Reopening schools and out of school settings: what government guidance says about the arts

13 July 2020

A large amount of guidance on reopening educational settings in England has been provided by the government over the past months. The Department for Education has been releasing information to schools, often with little notice, throughout the pandemic which has been criticised by school leaders.

*See our updated post on new DfE guidance published 28 August* 

Most recently the Department for Education (DfE) published guidance on how schools should reopen in September, and information for providers running out of school settings over the summer, which of course can include those provided by arts practitioners and arts organisations.

Guidance for full opening: schools

On 2 July the DfE published Guidance for full opening: schools which aims to provide a ‘system of controls’ and ‘set of principles’ to manage risk, and covers actions schools can take to plan for the return of all children in September.

The introduction to this advice highlights a number of the DfE’s concerns, including the impact on children’s wellbeing of not being in school, and the impact on children’s academic achievement. We are pleased to see the focus on a broad and balanced curriculum in the guidance:

‘Schools must do everything possible to minimise contacts and mixing while delivering a broad and balanced curriculum.’

The guidance also acknowledges the tension between keeping children in consistent groups and offering a broad curriculum, particularly at secondary level.

‘In secondary schools, and certainly in the older age groups at key stage 4 and key stage 5, the groups are likely to need to be the size of a year group to enable schools to deliver the full range of curriculum subjects and students to receive specialist teaching.’

Guidance for arts subjects

The guidance confirms that peripatetic teachers, such as music teachers, can work between schools: ‘Supply teachers, peripatetic teachers and/or other temporary staff can move between schools’ and that educational visits can resume: ‘In the autumn term, schools can resume non-overnight domestic educational visits.’

Artists in schools

There is nothing to stop schools having artists working with different bubbles in the autumn term, however, schools will make localised decisions about whether they are going to resume artist visits and residencies. 

There is also guidance on the use of art materials:

‘Resources that are shared between classes or bubbles, such as sports, art and science equipment, should be cleaned frequently and meticulously and always between bubbles, or rotated to allow them to be left unused and out of reach for a period of 48 hours (72 hours for plastics) between use by different bubbles.’

Working with bubbles 

At the moment, the guidance tells us that primary schools will work in whole class bubbles and secondary schools will work in year group bubbles. Our education colleagues are currently advising that this will make in-school performances impossible if they are attended by different bubbles at the same time. 


There is specific guidance on music, highlighting that schools need to manage the risk of infection associated with singing or using wind and brass instruments. It also states:

‘Singing, wind and brass playing should not take place in larger groups such as school choirs and ensembles, or school assemblies. Further more detailed DfE guidance will be published shortly.’

Currently there is no clarity in the DfE guidance on dance teaching and we are pushing for clarification on this alongside One Dance, the subject specialist association for Dance.

Curriculum planning

The DfE sets out three key principles, one of which is: the curriculum remains broad and ambitious: all pupils continue to be taught a wide range of subjects, maintaining their choices for further study and employment.

The guidance emphasises that schools need to teach an ‘ambitious and broad curriculum’ and suggests that schools which are planning changes to their curriculum prioritise content in subjects, so not teach the whole curriculum, rather than cutting subjects. All schools will be expected to be teaching the full curriculum by summer term 2021.

We are concerned to see the sentence: ‘Schools may consider it appropriate to suspend some subjects for some pupils in exceptional circumstances’ and that allowance has been made within the Key stage 4 guidance for children to discontinue an examined subject, with our members already reporting that year 10 children are being withdrawn from Drama GCSE. 

We strongly advocate for the importance of continuing to offer examined arts subjects for pupils’ future life and employment chances.

At primary level schools are advised:

‘The curriculum should remain broad, so that the majority of pupils are taught a full range of subjects over the year, including sciences, humanities, the arts, physical education/sport, religious education and relationships and health education.’

Key stage 3:

‘For pupils in key stage 3, the curriculum should also remain broad from year 7 to year 9 so that the majority of pupils are taught a full range of subjects over the year, including sciences, languages, humanities, the arts, physical education/sport, religious education and relationships, sex and health education.’

The guidance highlights behaviour and the wellbeing needs of children and young people – arts activities have been shown to support both these areas. See our briefings The Arts for Every Child, Arts in Schools and The Arts, Health and Wellbeing for more information.

Out of school settings

On 1 July the government confirmed that ‘providers who run community activities, holiday clubs, after-school clubs, tuition and other out-of-school provision for children can operate over the summer holiday’ in the publication of their Protective measures for out-of-school settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak guidance.

The guidance covers the size of groups that can attend out of school settings (up to 15) and measures you should take if multiple small groups of children attend during the day.

‘Children and young people who attend your setting should be kept in small, consistent groups, and of no more than fifteen children and at least one staff member.’

‘If you are operating provision for multiple small groups of children throughout the day, you should allow sufficient changeover time between different classes to allow for cleaning to take place and to prevent children and parents or carers waiting in large groups.’

The guidance also states: If you are unable to keep children in your setting in small consistent groups for future sessions, you should only operate your provision outside and follow the government guidelines on the Phased return of sport and recreation in England, which allow up to six people from different households to meet outdoors. In doing so, providers should ensure, as far as possible, children practise social distancing in line with the government’s current guidance and that they keep children in groups of no more than six, including staff members.

Currently the guidance highlights that if you are providing services for children over 13 you need to ‘be aware of additional risks that may relate to older children, such as use of public transport and mixing outside of settings’ and make this part of your risk assessment.

Read the full guidance for settings. There is also guidance aimed at parents and carers.

It will also be important for settings offering arts activities to consult the DCMS Performing Arts guidance published on 9 July, and other DCMS endorsed guidance such as that for Museums from NMDC.