Education Planning Group: Update... 11 September

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In today's update:


dan barton

Dear Colleagues,

A brief few words from me as there is a lot of important information in this week's update. 

This week has felt a little different as the realities of the new COVID-safe arrangements sink in. I've visited schools across the county and it's been really impressive to see how they are dealing with the situation.

Inevitably there are teething problems and questions being raised. I hope the information in today's update addresses these.

As ever, I offer you my sincere thanks for the work that you and your teams are doing to keep schools open, and children learning, in Cumbria.

Best wishes.

Dan Barton

Assistant Director - Education and Skills


Public Health advice - Frequently Asked Questions

This week the Public Health team has been contacted by schools for advice and guidance.Below are answers to some of the most common questions asked. 

Parents and carers are not clear about the rules and this is causing problems.

Public Health colleagues have produced a simple quick guide for parents and carers on what do to in different circumstances related to COVID-19. 

Schools may wish to distribute this guide to parents and carers.

+ DOWNLOAD QUICK GUIDE

Why no fast track for staff testing?

At the start of term there was sufficient testing capacity and tests were being processed quickly. As such there was no need for a fast track system. Now demand has increased significantly and it is taking longer to get a test and for results to be processed.

Arrangements have been put in place to allow schools to refer pupils for testing via local NHS test sites if testing is not available via the national system.

We are now working with the local NHS to see if it is possible to extend that availability to teachers. We hope to be able to provide and update soon.

How to handle coughs, colds and sneezes?

As is normal, with schools returning we have seen a surge in the prevalence of common colds. 

For clarity, the current guidance is, irrespective of whether it is preceded by common cold symptoms, if a child develops a high temperature or a cough it must be treated as a possible COVID-19 symptom, the child must isolate and get tested.

We recognise this places a burden on schools and guidance may change in future, but as it stands this is the official position.

The NHS provides a more detailed definition for each of the three COVID-19 symptoms, which may be helpful:

  • a high temperature – measured as 37.8°C or above. If you don’t have a thermometer, feeling hot to the touch on your chest or back is a good indicator of a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you've noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

Most people with coronavirus have at least 1 of these symptoms.

What about children who may cough because they have asthma?

Any cough different/worse to what is recognised as ‘expected’ or ‘normal’ in a child’s asthma treatment plan (or based on the family’s knowledge of their condition if there is not a treatment plan) fitting the COVID-19 cough definition (a new, continuous cough, coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours) should be treated as suspected COVID-19, especially if accompanied by a high temperature.

So for asthmatic children:

  • Child develops cough as expected following exposure to triggers (such as damp weather) as detailed in their asthma treatment plan (or based on family’s experience of the condition in their child) and NO other COVID-19 symptoms (such as a temperature) are being experienced: Parents and schools should discuss and agree continued attendance at school
  • Child develops a continuous cough without known trigger, or cough is accompanied by other symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, or cough/symptoms are ‘different/worse to what is expected’: suspect COVID-19 and ask the child to isolate and get tested.

Must all parents be informed if a child is sent home with symptoms, but has not yet tested positive?

This is the school's decision, but our strong advice is that parents should be informed.

Informing parents promptly helps prevent rumours circulating and tensions being created in the school community.

There are examples where the advice from PHE conflicts with the advice from the Local Authority, who is correct?

Where there is a conflict between PHE guidance and Local Authority guidance, follow the Local Authority guidance.

Local arrangements have been put in place which go further than the standard national approach being taken by PHE. These local arrangements are intended to provide an additional layer of safety and minimise the risk of outbreaks. 

Some staff with children self-isolating at home have not been able to get tests

Only people with symptoms should get tested. If the child is symptomatic and the parents are not, only the child should be tested.

If the child tests negative then self-isolation can end. If the child tests positive then self-isolation continues for the child and their household. Members of the household should still only get tested if they develop symptoms.

When calling to arrange local testing, why does the call centre advise to try booking via the national website multiple times first?

Testing slots at drive-through and walk-up mobile testing sites, as well as home testing kits, are made available on the national website in batches (normally twice a day). Not all the availability is accessible at any one time. This helps to discourage non-essential testing from taking place.

Therefore, the call centre staff will be very clear that booking testing should be tried a number of times using the national testing website before taking a referral for local testing (which is very limited). We appreciate this can be frustrating. Work is taking place nationally to try and increase the amount of testing available.


Securing good attendance at school

Schools are reporting concerns about how to ensure good attendance. So far attendance has been good, but we expect there will be ups and downs as a result of the COVID-19 requirements on schools and parental attitudes to changing local circumstances.

In particular, in circumstances where children or bubbles need to self- isolate that will inevitably have an impact on attendance and we are seeking guidance from the DfE as to how absence of this type should be coded.

We are asking all schools to share any tips and suggestions for how to secure good attendance at this time. These will be shared back with everyone through this newsletter.

Please send your tips and suggestions to:

As the LA has removed the requirement to carry pupil-level vulnerable children attendance return we are keen to get a complete a a complete attendance return on the DfE attendance survey.

We are asking schools to  prioritise the completion of this return daily.


Attendance at EHCP reviews

School leaders have raised concerns that for EHCP reviews, where ever possible, in-situ observation or in-person attendance at review meetings is necessary for best practice to be followed.

Where visits to schools are necessary, all county council and other partner agencies have been provided with a risk assessment pro forma for use by officers and they should be using these to determine any additional measures required on an individual basis, but attendance at school is expected when this will best meet the needs of the child.

Clearly officers would never attend every single EHCP review meeting, for need and capacity reasons, so SENCOs should prioritise those reviews requiring most significant input

Where you struggle to set up a meeting please contact your LA Area Service Manager for Inclusion (below) or Senior Manager Mary Mulligan directly.

Area Managers for Inclusion:


Quality Assurance of Risk Assessments

A question was raised in relation to QA of COVID-19 risk assessments. Best practice is wherever possible is to maintain an open door policy regarding consultation and engagement with staff members about risk assessments.

A feature of our collective high quality response to COVID-19 has been the transparency and sensitivity shown by head teachers and we would hope this approach would continue.


COVID-19 school expenditure update

Despite considerable expenditure by schools to make settings safe and secure for both staff and pupils, there have been no further funding announcements other than those highlighted below. 

Schools should therefore continue to record all additional expenditure related to making schools COVID secure, keeping copies of invoices to support any potential future claims.

We would like to reassure colleagues that, whilst the financial pressure is a very clear worry for everyone, it is clearly, at least for the moment, to the worry about Covid 19. Our strong advice, therefore, is to follow the guidance as outlined below, keeping scrupulous records, and being sure not to avoid expense which is necessary from a Health and Safety point of view.

Exceptional costs related to COVID

Govt has announced that a second window for claiming exceptional costs related to COVID will open again in the autumn term (dates yet to be published) for costs relating to the summer holidays.  This funding is available to cover the following specific items:

  • Increased premises related costs (including utilities and resources needed to keep the school open, such as hygiene services);
  • Additional cleaning required due to confirmed or suspected COVID19 cases over and above the cost of existing cleaning arrangements.

For costs relating to the summer holidays that are not covered by the COVID Summer Food Fund, schools will be able to claim for this in the autumn.

Schools are NOT eligible to make claims for additional costs associated with more pupils returning to school that are not covered by the categories above.  Govt expects that schools will be able to implement measures (including increases to routine cleaning) included in published guidance on the actions schools can take to open for more pupils within their existing resources.

Exam fees

DfE has published updated guidance in respect of exam fees for autumn exams summarised below (School and college responsibility for autumn exams - GOV.UK)

It is anticipated that awarding organisations will charge fees for autumn exams in the usual way.  However, the government is clear that students and their families should not have to meet the cost of fees if they want to enter.

Schools and colleges should pay fees for students entering autumn exams.  However, schools and colleges should not face additional costs, over and above what they would have paid had summer exams gone ahead, so the DfE exam support service will provide funding to ensure schools and colleges do not incur a net loss, taking autumn fees and any rebates/credits in respect of summer exams together.

Awarding organisations are providing information to schools and colleges on any rebates in relation to summer 2020 exams.

DfE will not provide funding in relation to any administrative fees charged by schools and colleges, over and above the fees charged by the awarding organisations.

How to claim 

Keep evidence of autumn fees and summer fee rebates or credit notes for at least one year.  DfE will review claims and may refuse payment or require repayment of claims that do not meet the funding criteria.

We recognise the additional pressure on school budgets due to increased expenditure related to COVID19 and as well as monitoring the impact will be working with Members, Schools Forum and other local authorities to highlight the issue.


HSE COVID-19 Compliance Checks in Schools

The Health and Safety Executive have announced that they will carry out spot-checks in schools across the UK during the Autumn term.  They have advised that these will take the form of an initial phone call to review the measures taken for reopening and to minimise spread of the virus causing COVID-19.

If you receive a call you will be asked about your school’s COVID-19 risk assessments and you should ensure that you are able to refer to these.   The most recent LA COVID-19 risk assessment templates already shared with Schools are based on government guidance -  DfE Guidance for full opening - School (England)  You should ensure that you are also keeping abreast updates and are aware of the control measures you have in place as required under this guidance and relvant health and safety legislation.  Please note that additional sources of  COVID-19 guidance for schools are provided in relation to specific areas e.g. science and technology activities by CLEAPSS www.cleapss.org.uk and in respect of Educational visits the LA EVOLVE site www.cumbriaccvisits.org.uk and the Outdoor Education Advisers Panel Guidance www.oeapng.info

Duty holders at all schools must liaise fully with HSE inspectors regarding the spot checks to ensure they are COVID-secure.  Should you have any queries or require support please contact the LA Health and Safety Team for advice and guidance. You must keep your risk assessments under regular review and address any concerns as these are raised to ensure your control measures remain as effective as possible.

The HSE have stated that they appreciate that guidance is being updated regularly, and recognise schools are working hard to respond to the changes. HSE inspectors are experienced at applying professional judgement and discretion and will seek to take a proportionate approach, focussing on what is reasonable and achievable in an evolving situation.  The HSE have stated that where an initial call raises concerns about a school’s approach, it can be referred for a further intervention which could include a visit to the school.  If this is the case Local Authority maintained schools/ settings must inform the health and safety team by the quickest possible means to enable us to provide you with support.  You can contact the team by email on healthandsafety@cumbria.gov.uk

The Local Authority and HSE understand that schools are working extremely hard to put in place safety measures. The HSE anticipate advice from their inspectors will be enough to resolve most issues found, but if they encounter serious risks, they are able to take enforcement action to ensure people’s health and safety is protected.


Harmful online content - advice to schools from Samaritans

We are aware that over recent weeks harmful content relating to suicide has been circulated online.

Samaritans, along with internet safety groups and social media platforms, are aware of this issue and are working to reduce the accessibility of this content and the risks posed to vulnerable users, especially young people.

Whilst it is worrying that this content is being shared online, any information provided for students, parents and carers should avoid mentioning the content directly as this may draw further attention to it, inadvertently advertising it to young people.

Instead, it is safer to approach this with general messaging about online safety, without naming specific pieces of content. General messaging could include:

  • Encouraging parents and carers to talk to their child about their online activity– such as what they like looking at rather than asking direct questions about whether they have seen a particular piece of content.
  • Encourage young people to stay safe online and report anything they see online that they find worrying. Further advice 
  • Encourage young people to post about suicide in a safe way. Guidance and tips
  • Provide young people with information and signposting to sources of support, both for themselves and information on how they can support their friends.

For general advice on online safety, ChildNet have advise aimed at young people, parents and schools

If you have any concerns or questions about harmful content online relating to suicide and self-harm, please contact the Online Harms Advisory Service at Samaritans: onlineharms@samaritans.org


Supporting mathematics teaching

The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) has produced a selection of materials to support both primary and secondary schools meet the challenges presented by Covid; in particular, the range of experiences that pupils are bringing with them following their time away from the classroom.

NCTEM is free to join, and provides a vast range of support for teachers, departments, and those leading professional development in maths.

Follow the links here: