Can kids go to school with a cold? And other back to school safety questions answered

All pupils in schools across the UK have to go back to school this month.
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  • Over the last month, schools across England welcomed back pupils into the classroom. But with some scepticism over whether it was a safe move, we asked an expert the questions that parents are asking, like - should you send your child to school with a cold?

    Now as the winter months are beginning to settle in and there are indications that the UK could be experiencing a second wave of coronavirus, knowing whether you can send kids to school with a cold has become another concern for parents. Especially as back to school safety measures and how children will socially distance have been some of the most talked about topics during the lockdown. 

    Schools initially were opened for the first time since March in June, allowing final year students valuable contact time with their teachers. But even then, many were reluctant to return and it was widely reported that few schools went back into full time education. With the new school year beginning, exciting new changes to the curriculum and children keen to see their friends again, it has been reported that just under 100 per cent of all schools are open now in England and they are reporting an 88 per cent return of all students back into the classroom.

    So, with more social distancing and self-isolation measures in place across the country, universities back into the new year as pubs times begin to change, what’s been done in schools? How are they going to keep staff and students safe? Can kids go to school with a cold? And what should parents and carers bear in mind when sending their child to school during the pandemic? Here’s what you need to know…

    Can kids go to school with a cold?

    child blowing his nose - can kids go to school with a cold

    Credit: Getty

    The NHS website suggests that it’s fine to send your child to school with a minor cough or cold but if they have a fever, keep them off school until the fever goes. But many parents are taking this advice with caution as the symptoms of a common cold – like a cough and fever – are also key symptoms of coronavirus found in children. So if you’re unsure, it’s better to be safe than sorry and to give your child a day’s rest to be sure it’s just a cold before they return to school.

    However if you suspect they may have the virus, it’s important that they and other members of the household self-isolate straight away. They should also be able to get a test done at your local testing centre or via a test kit sent to your home. Due to personal circumstances or the nationwide shortages in testing kits at the moment, it may not be possible to get a test done on the same day that your child begins to develop symptoms. If this is the case, however, it’s worth checking with your child’s school as according to the government website, ‘From 26 August, all schools and FE (further education) providers will receive an initial supply of 10 test kits. These test kits should only be used in the exceptional circumstance that an individual becomes symptomatic and you [the school] believe they may have barriers to accessing testing elsewhere. The best and fastest way for students or staff to get a test result is to visit a testing site.’

    Following this, Boris Johnson announced that groups of pupils, otherwise known as ‘bubbles’, should only be sent home if there has been a positive test rather than someone just developing symptoms. He emphasised that parents, carers and teachers should all refer to the government’s coronavirus guidelines on testing and said, “The reasons for sending such a class home, or a bubble home, would be if somebody tests positive.”

    Others, such as the Scottish government, have addressed the issue of whether you should send your child to school with a cold during the pandemic directly. They have said, if “your child does not have any symptoms of COVID-19 but has other cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, they do not need to be tested and they and you do not need to self-isolate. Your child can go to school if fit to do so.”

    How can the schools keep children safe?

    Extra cleaning

    With everyone now going back to school full time and questions around coronavirus safety and ‘can kids go to school with a cold?’ being posed to teachers around the country, all schools have been forced to consider the safety of pupils and teachers by the government and to make “enhanced cleaning arrangements”. This means that all surfaces and facilities will be cleaned often throughout the normal school day, in addition to any regular cleaning that normally happens. 

    Teachers also have their own disinfectant sprays and must wipe down classrooms after use. 

    Leon Hady is a headteacher and the founder of Guide Education, he says, “Most people are very happy with the extra cleaning that’s going on. Parents have been really supportive of that because the people that tend to be shielding the most are the grandparents of those kids.” 

    Physical distancing

    boy running in the playground - back to school safety

    Credit: Getty

    The days of inter-year group mixing are unfortunately a thing of the past for now. As Leon confirms with us, schools are trying their best to keep pupils apart wherever possible. 

    In some schools, this means ‘bubbling’ students so that two groups are not mixing. Pupils will be taught, have their lunch times and any free time outside of lessons in these groups and won’t be able to socialise with anyone outside them on school property. 

    Largely, this won’t be a problem for many young children who often make friends within their own class anyway. And for older children, Leon says they’re often in situations where they have more established friendships so may not want to socialise outside of their own class. 

    Hand washing will be the priority

    The message that was spread at the beginning of the lockdown about the safety importance of washing your hands properly will be emphasised once again as kids go back to school. This means that even if kids do go to school with a cold, the chances of it being spread to others will be reduced. 

    As the government’s advice for schools advises, children will be “cleaning [their] hands more often than usual – wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with running water and soap and dry them thoroughly or use alcohol hand rub or sanitiser ensuring that all parts of the hands are covered.”

    It’s also thought that the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ line will be used again to emphasise the importance of good hygiene to young children. 

    Everything on one desk

    girl sitting at school table

    Credit: Getty

    While primary school-aged children might be used to travelling around the school, to different classrooms and sharing desks, Leon says that this probably won’t be happening any more at some schools. 

    “To minimise contact with others, each child has their desk and they have everything on their desk. Anything that they’re going to be using is right there in front of them.” 

    But the changes won’t be so drastic for secondary school-aged pupils, Leon tells GoodtoKnow. “In secondary schools, it seems to have had less of an impact because there’s more independence. Students have stuff in their bags and use their lockers.”  

    Face masks in local lockdown areas

    While the idea of kids wearing face masks in schools might be unappealing to some, Leon says as a safety measure, kids who have already gone back to school aren’t finding it too difficult. “The addition of face masks becoming fashion statements for the kids actually quite helped. You see a lot of Marvel and comics [face mask designs].

    “It hasn’t been so bad for the students because that’s also been something where they can be a bit silly.” 

    READ MORE: Laundry expert reveals how to keep school uniforms COVID-free

    But he adds, face masks will become just another part of the school uniform and help to protect all staff and students if kids do end up going to school with a cold. “There’s been a different line there for schools, where they have to say what’s appropriate. I know that’s a discussion that’s going to come up this week.” 

    Some have also wondered how teachers, who often use non-verbal communication as an essential way to communicate with their students, would cope. 

    “Teachers will do anything to protect their students. The teachers have taken to it without much issue.” Leon tells GoodtoKnow, “The teaching profession as well is very much aligned at the moment, just in terms of how the government has treated them, the exam results, the June return, the lack of guidance from the beginning, etcetera.” 

    When will these safety measures in schools end?

    Much like the question of when will we be fully out of lockdown, or when will social distancing end, the question of when schools can go back to operating like they were at the beginning of the year is a difficult one. 

    Leon says, “The only way that it can massively change is through the government guidance and we’re not expecting any more of that, apart from the local lockdown [information].” 

    girl with face mask washing hands

    Credit: Getty

    So, he tells us, schools will be reviewing their safety measures on a termly basis. “It’s not even something you can switch off in a week because most schools don’t have their own cleaning staff, they’re all contracted from different places. 

    “So you’ve got those agreements in place. If you asked me, I’d expect it to be in place for most of the academic year.” 

    Assemblies still happening, but in smaller groups

    As with anything that happens now children have gone back to school from now on, safety measures mean that assemblies will be done in smaller groups and separated from the rest of the school, Leon tells us.  Alternatively, some schools will ask teachers to hold classroom assemblies for pupils or the headteacher will bring the school together online via a video link. Ultimately though, the process of returning to school is an exciting one for both the teachers and students who will be getting back into the classroom this week. 

    Leon says, “A lot of schools and [teachers] feel like they’ve just had to get along. There’s a good feel and camaraderie across the schools.

    teacher in front of the class

    Credit: Getty

    “Everything went out of the window, so everyone was able to put the care of the students first and foremost. There’s a lot of good change that could come from this.

    “There’s also a honeymoon period when you get back, training the children how to treat each other, it’s a very different time. A very, very different time. It’s the strangest in terms of schools I’ve ever seen.”

    But on the positive side, Leon assures us, “The students that I’ve spoken to have just said that it’s really, really good to be back with their friends and schools doesn’t feel normal but it doesn’t feel like a bad experience. 

    And even the parents are finding relief in the change of routine. Leon says, “[Some] parents are worried about their children going back to school, the rest are trying to get onside with the teachers and hoping for the best. 

    “All I’ve heard from parents is real positives about their schools and what’s happened.” 

    Back to school safety: Are after school programs and clubs running?

    The government guidance suggests that these can still go ahead but it will be up to the individual school or organisation as to whether they do.With an emphasis now being placed on getting back into the office, many parents are relying on these integral services to look after their children after school. 

    If you’re sending your child back to an after school activity outside of school, it’s worth checking that the organisation has completed a full risk assessment upon reopening. This means asking them how large the groups will be, what social distancing measures will be in place and whether they are part of the track and trace system

    For safety reasons as kids go back to school all over the country, there are currently no residential or overnight programs that are allowed to run, however, this advice is under review.

    What should I do to protect my child from Covid-19?

    The best way to make sure that children have as much limited exposure to the virus as possible is to encourage them to stick to the government’s three main principles, which have recently been updated. These are Hands, Face, Space. Encourage your child to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds at regular intervals throughout their time at school and at home, so they can get used to it. If they are over the age of 11, they must wear a face covering in all areas where social distancing is difficult and encourage the importance of them maintaining a two metre distance from people in public.

    This might include not taking public transport but walking to school, playing with friends in the garden rather than inside as we know that the virus does not transmit so easily outdoors, and washing their hands as soon as they get home from school and before mealtimes. While the pandemic is naturally a hugely worrying concern for everyone in society, parents and carers should be reassured that although children are likely to become infected with the virus at the same rate as adults, research suggests, the infection is usually milder and the child becomes less ill than an adult might.

    If you’re worried about vulnerable children who might be around kids who have come to school with a cold and who might experience the virus worse than others if they were to get it, the government guidance on shielding is as follows:

    • ‘You do not need to follow shielding advice
    • ‘Clinically extremely vulnerable children should attend education settings in line with the wide guidance on reopening of schools and guidance for full opening: special schools and other specialist settings
    • ‘You can go outside as much as you like but you should still try and keep your overall social interactions low
    • ‘You can visit businesses, such as supermarkets, pubs and shops, while keeping 2 metres away from others wherever possible or 1 metre, plus other precautions
    • ‘You should continue to wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual and that you maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home and/or workspace
    • ‘You will no longer receive free food parcels, medicine deliveries and basic care from the National Shielding Service’

    However with rates of coronavirus increasing around the country and more lockdown restrictions currently being considered, the government may ask those children who would be vulnerable to coronavirus and worse off than others if kids go to school with a cold to continue shielding. If you are in an local lockdown area, it’s important to follow shielding advice given by the region, whether that’s England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, that you’re in.