COVID-19: Schools update - 8 January

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schools update

dan barton

Dear all,

As the week ends I just wish to thank you all once more for all your hard work this week.

We will revert to the planned weekly comms day of Thursday once the current situation has settled a bit more.

I hope you all enjoy a restful weekend.


Dan Barton
Assistant Director - Education and Skills

Early Years position

Earlier this week the government produced their guidance for schools and Early Years settings. In the guidance it was made clear that all early years setting should open as usual to all of their children.

Clearly this may present some difficulties for some Early Years settings, for different reasons. For maintained nurseries and maintained nursery classes in primary schools, you have been directed to close other than to vulnerable children and children of critical workers. This conflict was clarified by the DfE in recent guidance, stating that all early years settings should stay open.

Whilst I do not wish to directly contradict the government guidance, I would seek to reassure you all by providing some qualification and further detail to support the implementation of that guidance.

Firstly, from the public health perspective, both our Director of Public Health, Colin Cox, and senior managers from within the health sector have been very clear, that our primary strategic focus at the moment is the preservation of life. This means that measures taken to restrict movement, contact and community transmission are a priority.

Secondly, in terms of the decisions you make about the extent to which you can open, these decisions must necessarily be driven by your school or setting’s capacity, as defined by your health and safety risk assessment. This is turn is impacted on by staffing availability.

In the event that your setting is not able to open to all of your children due to staffing or health and safety concerns, please use the following prioritisation hierarchy to guide you in your decision-making.

  1. Please prioritise vulnerable learners.
  2. Within this cohort, please start with children open to social care, and then children with an EHCP.
  3. Second, please look at children of critical workers.
  4. Within this very wide cohort, please start with children of colleagues working on the NHS front line, in care homes, or in the field of domiciliary care.
  5. If you still have capacity, please look at the wider extent of the critical workers next.

At all times, Head Teachers and centre managers will know families and their circumstances very well, and you should use your discretion in making decisions based on the above hierarchy, and the needs of your families.

Positive Covid-19 cases in your setting? Please continue to let CCC Public Health team know

If any staff or pupils attending your setting test positive for Covid-19, please continue to call details through to the Cumbria County Council Call Centre. The Public Health team then know which settings may require support.

Also, if you identify any positive cases via rapid testing, please can you also make sure that you call the details through to the call centre (and specify the positive test is via rapid testing).

The Call Centre number is 0800 783 1968.

For those of you that were involved in the CCC rapid testing pilot, there is no need to call through cases, as details will be passed to Public Health via the project team at the Council.

Any public health queries in relation to positive cases or rapid testing, please email

Increasing data allowances on mobile devices to support disadvantaged children

Schools and families can request free mobile data increases for students without broadband and/or who can't afford extra data for their device during lockdown.

Three, Smarty, Virgin Mobile, EE, Tesco Mobile, O2 and Sky Mobile are all taking part in the scheme.

Please click here for more information.

Access to online learning through games consoles

If schools are speaking to families whose children are struggling to access online learning because they don't have a device at home, a quick fix is available to those with PlayStation or Xbox game consoles.

All recent PlayStations and Xbox games consoles have just about everything required to act like a computer: an internet connection, ports for connecting keyboards and mice, and even web browsers.

Please share this with families as appropriate.

Full instructions can be found on the TES website here

SCG request

For information, the following request has gone from me to the membership of the Cumbria LRF Strategic Co-ordination Group:

Further to my item at SCG earlier this week, I’d be grateful if this message in its entirety could be shared with the whole of SCG. To be accompanied with a request to cascade through organisations so that critical worker employers in the biggest organisations understand what the pressures are, why we’ve taken this approach, and how to request a school place when there is no other option.

We discussed the challenges posed by guidance which suggests that all critical workers can access a school place when our message, for robust public health reasons, is to stay at home and minimise transmission. Clearly, the preferred situation is that schools open to as few pupils as possible whilst still enabling the NHS and care sector, along with other critical public services, to function. There is no hierarchy within the government guidance, so we have had to settle on a pragmatic best attempt.

We’ve put comms out to Head Teachers asking them to prioritise the attendance of vulnerable children, and then to look at what capacity that can safely offer to children of critical workers. Within this, we’ve stipulated that employees who are on the frontline of the NHS effort, in care homes or in domiciliary care to be prioritised first. Clearly, more children than this can and should be offered places, but to ensure that the focus is on the right people first, we’ve given this steer.

Where employees cannot access a school place and where requests are being turned down, it may still be possible for us to broker a place in conversation with the Head Teacher. The process for doing this is as follows:

  1. Employee engages in direct conversation with Head Teacher to try to secure a place.
  2. If not possible at this time, a conversation with the employee’s line manager to take place to explore all other options.
  3. Assuming that a request for a school place is the only possible solution, employees should submit a request to the following e-mail address, copying in their line manager, and stipulating:
    1. Name
    2. Name of child
    3. Name of school
    4. Employer and nature of employment
    5. Which days in the week on which the school place is requested.
  4. The County Council team will then engage directly in conversation with the Head Teacher to ask about brokering a place.

We recognise that this is a very difficult and pressured time, but we have to be very careful about how we manage demand for school places at this time. An unintended consequence of applying the guidance in full could be dangerously high occupancy rates in schools, at a time when we are actively and rightly advocating the ‘stay at home’ message.

Clearly we will review this position on an ongoing basis, but I must be clear that I can give no guarantees about schools’ capacity to take additional pupils, given the strictures created by health and safety risk assessments, and the public health imperative.