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Schools and families

Last Updated 11:14am, 21 September 2020


Information about coronavirus is available in different formats and languages, including easy read, BSL and for people who are not online.

Return to school in September

The government plan is that all children and young people, in all year groups, will return to school and college full time from the beginning of the autumn term. This is because the prevalence of coronavirus (COVID-19) has decreased since schools and colleges restricted their opening in March, the NHS test and trace service is up and running and more is understood about the measures that need to be in place to create safer environments in schools.

It’s really important for children and young people that they return to school and college, for their educational progress, wellbeing, and wider development.

So, school and college attendance will again be mandatory from the beginning of the new academic year. That means there’s a legal duty for parents and carers of compulsory school-age to send their child to school regularly.

Where children are not able to attend school because parents are following medical and/or public health advice, the absence will not be penalised.

What to expect

Teachers and staff have been working hard to implement the necessary steps so they can welcome all pupils back in the autumn term. However, it’s important to note that this year all pupils may not be asked to return on the first day of term. Some schools may ask pupils to return one year group or class at a time so that they can get used to any new arrangements.

All children should have been given a return date within the first two weeks of term, though there may be a few exceptional cases.

Your school will have told you about the plans they have made for pupils to return, and you might have received this information directly from the school, or it will be published on their website.

Safety measures

Each school will have its own arrangements and will let you know about the measures they have put in place to help keep everyone safe. This could include:

  • introducing a one-way system
  • marking the floor to support social distancing
  • putting up signs to remind everyone to wash their hands and cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing
  • creating ‘bubbles’ or groups of children and teachers by class, or year group
  • having different start and finish times, break times and mealtimes throughout the day to manage the flow of children through the school

Parents can find out more information about how schools are making their preparations online. There is also guidance for parents which sets out some of the changes and protective measures the government is asking schools and colleges to put in place, and about what parents, carers, children and young people will need to do to help ensure schools and colleges are as safe as possible for everyone.

The government has also produced the following information leaflets:

Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) should also refer to the separate guidance for full opening of special schools and other specialist settings.

If in September you have concerns about your child returning to school or college, because you consider they may have other risk factors, please do not hesitate to discuss with your school or college.

Tips to help your child prepare for school

Children will have had very different experiences while at home, in terms of learning and personal experience, than the ones they would have had in school.

As we approach their return to school, it’s a good idea to try to create a supportive environment, with structure, routine, and familiarity in the lead up to September.

Here are a few things you can do to make their return to school as comfortable and as safe as possible.

Talking about the things your child is looking forward to is another way of exploring any worries they may have. The Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Time for Us’ pack to help manage those worries.

e-Bug is a free educational resource for classroom and home use and makes learning about micro-organisms, the spread, prevention and treatment of infection fun and accessible for all teachers and students.

Emotional support

Parents may be feeling a mixture of emotions about their child’s return to school, and that is understandable. If you would like help or support, please contact your school first and they will put you in touch with services who can help.

Additionally, the Devon Children and Families Partnership website has a list of services that can offer mental health support to you and your children.

New advice on face coverings in education

The Government has announced new advice regarding the use of face coverings in education.

It isn’t being recommended that face coverings are necessary in education settings generally, because of the systems and controls that schools have in place to mitigate risk.  However schools and colleges in areas where the transmission of the virus is high, additional precautionary measures are recommended, including the wearing of face coverings by adults and pupils.

In areas where there is local intervention (ie in local lockdown), pupils aged 12 and above and school staff should wear face coverings when moving around, such as in corridors or communal areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain. It will be up to the schools and colleges in those areas of local restrictions to inform staff, pupils and parents of the requirement to use face coverings in those circumstances.

The government don’t think it will usually be necessary to wear face coverings in the classroom, because of the protective measures in place in the classroom and because wearing them could inhibit teaching and learning.

Some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings, and those exemptions will apply in education settings.

Travelling to school and college

When planning how your child(ren) will get to and from school, the Department for Education (DfE) has issued some guidance.

School transport

For any children entitled to transport assistance from the Local Authority, our Transport Coordination Service is working with transport providers and your school. Read the latest information about travelling on dedicated home to school transport from September.

Many young people travel to and from school or college by public transport. With social distancing measures remaining in place on these public services, we have identified areas where additional capacity is required and will be providing around 70 extra buses across the county at peak times dedicated to school and college students.

Full details of these additional services can be found on our Travel Devon website.

Walking and cycling

Walking or cycling has always been a great way to get to school and now with social distancing measures reducing the capacity of public transport, the government is encouraging parents and children and young people to walk or cycle wherever possible.

Travel Devon has some top tips for cycling to school on their website where you can also find maps of local cycling routes.

Bikeability has some really useful information including tips for cycling safely during the coronavirus pandemic and cycling skills for families.

National charity ‘Cycling UK’ has advice on starting cycling, and their website is packed with tips and videos for beginners and more experienced cyclists on riding in traffic, family cycling, fixing bikes and much more.

Support for parents of children with special educational needs and disability

Please read our advice for parents about SEND and EHC plans. Guidance is also available from the Devon Information and Advice Service.

Please note that although some children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) have a social worker, the government guidance is clear that many of them can remain safely at home. Please speak to your social worker if you are concerned.

Free school meals

If your salary is reduced as a result of these changes, you may be eligible for support through the welfare system, including Universal Credit.

Whether you are currently in or out of work, if you are on a low income and affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19, you will be able to access the full range of the welfare system, including Universal Credit.

From 6 April the government are increasing the standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit for 1 year. Both will increase by £20 per week on top of planned annual uprating.

This will apply to all new and existing Universal Credit claimants and to existing Working Tax Credit claimants. More information on applying for Universal Tax Credit.

If you are on low income, you or your family may also be entitled to claim for free school meals. View the criteria for free school meals here.

The Free School Meal Team have a platform that enables you to make a quick application online where your eligibility can be assessed and an outcome can be given instantaneously. To apply for free school meals please visit the Free School Meal Portal.

If you have any other queries relating to free school meal entitlement you can email the team at

National voucher scheme

If you are in receipt of free school meals you will be eligible for a weekly monetary voucher. The vouchers will be issued by your child’s school.

Please note this does not include children who are registered as receiving elective home education and children who are universally entitled to a free school meal because they are in key stage 1. Children in key stage 1 (reception and years 1 and 2) will only be eligible for the vouchers if the household qualifies for free school meals on low-income grounds.

You will be able to access the voucher scheme using the Edenred portal. Read the help and information from Edenred.

Edenred has also published a user guide for school administrators.

McColl’s has joined the list of supermarkets that will redeem vouchers secured through the free school meals national voucher scheme. Supermarkets available also include Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, M&S, Asda and Morrisons.

The expectation is that all children will be returning to school in September for the Autumn Term. Currently there are no plans to issue free school meal vouchers for any child that does not return. Free school meals will be available as normal within school for the days that the child is present.

Temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to NRPF groups

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the DfE is temporarily extending free school meal eligibility to include some children of groups who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF). These groups are:

  • children of Zambrano carers
  • children of families with no recourse to public funds with a right to remain in the UK on grounds of private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights
  • children of families receiving support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 who are also subject to a no recourse to public funds restriction

To be eligible for free school meals, applicants must also be below the maximum household income threshold of £31,500 within London, and £28,200 outside of London. This equates to a maximum of £2,625 per month within London or £2,350 outside of London, and includes any wider income or support you may be receiving in addition to any earnings from employment.

The DfE is also temporarily extending eligibility to children of a subset of failed asylum seekers supported under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. This group is not subject to a maximum household earnings threshold. This extension is temporarily in place to support families facing difficulties due to the current unique circumstances. It covers both children who are attending school and children who are at home.

These changes are now in place and anyone wishing to apply for free school meals under the above criteria must follow a slightly different process which involves completing the temporary application form and emailing it to

If you cannot email the form to us, please contact us on 0345 155 1019 and we will be able to post you a copy of the form.

Assessment of applications

The Free School Meals Team will assess each application individually which is why it is important you apply using the temporary free school meal application form.

You must clearly indicate which category you are applying under. The application form clearly indicates the evidence you should provide depending on the category you are applying under.

The team will also need to assess the household income by looking at evidence. To be eligible for free school meals, applicants must also be below the maximum household income threshold of £31,500 within London, and £28,200 outside of London. This equates to a maximum of £2,625 per month within London or £2,350 outside of London, and includes any wider income or support you may be receiving in addition to any earnings from employment.

We can make this assessment from one of the following forms of evidence which you should submit with your application:

  • payslip
  • P60
  • bank statement
  • letter from your bank
  • letter from your employer

Please note that the household earnings will not be assessed if you are applying under section 4 of the immigration and asylum act.

Be aware of scam emails

The DfE have been informed that some parents have received an email stating the following: ‘As schools will be closing, if you’re entitled to free school meals, please send your bank details and we’ll make sure you’re supported’.

The DfE can confirm that this is a scam email and is not official. We urge parents that if you receive any emails like this, please do not respond and delete it immediately.

Changes to breakfast, after school and holiday clubs

Schools can offer breakfast, after school and holiday clubs if they are able to. They will need to meet the guidance on protective measures so may need to run clubs differently to usual and it will rely on staff availability. Please contact your child’s school or look at their website for details.

Out of school settings (such as holiday clubs) can open to children and young people of all ages if they can meet the guidelines, which are outlined on the government’s website.

If your child has symptoms

If your child has symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), however mild, they must stay at home for 10 days from when their symptoms started.

If someone your child lives with has symptoms, everyone must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days.

For more information please visit our COVID-19 school absence page.

Full government guidance for households with possible coronavirus infections is available online.

Additional resources

The DfE has published a list of online resources for schools and parents to help children learn at home.

The DfE has produced a  student guide, aimed at students, to explain how this years exam results have now been awarded and how appeals or exam resits will operate. They have also published a frequently asked questions guide for schools, colleges, students, parents and carers to answer the common questions they have been receiving.

Department for Education coronavirus (COVID-19) helpline

There is a helpline to answer questions about coronavirus (COVID-19) related to education. Staff, parents and young people can contact the helpline as follows:

No school should close in response to a suspected (or confirmed) COVID-19 case unless directed to do so by Public Health England.

Guidance for early years and childcare settings

Guidance for local authorities, early years settings and childminders about childcare provision is available on the government website.

See opening times for childminder services with listings on Pinpoint Devon.