Easing of lockdown: schools in England reopening update 22 May 2020

Risk assessments are essential to safe working in schools

  • If you are returning to teaching in a school, whether as an employee or as a peripatetic or self-employed teacher, you should ask the school what steps it has taken to assess the risks relevant to you. You should also ask to see its risk assessment.
  • If you work in multiple locations and are permitted to travel between them, you should be aware that each school may have its own COVID-19 risk assessment and associated procedures. Make sure the school administration does not forget about you! Ask them to help you understand what applies in each school at which you teach.
  • Please see the section The importance of risk assessments in schools below for more information about what schools should do and what they should tell you.
  • England

    Last updated: 05 January 2021

    Following the government announcement of a new lockdown period from 5 January, you can find out what we know so far on our news story.

    Northern Ireland

    Updated 23 November 2020

    New restrictions
    will apply in Northern Ireland from Friday 27 November until Friday 11 December.

    Schools and other education settings will remain open.

    Further and Higher Education institutions should deliver distance learning to the maximum extent possible.

    Only essential face-to-face learning should take place when it is a necessary and unavoidable part of the course.

    Social distancing

  • The Northern Ireland Department of Health general requirement for social distancing at two metres remains in force. But in schools, in recognition of other mitigating measures, strict social distancing requirements between all pupils are relaxed but will remain in place between adults (at two metres and, as far as is practicable, between adults and pupils.
  • Where this is not possible, the aim should be to maintain at least one meter social distancing for as much of the time as achievable.
  • For pupils in Years 11-14, social distancing should be adhered to as far as is possible with limited interactions between different year groups.
  • For younger pupils while social distancing is not a requirement, it should be encouraged and facilitated where practicable as part of other mitigating measures.

    See the Northern Ireland Department of Education latest update for schools.
  • Scotland

    Updated 18 November

    The Scottish Government updated on 30 October guidance on reducing risks of coronavirus transmission in schools. A PDF of this guidance is also available, and has numbered paragraphs for ease of reference. The paragraph numbers below relate to the PDF version.

    Members should note the following:

    Movement between schools (paragraph 94):

    Movement between schools (eg of temporary/supply/peripatetic staff etc) should be kept to a minimum. Those providing essential services key to the delivery of children’s care or educational plans, for example visiting teachers, psychologists, nurses, social workers, youth workers and those providing therapeutic support, should be able to visit schools; however, appropriate mitigations to prevent transmission of the virus in and between settings should be undertaken. Mitigations should be determined via a risk assessment carried out by the school in co-operation with the service provider.

    Implications for music in schools


    The new guidance refers to the latest publication (30 October) from the specialist advisory group on physical education music and drama.

    While stating that there is a lack of evidence about the role and relative risk of singing, and playing musical instruments, the transmission of COVID-19, a relatively risk-averse position has been adopted.

    This guidance states that music should take place only in situations where activities can comply with the low risk criteria in this guidance (reproduced below).

    No large group lessons or activities


    In addition, it states clearly in respect of ensemble activities that 'Choirs, orchestras and group drama performances should not recommence at this point' and 'It is our advice that young people should not engage in drama, singing, or playing wind and brass instruments with other people, given these activities pose a potentially higher risk of transmission. However, this does not mean that these activities cannot take place at all, it simply means that a more creative approach should be taken to providing such lessons.' Various mitigations are suggested.

    Other musical activities


    The Advisory Group guidance states the following:

    'For music and drama, there is a sliding-scale of risk associated with different activities. Only when there is a combination of low-risk factors in place should the activity go ahead. Large group activities and those where no distancing can take place between adults or between adults and pupils, should not be re-introduced in the meantime.'

    The table of criteria below sets out the risk factors.

    Low riskHigh risk
    Outdoors or virtual activities (e.g. recorded performances, outdoor creative dance, use of awnings/gazebos)Indoor activities in enclosed spaces (e.g. unventilated classrooms, studios)
    Normal breathing and volume of speech (e.g. piano playing, mime)Higher volume or aerosol-generating activities (e.g. singing, debating, wind/brass instruments)
    Individual or small numbers involved
    (e.g. solo performance, string quartet)
    Large group (e.g. choir or orchestra)
    Any equipment is used only by one person (e.g. pupil and teacher have their own personal instruments; actors have their own costumes)Equipment is shared (e.g. keyboards, shared percussion, shared props). Risk is lessened if equipment can be fully cleaned between each use.
    Distancing possible between all participantsPhysical distancing not possible

    Physical distancing

  • Primary schools: no distancing is required between primary school children (paragraph 71).
  • Secondary schools: the guidance recommends as a precaution encouraging distancing between pupils where possible, along with other suggested mitigating actions (paragraphs 72-76).
  • Between adults: two metre physical distancing between adults, and between adults and children and young people (paragraph 90)
  • Between adults and children: two metre distancing is desirable but acknowledged that this may not be possible. If adults cannot maintain two-metre distancing and are interacting for a ‘sustained period’ (stated to be about 15 minutes or more) face coverings should be worn (see paragraphs 91 and 92.)
  • Wales

    Updated 18 November 2020


    Wales ended its firebreak on 9 November as planned. Read the Welsh Government announcement here.

    All schools, further education colleges, work-based learning and adult learning providers can return to the same model of operation as before the firebreak. Universities can continue to provide a combination of in-person teaching and blended learning.

  • Peripatetic teachers can move between schools, but must follow local instructions and procedures at each school where they teach.
  • Social distancing remains at two metres between adults. The latest guidance from the Welsh government acknowledges that it may not be possible or practical to achieve this distancing between younger children but mitigations include establishing groups to minimise contacts between pupils.

    Staff in secondary schools are advised to maintain distance from their learners, staying at the front of the class, and away from their colleagues where possible. Ideally, adults should maintain a two metre distance from each other, and from learners. Teachers should also avoid close face-to-face contact and minimise time spent within one metre of anyone.
  • The importance of risk assessments in schools

    An employer has a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. In order to do so, an employer must carry out a risk assessment, in line with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance.

    In brief:

  • All employers with five or more employees must undertake a specific COVID-19 risk assessment.
  • Risk assessments must be shared with all staff and their representatives before any individual can be required to return to work.
  • Risk assessments must be suitably specific for music teaching, and take account of risks arising from particular circumstances, eg for choirs and singing, wind ensembles etc. Music staff must be involved in preparing these risk assessments.
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides protections for individuals raising or acting on health and safety concerns. The ISM will seek to enforce these provisions on behalf of members.
  • No individual teacher, whatever their relationship with a school or educational establishment, should be penalised or suffer any detriment for raising or acting on health and safety concerns. This means that your employer must identify and assess the risk – specifically deciding how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how serious it could be; put in place measures to control the risk; record the findings and review the control making any changes if necessary.
  • Your employer must consult with you or trade unions on health and safety matters.
  • Specifically, they should consult you on how the risk assessment has been or will be carried out, the outcome, and what measures will be put in place to prevent the risk of infection during your teaching.

    Ask your employer to tell you what steps have been taken to comply with Health and Safety legislation and the most recent guidance issued by the Government on working safely during Coronavirus.

    You should also ask your employer:
  • whether they have carried out a health and safety check on the school’s premises, including the music room
    if you are a singing or wind instrument teacher you should also ask
  • whether specific assessment has been carried out on the risk of infection in connection with your teaching, taking into account the layout of the music room
  • what cleaning and hygiene arrangement have been planned
  • what communications have been made to parents
  • when these measures will be put in place
  • what arrangements have been put in place to eliminate the risk of infection during music lessons specifically in terms of:

    social distancing
    ventilation
    protective equipment
    group lessons
    timetable

    If your employer or engager has not taken any or insufficient steps, you should notify your concerns and their shortcoming in the employer’s protection arrangements. Employees and, in some cases, workers, have the right not to be dismissed or treated detrimentally where they raise health and safety concerns.
  • Contact the ISM

    If you are an ISM member and you or your colleagues have concerns or questions about any of this please contact us at [email protected]