COVID-19: Schools update - 31 December

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schools update

dan barton

Dear all,

I hope that you have been able to find some time this holiday for some genuine down time. I know that you will all be digesting yesterday’s announcement and making plans for next week and beyond which take account of the changes. The Covid 19 Education Group, Chaired by Councillor Sanderson, met yesterday and agreed to send out the following briefing for colleagues in the hope that it will answer at least some of the questions you will have.

As ever, I must extend my thanks to all of you, your senior teams and wider staff bodies for all of the time and effort that you continue to put into planning as safe and secure a return to education as possible.


Dan Barton
Assistant Director - Education and Skills

Announcement from Gavin Williamson

In yesterday’s announcement, the Secretary of State said that the majority of primary schools in the country would be opening as planned from the 4th January. There are a few areas in which primary schools will be closed for face to face learning due to high levels of infection in the community, however, Cumbria is not on this list, which means that primary schools in the county should plan to open as per the normal start date. The secretary of state also made clear that plans for the mass roll-out of Lateral Flow Tests, as discussed prior to the Christmas break, would be continuing into primary schools later in January.

Outside of primary schools, all secondary schools and FE colleges should do the following:

Week commencing 4th January – online learning for all, apart from vulnerable and key worker children. Week to be spent preparing for testing. Some schools may be ready to begin testing with children returning home after their tests, regardless of the outcome.

Week commencing 11th January – as above, but exam years now return for face to face learning. Testing continues.

Week commencing 18th January – all pupils from all year groups return. Testing continues.

Lateral flow test update – pilot and non pilot

16 secondary schools are involved in the County Council led pilot for Lateral Flow Testing. This pilot will continue, although pupils will not return to face to face lessons following a negative test as previously planned. Instead, once tested, these pupils will follow the guidance mentioned above, to return to face to face learning from week commencing 18th January.

All remaining secondary settings (schools, AP and FE colleges) should receive their initial supply of test kits, guidance material and PPE from central government on the morning of 4th January with a follow up delivery Weds 6th January After these initial two deliveries schools will be advised to re-order additional devices and supporting equipment themselves.

The County Council has provided schools who requested it with an advance delivery of PPE to provide health and safety assurance in the event that the central PPE government supplies do not arrive with the LFT test kit packs.

Several colleagues have asked about liability in the event of tests being maladministered. Since the guidance has made clear that tests are either to be self-administered or administered by parents/carers, there are no issues in relation to liabilities which are relevant.

The County Council will continue to host regular MS TEAMS meetings to provide support to all schools in relation to ongoing testing regimes, with follow up 121s with colleagues where required.

To support with delivery of tests in a way which is compliant with GDPR, this Privacy Notice template should assist schools and should be added to your school’s website and a printed copy displayed in areas of the school where testing will take place.  

Link to previous HR advice re: CEV and absence management

A number of colleagues have expressed concern about managing possible staff absence at the start of term. To be clear, if schools cannot ensure safe ratios due to absence, then Head Teachers and governing bodies should take necessary steps to ensure that safe ratios are achievable. Initially this will mean attempting to source supply staff. However, after a critical point, which will be for individual school leaders to decide, it may be necessary to close, either partially or fully. In the event of partial or full closure, please consult with your link General Advisor from the Learning Improvement Service (LIS) for support, and update the County Council School Closures web page as appropriate.

For schools where staff are absent due to anxiety or other non-medical reason, please refer to the guidance sent out in September relating to absence management. A copy of this document can be found here. This guidance was developed with Trade Union and HR provider input.

The most recent guidance in relation to people who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) can be found here. This has also been co-produced with Trade Union colleagues.

Public Health FAQs

Colleagues have asked for assurances about the new strain of Covid 19, in particular. Colin Cox, our Director of Public Health (DPH) has stated that, whilst the new strain of the virus appears to be more quickly transmissible, there is no evidence that the disease produces worse or more dangerous effects. At the current time, based on the Cumbrian Education Outbreak Control Team’s (EOCT) findings, we will be advising schools where there is an identified outbreak to be vigilant to a number of other symptoms which, whilst not Covid 19 specific, can be useful in managing outbreaks. These symptoms are:

  • New continuous cough
  • Fever (high temperature of 37.8°C or above)
  • Loss of, or change to, sense of taste and smell
  • Upset stomach (loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea)
  • Fatigue (severe enough to stop you doing your normal activities and make you want to sleep more than usual)
  • Headache (more severe or lasting longer than normal)
  • Sore throat
  • Unusual skin rash

Where an outbreak has not been identified by the EOCT, Head Teachers should continue to use the symptoms on the Cumbrian flow diagram as previously circulated to identify possible cases.

Risk Assessment

Cumbria County Council are  continuing to work with Public Health England, Cumbria’s Director of Public Health, and the NHS to ensure schools continue to get the best advice regarding the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As the employer in Maintained schools, Cumbria County Council, in consultation with our Trade Union colleagues and internal partners, have developed model risk assessments and guidance to support schools to develop, tailor and consider key issues and recommended control measures to plan for settings and activities to operate safely, as far as is reasonably practicable, in line with current guidance. This template is reviewed and updated in line with changes to Government guidance.

All maintained schools (where the Local Authority are the employer) are required to complete the Council’s model risk assessment templates and follow any guidance issued. Support will be available to schools from across council teams and from public health experts to assist you to complete your assessments.

Our Health and Safety team will continue to review the Cumbria County Council Risk Assessment proforma, in the light of changing guidance or other information and we will share any changes with colleagues through this communication as and when necessary.


Colleagues requested that a letter to parents and carers be provided to explain some of the changes to the situation. This letter, from Colin Cox and Dan Barton, can be found here