This framework sets out arrangements for the delivery of learning in schools enabling them to tailor interventions to reflect local risks and circumstances.
This guidance sets out the actions school leaders should take to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in their school. This includes public health advice.
It is for leaders and staff in:
- maintained nursery settings
- primary schools
- secondary schools (including sixth forms)
- special schools, special post-16 providers
- infant, junior and middle schools
- boarding schools
- independent schools
Schools should work closely with parents, carers, staff and unions when agreeing the best approaches for their circumstances.
We use the terms ‘must’ and ‘should’ throughout the guidance. We use the term ‘must’ when the person in question is legally required to do something and ‘should’ when the advice set out is good practice.
The Coronavirus Control Plan for Wales: autumn and winter 2021 update sets out that, despite the challenges the winter period poses, we expect schools, alongside childcare and play settings, colleges and universities, to remain open.
Baseline measures including risk assessments and taking reasonable measures to minimise exposure to, and the spread of, coronavirus based on that risk assessment, improved hygiene and ventilation, and preventing attendance by individuals with COVID-19 symptoms continue to be in place, regardless of Alert Level. But other measures will reflect the situation at a point in time, as part of a proportionate system of controls. For schools, this allows some flexibility for local decision-making and tailored interventions, supported by local authorities, regional Incident Management Teams (IMTs) and public health officials.
This guidance should be read in close conjunction with:
- Alert level 2: guidance for employers, businesses and organisations which outlines fundamental advice on how COVID-19 is spread and what reasonable measures employers should take in reducing the risk in their setting
- the local COVID-19 intervention action card for schools
- any additional support material provided to schools by Welsh Government
In recognising the balance of benefits and harms to learners and staff our guiding principles are to:
- enable schools to offer as wide a range of support and experiences as possible, including the provision of free breakfast and after school clubs, extra-curricular activities and practical subjects
- secure the best outcomes for all learners by considering both their educational needs and wellbeing
- manage ongoing risks of COVID-19 as safely as possible as for other infections, and ensure clarity of actions required if there is a case in a school
COVID-19 Alert Levels
The alert level system allows measures and interventions to address specific risks. Regardless of the alert level at any point, the following three key points are central to the approach in schools.
- The fundamental principle remains that the most effective way to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in our schools is to stop infection being brought into the school.
- The best way to manage personal risks is to take up the offer of vaccination, and we encourage those eligible for vaccination to take up this offer.
- If anyone tests positive for COVID-19 they must self-isolate and not attend school.
In Wales the person or persons responsible for any premises, or the work activity being undertaken on the premises, are under a specific duty to take all reasonable measures based on a risk assessment to minimise the risk of exposure to, and the spread of,COVID-19. As part of this, schools will need to ensure that regular COVID-19 risk assessments continue to be undertaken. The assessment should directly address risks associated with COVID-19, to enable measures to be put in place to control those risks.
The Hierarchy of Risk Controls outlined in this advice and in the guidance for employers, businesses and organisations underpins the risk assessment. All employers have a duty to consult employees on health and safety, and they are best placed to understand the risks in individual schools. Employers should share the risk assessment results with the workforce.
Schools working with their local authority must also follow the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety in the Workplace Regulations 1999.
Determining the level of risk
The overall risk level for Wales will continue to be determined nationally by Welsh Government guided by the table below and will be communicated to all.
|Level of risk||Description||Actions|
Locally there are well-established systems in place to gather intelligence and feedback information to Welsh Government from Regional IMTs via Situation Based Action Reports (SBARs) and by TTP, Public Health Wales (PHW) and local authorities working with schools. Regional IMTs provide oversight of COVID-19 in their areas, and work closely with a range of stakeholders including schools to reduce the spread of the virus. It will continue to be important for Directors of Education and a local authority nominated person to be part of their local IMT to share intelligence and respond to incidents when necessary.
The following bullet points illustrate the flow of information and how this informs decisions on local interventions. It should be viewed as a cyclical flow of information rather than a start and end:
- Welsh Government decides on the national risk level, based on local and national intelligence
- Welsh Government informs IMTs/TTP leads of the national risk level
- IMTs/TTP leads inform local authorities and schools of national risk level and identify any schools, areas or regions where the risk may differ
- schools implement the appropriate variable measures for that risk level, or identify which variable measures may need to be introduced if risk differs from national rating
- IMTs/TTP leads discuss any key points with the school
- IMTs/TTP leads share intelligence with Welsh Government to inform decision on national risk rating
However, it must be noted that:
- where an alert level under The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) Regulations 2020 applies a stricter requirement than set out in this framework, then that stricter requirement must be adhered to
- where no requirement applies, or a less strict requirement applies under an alert level under the Regulations, then the approach set out under the relevant risk level in the framework should be followed; in these circumstances any additional reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to or spread of coronavirus that are identified as the result of a provider’s risk assessment should also be put in place
Core interventions to be implemented
The following core measures should remain in place regardless of risk level:
- All staff and learners should be reminded to follow the Welsh Government guidance for self-isolation.
- Staff and learners should not attend school if they have any COVID-19 symptoms. If a staff member or learner becomes symptomatic they should get a test as soon as possible, and self-isolate until the outcome of the test, if the test is negative they can leave self-isolation. Further guidance is available.
- Regular handwashing, and respiratory etiquette (Catch it, Bin it, Kill it) are key interventions to prevent spread and manage cases, incidents & outbreaks.
- Adequate ventilation by opening windows or adjusting ventilation systems are also important. Further guidance is available. Carbon dioxide monitors have been made available to all schools: a ‘how to use’ guide for these devices as an aid to managing ventilation in education settings is available.
- Maintain appropriate levels of cleaning in line with other communicable diseases. There will, however, no longer be a need for schools to set aside specific days for deep cleaning. However if there is a confirmed cluster associated with one class in the school a deep clean of the immediate area will continue to be helpful in reducing transmission.
Our guidance regarding the use of face coverings has changed temporarily as a precautionary step while we learn more about the Omicron variant of concern. The following measures should be in place in all schools regardless of risk level.
- Face coverings should be worn by staff and visitors in all indoor areas of all educational settings listed in the overview section, including classrooms, where physical distance cannot be maintained.
- Face coverings should be worn by secondary aged learners in all indoor areas, including classrooms, where physical distance cannot be maintained.
- Face coverings continue to be recommended to be worn by secondary aged learners on school transport.
- There will be some learners and staff who are exempt from wearing face coverings, we do not expect this to change that position as the wellbeing of individuals is critical to any considerations around whether staff or learners should wear face coverings.
Tailored interventions to be implemented based on local risk
Annex A provides details of the hierarchy of controls. This is a way to prioritise risk control measures based on how effective different types of control are in reducing risks and will be a helpful tool for local authorities and schools when considering tailored interventions.
If, through local intelligence, it is assessed that the risk level – for a region, area or individual school – differs from the national risk level, for example, due to a case or potential cluster, schools will be supported to review their risk assessment and put additional proportionate tailored interventions in place using the table below. Further details are set out in section 7 and 8.
|Reducing close interactions||Implement arrangements aimed at reducing close interactions between staff and learners where possible.||
Implement arrangements aimed at reducing close interactions between staff and learners. This may include:
Implement arrangements aimed at reducing close interactions between staff and learners. This may include:
|Reduce close interactions between learners to the lowest practical level. This may include the measures set out at the High level as well as introduction of contact groups and potentially pausing after school/breakfast provision, or team sports where necessary. Welsh Government may determine that for limited periods of time flexibility is given to enable schools to consider the introduction of staggered school session times as part of their overall package of measures. Schools will be notified of this flexibility and the period of time that it is in place.|
|Physical distancing||Encourage physical distancing in indoor communal areas outside of the classroom, such as corridors, recognising that this may not be possible with younger children or with learners that require one to one support.||Physical distancing in place in classrooms depending on room capacity and risk assessment, recognising that this may not be possible with younger children or with learners that require one to one support.||Physical distancing and seating plans in place in classrooms. This may include forward facing desks depending on room capacity and risk assessment, recognising that this may not be possible with younger children or with learners that require one to one support.||Physical distancing and seating plans in place in classrooms. This may include forward facing desks depending on room capacity and risk assessment, recognising that this may not be possible with younger children or with learners that require one to one support.|
|LFD testing for staff and secondary aged learners||Little or no regular LFD testing. Testing available for contacts of confirmed positive cases.||Targeted/focused testing used where there are local risks identified by IMT. Testing available for contacts of confirmed positive cases.||LFD testing three times a week available for staff and secondary aged learners to help identify and isolate asymptomatic cases as soon as possible.||LFD testing three times a week available and strongly encouraged for staff and secondary aged learners to help identify and isolate asymptomatic cases as soon as possible.|
Schools may also identify that additional interventions may need to be put in place to address risks identified for some learners. Schools will be supported to consider how to tailor these interventions accordingly.
Any decision to recommend the reintroduction of tailored interventions for a period of time would be taken locally with the school in discussion with public health, TTP and local authority officials.
What happens if there is a case of COVID-19 in your school?
If a school becomes aware of one isolated confirmed case of COVID-19 in a class in any setting this is not evidence of transmission within a class, particularly when community transmission is very high.
As is the case with the close contacts of any confirmed positive case TTP will lead on identifying the close contacts of staff and learners who have tested positive, where possible. When a single case is identified, primary and special schools should issue an inform letter to the class. Secondary schools do not need to do this as it is recognised that they operate on a different basis; learners are encouraged to undertake LFD tests three times a week, therefore issuing inform letters is not considered necessary. In addition, secondary age learners have been offered vaccination, are able to wear a face covering and are generally more likely to be able to identify and provide details of their close contacts and provide this information to TTP if required.
The inform letter should be used to let learners and parents/guardians know there has been a positive case with which the learner may have been in contact, and reminding them of precautionary steps that can be taken.
The majority of learners in the class/year group are unlikely to be identified as close contacts. However if a school becomes aware of two or more cases within 7 calendar days in a class, the approach for primary and special schools would be that the school issues a warn and inform letter. The warn and inform letter sets out that there are more than two cases in a class and advises it would be prudent for the class to undertake LFD tests for 7 days to try and prevent coronavirus spreading more widely in the school/setting.
It is acknowledged that for some learners it may not be possible to undertake daily testing i.e. those with special educational needs. Given secondary schools operate on a different basis and that learners are encouraged to undertake LFD tests three times a week, it is not considered necessary for the school to issue a warn and inform letter. In addition, secondary age learners have been offered vaccination, are able to wear a face covering and are generally more likely to be able to identify and provide details of their close contacts and provide this information to TTP if required.
If you have already issued a warn and inform letter during the past 7 days, we do not advise issuing a further warn and inform letter to the same group of parents and should instead continue to monitor the situation. If you feel the situation is deteriorating further you can seek advice from your regional contact (TTP or EHO lead).
The TTP teams will be responsible for contacting each positive case and collecting information about their close contacts both within and outside the school. For learners and staff this will focus on community contacts, close friendship groups and close interactions. It is TTPs role to identify which individuals meet the definition of a close contact and who, if anyone, would be required to self-isolate.
Contact tracing is supported by the use of an ‘e-form’ which gathers information to help the contact tracing process, particularly when the TTP system is experiencing high volumes of cases. Any learners or staff who are contacted directly by TTP or informed by a positive case they are a close contact should undertake LFD tests for 7 days before attending their setting.
A close contact is anyone who has had any of the following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19:
- face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a conversation within 1 metre
- skin-to-skin physical contact for any length of time
- contact within 1 metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
- contact within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (as a one-off contact, or added up together over 1 day)
- travelled in the same vehicle or a plane
This ‘warn and inform’ approach reinforces key messages about the risk to others from COVID-19 and what can be done to minimise this risk, e.g. by remaining vigilant for new symptoms, having a low threshold for seeking a test even with mild symptoms, and avoiding contact with vulnerable family and friends in the short-term (e.g. elderly relatives or those who are unvaccinated or higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection). It also strongly advises against any hospital and care home visits for 10 days.
Steps to be taken if someone is identified as a close contact vary depending on age and vaccination status. Further information is available.
Schools should not request evidence of a negative test result or other medical evidence before a learner returns to school. If a child does not have symptoms and has not been advised to stay home/self-isolate by TTP then they can attend the school. Further information is available.
PHW will be responsible for providing guidance to support the TTP teams and schools where a review of control measures is required to manage incidents. This will be coordinated through the IMT arrangements as described below.
Everyone has a responsibility to self-isolate if they develop any symptoms of COVID-19. Those with symptoms should get a PCR test and isolate until the result is known.
What happens if there is a potential outbreak?
PHW’s Communicable Disease Outbreak Plan for Wales (2020) provides advice for managing all communicable disease outbreaks with public health implications across Wales.
If there is more than one positive case of COVID-19 associated with a school, the TTP service will consider if these cases appear to be linked. Local public health officials will discuss with the head teacher or nominated deputy of the school and may judge that additional action is taken if they have assessed that transmission is likely to be occurring in the school. Advice based on the assessment of each individual situation will be provided to support the school in preventing further spread through use of additional tailored interventions identified in Table 2 if necessary.
In most instances, regional IMTs or equivalent local arrangements will provide oversight and support to schools and TTP teams. Typically a specific IMT or Outbreak Control Team (OCT) will not need to be convened to manage an incident/outbreak associated with a school. TTP teams or designated local teams will continue to be responsible for contacting each positive case and collecting information about their close contacts both within and outside the school.
Schools should already have contingency plans (sometimes called outbreak management plans) outlining what they would do if learners or staff test positive for COVID-19, or how they would operate if they are advised to take extra measures to help break chains of transmission. On the rare occasion that an outbreak is declared the decision will be made by local public health experts, in line with the Communicable Disease Outbreak Control Plan for Wales and if it is felt necessary to provide a coordinated public health response.
Contact tracing in different age groups
TTP may interview learners, who are aged under 16, with a parent or legal guardian.
Individual assessment of all contacts will be easier in older learners, where learners are likely to be more able to reliably report who they have had contact with.
The focus of contact tracing for children in primary schools, early years settings and for learners with ALN will be to work with parents and carers to identify close friendship groups and community contacts they may be aware of and in some circumstances this will include a discussion with the school.
Children and young People with higher clinical risks and clinically extremely vulnerable adults
- Further advice for children and young people with higher clinical risks and clinically extremely vulnerable adults is available.
Staff who are at increased risk
- Staff who are at increased risk can continue to attend school. While in school they should follow the interventions to minimise the risks of transmission - including taking particular care to observe good hand and respiratory hygiene, minimising contact and maintaining physical distancing - and should have an individual workplace assessment.
- People who live with those who are at increased risk can attend the workplace but should ensure they maintain good prevention practice in the workplace and home settings.
Staff who are pregnant
- Staff who are pregnant are encouraged to take up vaccination and have a workplace risk assessment.
- Those who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, or are pregnant and have an underlying health condition, should take a more precautionary approach. Employers should consider both how to redeploy these staff and how to maximise the potential for homeworking, wherever possible.
- If home-working is not possible, pregnant staff and their employers should follow the advice in the COVID-19: advice for pregnant employees guidance.
Attending more than one setting
- Attendance at more than one setting will require close partnership working between schools, childcare settings and parents. If there is a positive COVID-19 case Test, Trace, Protect (TTP) will lead on identifying the close contacts of staff and learners who have tested positive, supported by discussions with schools and settings.
- If a child is accessing both education and childcare, and this is taking place across two settings or sites, it will be important to ensure schools and childcare settings all understand the transition arrangements and are clear about when the child will be in each setting and what collection and transport arrangements are in place.
- Where a learner routinely attends more than one setting on a part-time basis, e.g. because they are dual-registered at a mainstream school and either a PRU setting, a EOTAS setting or a special school, the settings should work through the system of controls collaboratively, enabling them to address any risks identified.
- Schools should consider how to manage visitors on to the site, such as contractors, and ensure that guidance on physical distancing and hygiene is explained to visitors on or before arrival.
- Signage on the mitigations in place is encouraged and this should be prominently displayed on the premises.
- A record should be kept of all visitors as this may be needed at a future point to assist with contact tracing processes.
- Schools should take steps to encourage parents/carers not to remain on the premises/at the gates longer than necessary especially when dropping off/collecting children.
Catering provision and free school meals
- Breakfast clubs should operate as normal. Schools that have decided not to operate free school breakfast clubs in primary schools are reminded that the legal duty to do this still applies. Further information is available.
- Local authorities are responsible for working with their contracted operators to ensure necessary measures are put in place in line with risk assessments (which should involve appropriate consultation with trade unions and staff).
- Face coverings should be worn by pupils in year 7 and above when travelling on dedicated school transport to secondary schools. This is in line with the Welsh Government advice for public transport.
- Further guidance for taxis and private hire vehicles is available.
- The use of active travel routes should be encouraged.
- Schools wishing to undertake any type of educational visit should continue to undertake the usual risk assessment process. This risk assessment should include arrangements for what will happen if a member of the group (a learner or staff member) develops COVID-19 symptoms during the visit.
- The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has produced information on travel insurance implications following the COVID-19 outbreak. If schools have any further questions about their cover or would like further reassurance, they should contact their travel insurance provider.
- Further guidance regarding educational visits is available from local authority Education Visits Advisers, as well as the Outdoor Education Advisers Panel, which has developed guidance which may be useful for schools considering undertaking visits.
Hierarchy of controls
- The hierarchy of controls is a way to prioritise risk control measures based on how effective different types of control are in reducing risks. Risk reduction measures should be assessed in order of the priority given in the hierarchy. Types of control higher up the hierarchy e.g. elimination/containment are more effective at reducing risks than those lower down, such as PPE.
- Controls should be practical to be implemented and, ideally, should be able to be maintained easily over time.
- It is critical to remember that it will only rarely be feasible to eliminate the risk completely. The combination of controls introduced should aim to reduce the risk to as low as reasonably practicable, prioritising structural and environmental interventions over individual level ones.
- This of course does not simply mean considering risks of transmission, but also balancing these against risks to wider health and well-being and learning. Ultimately schools need the flexibility to respond to these risks as they are able to and as quickly as possible.
Elimination/containment: aim to physically remove or contain the hazard measures. Includes: adherence to TTP process, do not attend school with COVID-19 symptoms, testing.
Substitution: aim to replace the hazardous activity with a less hazardous one measures. Includes: managing contacts, use of outdoor space.
Engineering controls: aim to isolate people from the hazard measures. Includes: increased ventilation, introducing one way systems, effective communication, encouraging vaccination.
Administrative controls: aim to change the way people work. Measures include: hand hygiene, cleaning.
PPE: aim to protect the worker from residual exposure through use of PPE. Measures include: face coverings, PPE.