COVID-19: Schools update - 7 January

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schools update

dan barton

Dear all,

As always I wish to start by thanking you all for all your hard work and dedication to delivering schooling for all children across Cumbria this week. 

In order to be able to support schools and colleges fully we need to check your capacity to meet this need and we urge you to continue to complete the DfE daily return form (when the new version becomes available) to keep us informed of any issues with resource and staffing as they arise. 

We know that despite very high Covid-19 rates in Carlisle, Eden and increases in the west of the county and Barrow, some schools are experiencing occupancy of up to 70 per cent. We must remind ourselves why we wrote to the government recently and schools must use their own discretion when it comes to providing school places for children of critical workers. We make our position on this clear in today's communications, which also include a link to the updated list of critical workers which schools can refer to when parents request places.

We have also been working with PRUs and special schools this week in order to support them to open in the safest way possible. To assist all schools with this, we have also included an updated risk assessment in today's bulletin. 

In what has been an incredibly busy week for all of us, I want to thank you once more and finish by saying how much we appreciate all your hard work. 


Dan Barton
Assistant Director - Education and Skills

Provision for children of critical workers

There has been enormous demand for critical worker provision in some schools this week and this is becoming unworkable.

Parents whose work is critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and EU transition response include those who work in health and social care and in other key sectors outlined in the government guidance. Children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker can go to school or college if required.

However, given the challenges that some colleagues are facing in terms of staffing levels, our advice is that you define your absolute capacity, based on your updated risk assessment and appraisal of safe ratios, and offer places through our existing prioritisation hierarchy. Whilst this position doesn’t differ from the government guidance, it provides some qualification. When you have reached what you have assessed is your safe maximum limit of children in the setting, then you should pause further entrants until such point as places become available, or further staffing becomes available.

In Cumbria, we are asking Head Teachers to prioritise vulnerable children first, and within than cohort, those open to social care, followed by those with an EHCP. Beyond this, children of colleagues whose work is directly life saving or critical to health care (NHS frontline, care homes and domiciliary care). Whilst the term ‘critical workers’ encompasses a very wide range of people indeed, in the absence of a national prioritisation matrix, please use the above. There are some staff from care homes, and intensive care nurses who are currently not able to go to work owning to not being able to access a school place, so we need to stick to this hierarchy very closely. By exception, we’ll make contact with schools to try to broker places for these families.

I have raised this concerning issue at the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) Strategic Co-ordination Group (SCG) meeting today. All of the employers represented here (police, fire, NHS, County Council etc.) will be moving to a system whereby any further employees asking for places have their request triaged by a line manager, and should present a letter from their employer clarifying the necessity. 

Updated Covid-19 risk assessment for schools

We have reviewed and updated the Model COVID-19 risk assessment to reflect recent changes to the Government guidance regarding lockdown and Clinically Extremely Vulnerable Staff.

The updates have been shared with Trade Union colleagues and may be subject to further changes as Government guidelines change.

Lateral flow testing and waste management

The rapid testing programme for secondary schools and colleges continues for those on site. Primary staff will be included later in January and  we had an early meeting this week with Primary Headteachers and the Headteachers of schools involved with the the Lateral Flow Testing (LFT) pilot about how testing might look when schools re-open. We will keep you informed of plans as they develop.

We have attached the the non pilot Schools LFT Standard Operating Procedure that forms part of the DfE toolkit which includes detailed guidance on waste management in Section 13 (appendix B – Page 37). 

Further details specific to the waste management codes are also available on the Government site. 

If you have any additional questions or issues, please contact Department for Education Coronavirus helpline on 0800 046 8687 for assistance.

The direct details for the Speedy national contract is 01332850004 or

Finally, a polite reminder that the waste management collection and disposal arrangements implemented as part of the 16 pilot sites as part of the pilot managed service were funded as part of the pilot phase only, and have now ended.

All school settings are therefore advised to arrange waste management solutions as advised in the national SOP arrangements.

Should you require any further advice please contact Chloe Tringham on

Free school meals funding

The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, announced yesterday that extra funding will be provided to schools to provide food parcels or meals to children eligible for free school meals and that where food parcels or other local solutions are not possible the government will ensure a national voucher scheme is in place.

No detail has been published on either the additional funding or about a national voucher scheme but we will update colleagues as soon as it becomes available.

Access to laptops and IT for vulnerable children

The announcement  from Gavin Williamson yesterday also mentions additional devices for disadvantaged children which schools can apply for here.

We recognise that while the provision of a  laptop is not a solution to all educational disadvantage, it must be seen as a key tool in enabling our most vulnerable children to access the type of remote learning which most schools are setting. 

Guidance for maintained nurseries

The PM's announcement that nursery schools should remain open led to some confusion at the start of the week, where nursery provision is based within a  school. 

The position on maintained nurseries is that we would encourage them to open like other EY providers but this is at the discretion of the Headteacher. As a minimum, they should be open to vulnerable children and critical worker children in line with the rest of the school.