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Case update 12 October 2021

Education Secretary’s new guidance means schools must support clinically vulnerable families

We have some great news this evening: the Secretary of State has, at last, conceded that schools need to be sensitive to families’ particular needs when considering requests for absence due to Covid.

In an email update to all early years, children’s social care, schools and further education providers this afternoon, he said:

We know many schools have, until now, understood that the Education Secretary’s guidance meant they could only authorise Covid-related absences if a child tests positive for Covid-19.

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They should now be in no doubt that such a narrow interpretation is unlawful.

Like the Secretary of State, we believe that attending school is important for the education, well-being and long-term development of most students. But for some families who have clinically extremely vulnerable members, that is simply not possible.

To help explain the Education Secretary’s new guidance, we will soon publish a briefing note, which we hope will help both schools and parents. Schools will need to consider requests for absence fairly and sympathetically, taking into account their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998.

This is a big win for clinically extremely vulnerable families, but it is only the first step. Our work will now turn to making sure that schools approve reasonable requests for leave, and provide full remote education for children who cannot go into school.

Schools and local authorities should be in no doubt that we will continue to work with our legal team – Fiona Scolding QC, Yaaser Vanderman and leading education law solicitors Simpson Millar – to support individual challenges to schools that fail to live up to their legal duties.

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