exemptions to wearing face coverings, so not all staff and secondary school pupils maybe wearing them. There is a downloadable exemption card that anyone exempt can use, some may wear badges or lanyards to indicate exemption.  The BBC has a good video for how to wear a face covering.
  • Secondary schools setting up rapid testing using the Lateral Flow devices will need to have a separate risk assessment to demonstrate how the process will be carried out safely, a template is attached to this email so that those involved in the testing are able to have read and understood the Safe Operating Procedures provided by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

We would ask that when schools have reviewed and updated their Risk Assessments, they submit these to the Council for review.  For schools where the Council is the employer this is for sign off.  For other schools it is an offer of support and provision of guidance and these schools should ensure formal sign off by their competent adviser.  Risk assessments should be emailed to Health and Safety.

Supply cover – Schools are advised to consider carefully how they use supply cover.  We think schools should use this sparingly at this stage in the pandemic and where supply teachers are used, they should be known to the school.  It would be prudent for schools to reassure themselves that supply teachers have not been in a multitude of schools in a short period of time.

Free School Meals (FSM) -  We await details from the Department for Education (DfE) regarding the provision of FSM for the period between now and half-term.  You will be aware that the Prime Minister referenced further guidance in his speech from Downing Street on 4 January.  In the meantime, we have proposed interim voucher arrangements via Eden Red for the first week of term (this week).  Details of this proposed arrangement have been separately sent to schools and you should note that whilst schools are expected to meet £10/pupil costs of vouchers for this week the Council, through the Covid Winter Support Grant is meeting the further £5/pupil costs. 

Critical Workers and vulnerable children – We absolutely expect all our schools to ensure that they remain open to children of critical workers and vulnerable children.  You have done this throughout the pandemic and this is your key contribution at this critical time. The most recent guidance from the Government regarding children of critical workers and vulnerable children who can access schools is available here.

We are considering the challenge the most recent changes may represent and in particular the inclusion of “those who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home (for example due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study)” in the categorisation of vulnerable children.   We are considering what actions we can recommend that schools consider to ensure they fulfil their obligations whilst continuing to be Covid safe settings.  Further guidance will follow.

Devices for schools – A further Government announcement is awaited on the additional devices being allocated in spring 2021, we remain assured that our schools will continue to receive support as a priority. For maintained schools we can confirm that all Autumn 2020 devices have been ordered and that your local authority point of contact is Donna Miller.    Donna can also be contacted by MAT’s and stand alone academies to act as a critical friend with queries and appeals as necessary.  Headteachers should be aware that we will be surveying them imminently to better understand the gap in device availability for our children and young people.  We would urge you to ensure this short questionnaire is returned quickly so that we can establish our Waltham Forest response to this challenge.

Lateral Flow Testing – Secondary, Special and Alternative Provision Heads have been separately contacted regarding this DfE challenge and local support offered. You will already have access to the DfE’s schools and colleges document sharing platform to support your roll out of rapid testing.

Following the Prime Ministers announcement on Monday the focus for our proposed rollout of Lateral Flow Testing is staff and pupils in Secondary and Special Schools and AP through the remainder of this week and next.  We would encourage all schools with Secondary age pupils to be engaging with this rollout whilst Council resources are available to help to establish the routine of testing staff and pupils on site weekly.  If you have not yet responded to confirm the date allocated to you for onsite support to begin testing, please can you do so as a matter of urgency.

Schools are recommended to focus their efforts on establishing weekly testing for all staff who are on site, and at least, a one-off test for all vulnerable and critical worker children who are on site.   

The first point of contact for the Council’s offer of support and further questions is Natalie Kruger. Primary school colleagues should await with interest further Departmental pronouncements and an invitation to come forward as early adopters of weekly Lateral Flow Testing for your staff.

Reporting of confirmed Covid cases - Schools do not need to report to public.health@walthamforest.gov.uk any cases of confirmed COVID in children that have NOT yet returned to school following the Christmas holidays. More information on reporting of confirmed cases can be found here. 

We kindly ask that schools / colleges continue to report:

a) Any cases in children that have returned to school ie. critical worker and vulnerable children on site (even if they hadn't actually attended school in the infectious period)

b) Any cases in staff members regardless of whether the staff member has returned to school

We would still expect parents to be informing you of confirmed cases of COVID among children not in school, so that you can ensure that this is recorded appropriately in your absence records, that isolation periods are adhered to and any household members i.e. siblings, also self-isolate, but you do not need to inform Waltham Forest Public Health team.

Updated guidance on management of suspected and confirmed cases - The flowchart for schools and colleges has now been updated and can be found here.

As ever, please continue to contact public.health@walthamforest.gov.uk if you have any questions regarding management of COVID19 cases and the DfE coronavirus helpline remains available.