Can I refuse to send my children back to school?

Most pupils across England and Wales are back in school this week following Scotland’s lead of a few weeks ago.

3rd September 2020

For most children it will be their first time in nearly six months. However, many local surveys suggest a significant level of discomfort amongst parents about the risk and safety concerns of sending their children back to school.

If you are nervous about schools reopening, Simon Roberts, Senior Associate at DAS Law, explains what you need to know if you live in England, Scotland or Wales…

England

Is it compulsory to send our children to school when it re-opens? Will there be any fines or penalties for parents who refuse to send their children to school over safety concerns?

There is a strong expectation that children return to school in September with attendance being compulsory. The position in relation to fines remains somewhat vague. Whist fines have not been totally ruled out, it appears that this step would be used as a last resort.

As a parent, I am worried about exposing our children to the virus and potentially bringing the virus into our household – How can I be sure the school is adhering to safety measures?

Schools are responsible for your child’s safety while they’re at school and all schools should have adopted new measures to deal with Covid-19. If you have not been made aware of the safety measures put in place do get in touch with the school concerned. If there are serious concerns about the health and safety you can discuss the matter with the school, local council or report it to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

What if there are vulnerable people in our household, can I refuse to send my children back to school for that reason?

As of 1 August 2020 people in England are no longer advised to shield, due to reduced risk of coronavirus. There is no specific guidance dealing with the given scenario, however If there are concerns around sending children to school it is best to discuss these concerns with the school.

What kind of safety measures are schools expected to implement? Will my children have to social distance and wear a face mask?

School in England are required to take undertake risk assessment and take various preventive measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19:

  • Minimise contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who have coronavirus (Covid-19) symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend school;
  • Clean hands thoroughly more often than usual;
  • Ensure good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach;
  • Introduce enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, using standard products such as detergents and bleach;
  • Minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing wherever possible;
  • Where necessary, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Whist social distancing would generally be a requirement where possible, in relation to people in years 7 and above, schools and colleges will have the discretion to require face coverings in indoor communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed.

In these intervention areas (high risk areas), in education settings where Year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn by adults (staff and visitors) and pupils when moving around indoors, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

What should I do if my child is developing coronavirus symptoms after attending school?

Should your child develop symptoms you are advised to arrange a test and ensure self-isolation guidance is adhered to. If the test comes back positive, the contact tracing system will commence for that case.

Scotland

Is it compulsory to send our children to school when it re-opens?  Will there be any fines or penalties for parents who refuse to send their children to school over safety concerns?

Attendance in Scotland is compulsory and failure to attend may result in prosecution.

As a parent, I am worried about exposing our children to the virus and potentially bringing the virus into our household – How can I be sure the school is adhering to safety measures?

Schools are responsible for your child’s safety while they’re at school and all schools should have adopted new measure to deal with Covid-19. If you have not been made aware of the safety measures put in place do get in touch with the school concerned. If there are serious concerns about the health and safety you can discuss the matter with the school, local council or report it to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

What if there are vulnerable people in our household, can I refuse to send my children back to school for that reason?

As of August 2020 people in England and Scotland are no longer advised to shield, due to reduced risk of coronavirus. There is no specific guidance dealing with the given scenario, however If there are concerns around sending children to school it is best to discuss these concerns with the school.

What kind of safety measures are schools expected to implement? Will my children have to social distance and wear a face mask?

Schools in Scotland are required to take undertake risk assessment and take various preventive measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19:

  • Enhanced hygiene and environmental cleaning arrangements;
  • Minimising contact with others (groupings, maintaining distancing for young people in secondary schools and physical distancing for adults);
  • Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary;
  • A requirement that people who are ill stay at home; and
  • Active engagement with Test and Protect.

Whist physical distancing is not generally a requirement, where possible secondary schools should be taking practical, proportionate steps to encourage distancing between young people. Save for exceptional circumstances, face coverings should now be worn in secondary schools, by adults and all pupils moving around the school, such as in corridors and communal areas where physical distancing is difficult to maintain and on dedicated school transport by all children aged five and over.

What should I do if my child is developing coronavirus symptoms after attending school?

Should your child develop symptoms you are advised to arrange a test and ensure self-isolation guidance is adhered to. If the test comes back positive, the contact tracing system will commence for that case.

Wales

Is it compulsory to send our children to school when it re-opens? Will there be any fines or penalties for parents who refuse to send their children to school over safety concerns?

On the 9 July 2020 the Minister for Education confirmed that all pupils will be able to return to school in September. The general expectation is that all children will return to school. However, should the parent decide not to send the child to school due to safety concerns there would be no fine or commencement of proceedings due to non-attendance. The Welsh Government will monitor the situation over the first half term before reviewing its position.

As a parent, I am worried about exposing our children to the virus and potentially bringing the virus into our household – How can I be sure the school is adhering to safety measures?

Schools are responsible for your child’s safety while they’re at school and all schools should have adopted new measure to deal with Covid-19. If you have not been made aware of the safety measures put in place do get in touch with the school concerned. If there are serious concerns about the health and safety you can discuss the matter with the school, local council or report it to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

What if there are vulnerable people in our household, can I refuse to send my children back to school for that reason?

As of 16 August 2020 people in Wales are no longer advised to shield, due to reduced risk of coronavirus. There is no specific guidance dealing with the given scenario, however If there are concerns around sending children to school it is best to discuss these concerns with the school.

What kind of safety measures are schools expected to implement? Will my children have to social distance and wear a face mask?

In accordance with the Welsh Government’s Operational Guidance schools are required to thoroughly review their health and safety risk assessments in collaboration with the local authority and trade unions, and draw up plans that address the risks identified using the system of controls set out below. Essential measures include:

  • A requirement that people who are unwell with symptoms of COVID-19 stay at home;
  • Robust hand and respiratory hygiene including ventilation;
  • Continue increased cleaning arrangements;
  • Active engagement with Test, Trace, Protect strategy;
  • Formal consideration of how to reduce contacts and maximise social and physical distancing between those in school wherever possible and minimise potential for contamination so far as is reasonably practicable.

Whilst social distancing may be likely to be implemented across all setting there is no absolute requirement for face covering to be warn. However, the guidance requires that school undertake risks assessments to determine if face coverings should be used in areas outside the classroom, in communal areas such as corridors within the school estate.

What should I do if my child is developing coronavirus symptoms after attending school?

Should your child develop symptoms you are advised to arrange a test and ensure self-isolation guidance is adhered to. If the test comes back positive, the contact tracing system will commence for that case.

The latest Government guidance for reopening of schools in England, Wales and Scotland can be found at the links below

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Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

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