Coronavirus (COVID-19) issues with Ordinary School Provision

Should we cancel school trips?

Government guidance updated on 26 March 2020 advised expressly against overseas and domestic trips for children under 18 organised by educational settings. This, in conjunction with Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice on 17 March against all non-essential travel for an initial period of 30 days dictates that schools should proceed with more certainty regarding the cancellation of school trips abroad that are scheduled for March and April 2020.

For overseas trips currently taking place, the government advice is to arrange for the trip to end and for the participants to return. Bear in mind that there are fewer routes of travel available. Communication with parents is key.

Any cancellation of a trip will be fact specific and we advise that all planned trips (particularly those scheduled for later in the academic year post April) are kept under careful review and risk assessed. For any trips that remain scheduled, parents will be entitled to withdraw their child from such a trip, but not necessarily to a refund if it is, either, too late to issue a refund, or doing so will impact on the running of the trip for others. It may be possible to obtain a refund e.g. through the relevant operator or insurance and we would advise you to speak to the operator to establish if they are able to more flexible in respect of their terms and conditions in these extraordinary times. Schools should check any communication sent out before parents signed up to the trip regarding fees and whether they would be refundable (or not) in the event of withdrawal/cancellation as this will assist in their decision making. The terms of any travel insurance policy should be considered carefully.

Schools should also review the terms of their travel insurance policies to determine the extent of any cover for trips, although if the FCO has not advised against travel, the insurance is unlikely to cover cancellation. In addition if the school is covered through the RPA we would advise speaking to the RPA to establish if there is any financial assistance available in respect of any cancelled trip.

Should I be concerned about the Health and Safety of staff currently working in school to support in particular those who are working with critical workers’ children?

From a health and safety point of view the legal position is that under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers are required to ensure “as far as is reasonably practicable” the health, safety and welfare of their employees. The current situation is unprecedented, and currently schools have the juxtaposition of abiding by Government requirements to educate the children of key workers including support staff and protecting their employees. In short schools should risk asses the arrangements that they have in place to ensure as far as possible the risks are mitigated. Schools are not going to be able to eliminate the risks, but they may reduce them by taking measures such as :

  • Spreading the children out in the classroom keeping 6 feet between them whenever possible
  • Having hand sanitisers, tissues and a bin available.

The DfE has provided some general guidance on the issue which can be found on the website which encompasses the above suggestions.

If an employee refuses to attend school for health and safety reasons this could potentially result in disciplinary procedures. Appropriate specialist advice should be sought.

What happens if a pupil refuses to comply with the recommended hygiene rules?

That will be a serious breach of the school’s disciplinary / behaviour policy and can be sanctioned under that policy.

What happens if an employee refuses to comply with the recommended hygiene rules?

The employer can take disciplinary action against an employee who refuses to follow hygiene rules to protect against the spread of Coronavirus.

Should we cancel any events that we are due to host?

In light of the revised, and more stringent, Government guidance released on Monday 23rd March 2020, we advise that steps are now taken to cancel all events that you are due to host over the next fortnight. It is probable that such stringent social restrictions will remain in place and you should actively consider the cancellation of events over the month of April. Schools are starting to pull events scheduled for May 2020. Keep abreast of developments with advice and guidance issued by the Government and Public Health England.

The law and practice referred to in this article has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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