Emergency planning and response for education, childcare, and children’s social care settings

Updated 10 May 2023

Applies to England

This guidance will help education, childcare, and children’s social care settings plan for, and respond to emergencies. It applies to:

  • early years providers including childminders, preschools, nurseries and school reception classes
  • wraparound childcare and out-of-school settings – community activities, after-school clubs, tuition and other out-of-school settings
  • children’s social care residential providers – children’s homes (including secure children’s homes), residential family centres and residential holiday schemes for disabled children
  • schools
  • colleges and other further education providers
  • universities and other higher education providers
  • alternative provision settings
  • SEND and specialist settings

Every emergency is different. In all cases, you should consider educational and wellbeing impacts before taking any actions. You should do your best to minimise the amount and length of any disruption to education or childcare. This includes maximising the number of children, pupils and students who are in face-to-face provision.

Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children remains of paramount importance. You must continue to follow any statutory safeguarding guidance that applies to you and your setting.

This guidance does not cover every aspect of what settings should do in relation to emergency planning. You must comply with your legal responsibilities, including under health and safety law. You should get legal advice as needed.

Making an emergency plan

All education, childcare, and children’s social care settings should have emergency plans in place. Your plan should explain how you would respond if you needed to take any temporary actions in the event of an emergency.

The aim of an emergency plan is to help you and your staff plan for and respond effectively to an emergency. The emergency could happen at the setting or on an educational visit or outing.

Your emergency plans should be generic enough to cover a range of potential incidents. Incidents could happen during, and outside, normal working hours including weekends and holidays. These incidents include:

  • public health incidents (for example, a significant infectious disease incident)
  • severe weather (for example, extreme heat, flooding, storms or snow)
  • serious injury to a child, pupil, student, or member of staff (for example, transport accident)
  • fire risk and any hazards
  • significant damage to building (for example, fire or structural incident requiring temporary structural supports to the building or closure)
  • criminal activity (for example, a bomb threat)
  • loss of power or telecommunications
  • disruption to normal services
  • cyber incident or data breach
  • the impact and lasting effects of a disaster in the local community

You should also include emergency procedures for:

  • wraparound provision, for example, for:
    • school breakfast clubs
    • after-school clubs
    • holiday activities
  • children and staff on trips and outings
  • open days, transition or taster days
  • live performances with an audience

A good plan should cover:

  • roles and responsibilities
  • when and how to get advice if you need it
  • details on the types of steps you might take in the event of an emergency and the actions you’d take to enact them quickly
  • a list of key contacts
  • how you would ensure every child, pupil or student receives the quantity and quality of education and care they’re normally entitled to, including through remote education where appropriate
  • how you would communicate any changes to children, pupils, students, parents, carers and staff
  • how you would respond if your advice were not accepted

If you have wider facilities, your emergency plans should cover the whole of your estate. This includes your facilities which you may not use for educational purposes such as:

  • accommodation
  • leisure or entertainment facilities
  • conference centres
  • other facilities which you may rent out

When considering your plan, you may find it useful to read guidance on:

Emergency alerts

The government’s emergency alerts system will send alerts to all compatible 4G and 5G devices in England if there’s a danger to life nearby. You’ll be able to check an alert is genuine.

Find out how emergency alerts work and the reasons why people may get an alert.

You should review your emergency plans to include relevant processes in case of an emergency alert in your area.

Building partnerships

Part of effective emergency planning includes establishing and maintaining relationships locally which may be needed in an emergency situation.

This might include, for example:

Establishing these links, gathering intelligence and understanding others’ plans can inform the development of a plan that reflects local and national arrangements.

The planning process

Preparing for emergencies is an ongoing process involving:

  • awareness
  • risk assessment
  • contingency planning
  • staff training
  • exercises and tests (for example, fire drills)
  • reviewing protocols and communication
  • coordination and planning with relevant bodies

Make sure you consult members of staff, management boards and governors when developing your emergency plan.

Evaluations should form part of the process after a crisis has occurred. Consider doing a lessons learnt exercise and incorporating those lessons into future planning.

Emergency plan template and guidance

Download an example of a school’s emergency plan template from Nottinghamshire County Council. It also has guidance to help you develop appropriate arrangements for your setting.


The school and college security guidance provides practical advice, which other settings may find useful, on:

  • emergency planning
  • risk assessment
  • business continuity planning
  • evacuation
  • bomb alert or threat
  • lockdown
  • post-incident support
  • debrief and lessons learnt

Nottinghamshire County Council has developed resources to help train school staff and run exercises. This includes:

  • risk assessment and planning templates
  • training materials
  • tabletop exercises

Your local authority may have already sent emergency planning guidance to your setting. If so, contact your local authority for advice before using these resources.

The Cabinet Office has developed a single point of reference for emergency planning terminology. Guidance is also available on preparation and planning for emergencies.

Resources are also available to use in classroom lessons. This includes electronic storybooks, games and puzzles. These can help to prepare younger children for how to handle an emergency.

Significant public health incidents

A single suspected outbreak or incident of infectious disease will not normally constitute an emergency. You can manage most infectious diseases by following the guidance on health protection in education and childcare settings.

Emergency plans should include:

Registered medical practitioners in England and Wales have a statutory duty to notify their local authority or local UKHSA health protection team of suspected cases of certain (notifiable) infectious diseases. Your local health protection team will contact you if you need to take any actions.

In large-scale public health incidents where government makes decisions about actions to take at a national level, we’ll work with:

  • the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)
  • the Chief Medical Officer
  • other government departments, as needed
  • relevant local authorities
  • directors of public health

If you’re a university or other HE provider, discuss any responses to the most serious public health incidents with your local director of public health. Try to get agreement in advance for your response, as part of your contingency planning. For example, at the start of the academic year, agree with them how you’ll respond to certain public health incidents if they occur.

Severe weather

During severe weather conditions, you should keep your setting open and let as many children, pupils or students attend as possible, where safe to do so. Severe weather conditions include:

  • extreme heat
  • flooding
  • storms
  • snow

However, it might be necessary to close temporarily due to inaccessibility or risk of injury. You should do all you can to reopen as soon as possible.

If you’re temporarily closed during severe weather, consider providing remote education. Providing remote education does not change the imperative to remain open, or to reopen as soon as possible.

Schools that are a member of the risk protection arrangement can contact the team to get help with damage and other issues.

If you’re an early years, wraparound childcare or out-of-school activities provider and have had to move to temporary premises, check to see if you need to register your new premises with Ofsted.

If you’re a children’s social care provider and have moved to temporary premises:

Use the Met Office’s severe weather warning system to check for severe weather conditions in your area.

It is important to have a policy and plan in place to manage and respond to security-related incidents.

Your security policy should complement your safeguarding policy. This is important for any measures you put in place to protect students. It should also address the threat of serious violence. It should form part of your suite of policies to ensure the health, safety and well-being of students and staff.

Make sure your staff and students are familiar with your security policy and plan. Senior staff should have an awareness of relevant security networks. They should be able to evaluate and assess the impact of any new initiatives on your security policy and its day-to-day operation.

The guidance on school and college security, which other settings may find useful, will help you to consider the risk from a range of security related threats. This includes crime and terrorism.

When considering your plan, you may find it useful to read guidance on:

Supporting your workforce, children, pupils and students through an emergency


As an employer, you should be able to explain to your workforce any steps taken to keep staff safe at work as part of your emergency plans.

Your workplace risk assessment should already consider any risks to:

  • female employees of childbearing age
  • new and expectant mothers

You should discuss concerns with staff.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has more information on managing risk and risk assessment in the workplace.

The guidance on health protection in education and childcare settings will help you to manage a range of infections, including for those who may be at higher risk of infection.

Staff shortages during an emergency

You’re best placed to determine the workforce required to meet the needs of children, pupils and students in your setting.

Where you are experiencing staff absences, follow your usual process for covering absences.

Guidance is available on handling strike action in schools.

Early years

Early years settings experiencing staff shortages should:

  • work with their local authority to put in place appropriate provision while keeping staffing arrangements as consistent as possible
  • ensure that there is still at least one person with a current paediatric first aid certificate available on the premises at all times


  • pooling staff with another setting
  • getting qualified and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checked staff from other educational settings (including local registered childminders) that have closed
  • inviting local registered childminders to work with them at the setting (providing they have approval from Ofsted)

In some cases, you may choose to respond to staff and child absences by temporarily mixing age groups of children who you would usually care for separately. Ratios should still meet:

Exceptionally, where you can maintain quality of care and safety and security of children, you can make changes to the ratios. Childminders cannot have more than 6 children under the age of 8 per adult providing care. You can consider all staff educating or caring for a mixed age group of children as ‘available to work directly with’ all the children you have grouped together.

In all circumstances, you remain responsible for maintaining the quality of care, safety and security of the children in your setting.

Wraparound childcare and out-of-school settings

Wraparound and out-of-school settings providers may also consider:

  • bringing together groups and classes with staff working together
  • using DBS checked staff or volunteers from other settings to provide cover supervision or oversee alternative activities
  • re-arranging sessions
  • working with the local authority to identify how you can put in place appropriate provision

Schools and FE

If you’re a school, college or other FE provider and some of your teachers can’t get to work due to an emergency, consider:

  • continuing to make use of temporary staff
  • the way in which you deploy your staff and using existing staff more flexibly
  • bringing together groups and classes with teachers and support staff working together

Schools considering modifying their class arrangements will need to be mindful of the limits placed on group size by factors such as:

  • the school estate
  • the Infant Class Size Regulations

These regulations limit the size of an infant class to 30 pupils per schoolteacher. There are some limited exceptions set out in the School Admissions Code.

Children’s social care

This section applies to children’s homes (including secure children’s homes), residential family centres and residential holiday schemes for disabled children. Separate guidance is available for local authority children’s social care services.

In all circumstances, children’s home providers remain responsible for maintaining the quality of care, safety and security of the children in their setting.

Settings that are experiencing staff shortages should:

  • work with their relevant placing local authorities to identify how they can put appropriate provision in place while keeping staffing arrangements as consistent as possible
  • where possible, pool staff with another setting
  • where necessary, consider whether you need to make use of agency staff

The guide to the Children’s Homes Regulations includes further guidance on workforce expectations and contingency planning.

Settings should:

  • make decisions in the children’s best interests
  • carefully risk assess any decisions
  • record their decision, if needed

Prioritising places

In exceptional circumstances, if high levels of workforce absence mean you need to temporarily prioritise places in your setting, you should give priority to:

Early years

Early years, wraparound provision, and out-of-school settings should also give priority to 3 and 4-year-olds. You should give priority to those who will be transitioning to reception, followed by younger age groups.

Local authorities should work with settings to identify provision for children who need places.

Remote education

Where possible, schools, colleges and other FE providers should provide remote education when attendance in school or college is either not possible or contrary to government guidance. Make sure you’re prepared to put in place high-quality remote education so that any pupil or student who is well enough to learn from home, but unable to attend school, can continue to do so.

Some pupils and students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) may not be able to access remote education without adult support. Work with families to put in place reasonable adjustments. This will allow pupils with SEND to successfully access remote education appropriate for their level of need.

Guidance for schools on providing remote education is available.

Colleges and other FE providers can find guidance on remote education in the 16 to 19 study programmes guide for providers. Use the 16 to 19 Bursary Fund to provide devices and connectivity support to students who have specific financial barriers.

Universities and other HE providers should only limit face-to-face education as a last resort. If you need to for a limited period, consider implementing blended learning for those unable to attend. You should limit how long these measures are used, to minimise disruption to face-to-face education and protect the most vulnerable.

Free school meals

Early years

In any instance where an eligible child is at home due to an emergency at their setting.

If a child who qualifies for benefits-related free meals is at home due to an emergency at your setting, you should continue to provide this support. For example, by providing a lunch parcel.

In settings where free meals do not apply, you may charge for meals in line with national entitlements guidance. You should consider the impact of charges on disadvantaged families.

Schools and FE

Schools should speak to their school catering team or provider about the best arrangements for providing school meals for pupils in an emergency. You should provide:

  • meal options for all pupils who are in school
  • free meals to:
    • all infant pupils
    • pupils who meet the benefits-related free school meals eligibility criteria

Where pupils eligible for benefits-related free school meals are receiving remote education, work with your school catering team or food provider to make sure those pupils can have a good quality lunch. This will ensure that you can continue to support eligible pupils for the short period where they are unable to attend school.

Identify pupils with any medical conditions, including allergies, to make sure that all pupils are able to eat a school lunch safely. This is particularly important in circumstances where caterers are not serving meals to pupils directly. For example, where pupils are being served food in the classroom.

Colleges and other FE providers should continue to support students who are studying remotely with free meals if they are eligible.

Recording attendance during an emergency

Schools that remain open must continue to record pupil absence in the attendance register using the most appropriate code. The code must be in line with the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 as amended (‘the Pupil Registration Regulations’) and school attendance guidance.

Where pupils are unable to attend school:

  • in some exceptional circumstances you can use code Y (unable to attend in exceptional circumstances) unless a more appropriate code applies
  • because they are ill or have an infectious illness you should use code I (illness)

Recording attendance for remote education

Refer to the guidance on providing remote education. Where a pupil is absent but is receiving remote education, you must record this in the attendance register using the most appropriate code in line with the Pupil Registration Regulations.

You should continue to keep a record and monitor pupils’ engagement with remote education. You do not need to formally track this in your attendance register.

Vulnerable children and young people

In all circumstances, you should prioritise vulnerable children and young people for face-to-face education and childcare.

You must also continue to have regard to any statutory safeguarding guidance that applies to your setting. This includes:

It is important that you put in place systems to keep in contact with vulnerable children and young people if they’re not attending, particularly if they have a social worker. This includes:

  • notifying their social worker (if they have one) and, for looked-after children, the local authority virtual school head
  • agreeing with the social worker the best way to maintain contact and offer support
  • keeping in contact to check their wellbeing and refer onto other services if they need more support

Some children and young people may be vulnerable who are not officially in statutory systems. You should try to support any children and young people who you believe may have challenging circumstances at home.

Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people remains of paramount importance. There should be no change to local multi-agency safeguarding arrangements. These remain the responsibility of the 3 safeguarding partners:

  • local authorities
  • integrated care boards
  • chief officers of police

In the event of an emergency, we would expect all local safeguarding partners to be vigilant and responsive to all safeguarding threats.

Safeguarding partners and designated safeguarding leads

Schools, including maintained nursery schools, and colleges must continue to:

If you’re unable to have a trained DSL (or deputy) available on site, consider:

  • if your DSL or deputy is available via phone or online video, for example, by working from home
  • sharing trained DSLs (or deputies) with other settings, schools, colleges or other FE providers (who should be available via phone or online video)
  • giving a senior leader responsibility for co-ordinating safeguarding on site

Local authorities and children’s social care providers should continue to work with local safeguarding partners. This will ensure the continuity and consistency of support throughout any emergency. Local authorities should:

  • follow the statutory guidance on promoting the health and wellbeing of looked-after children
  • look out for issues that may affect looked-after children’s mental health and wellbeing
  • encourage looked-after children to speak to their social worker, carer or other trusted adult about how they are feeling
  • ensure they get the help and support they need

Wellbeing and support

Some children, young people and adults may experience a variety of emotions in response to an emergency. For example, anxiety, stress, or low mood. You can access useful links and resources of support on the MindED learning platform for professionals.

Other mental health resources for children and young people include:

We recommend that you work collaboratively with the families of children and young people who are anxious to reassure them. Discussions should focus on the welfare of the child or young person and responding to the concerns of the parent, carer or young person.

Exam and assessment disruption

You should prepare for possible disruption to exams or assessment as part of your emergency planning. Make sure your staff are aware of these plans.

In very exceptional circumstances, you should discuss alternative arrangements with your awarding bodies. For example:

  • where you might need to close your setting
  • if a pupil or student misses an exam or formal assessment due to circumstances beyond their control

In line with awarding body requirements, you should have contingency plans in place. This includes:

  • alternative venue arrangements
  • sufficient invigilator cover
  • plans for if the exams officer is absent

You’re responsible for making sure pupils, students, parents and carers know what you have agreed. For example:

  • plans for using alternative venues
  • the process for applying for special consideration to receive an exam result where a pupil or student is absent for acceptable reason
  • the process for pupils and students to sit any missed exam or formal assessment later, where their qualification allows it


If you have to close your school, or if a pupil misses a statutory assessment due to an emergency, you should consider alternative arrangements.

You’re responsible for making sure pupils, students, parents and carers know what you have agreed. For example:

  • moving the assessment to a different point in the assessment window where the assessment and reporting arrangements give you flexibility
  • agreeing with the Standards and Testing Agency for the key stage 2 assessments to be on an alternative day
  • reporting alternative information about a child’s performance to their parents where it is not possible for the child to take the statutory assessment

Selective admissions testing

Where an admission authority or local authority assesses a child’s ability or aptitude to determine admission, it should prepare for possible disruption to selection assessments as part of its emergency planning. Schools should make sure their staff are aware of these plans.

Test venues should follow the guidance on health protection in education and childcare settings. Admission authorities for selective schools must make alternative arrangements to assess children who are unable to take a selection test on the specified test day(s).

You’ll also need to consider if the emergency merits one of the following:

  • assessing ability or aptitude via an online test (where available)
  • using a teacher assessment of ability or aptitude
  • using alternative venues
  • changes to test dates

SEND and specialist settings

In an emergency, where possible, specialists, therapists and other health professionals who support children and young people with SEND should provide interventions as usual. This includes:

  • speech and language therapists
  • physiotherapists
  • occupational therapists
  • educational psychologists
  • specialist teachers

Where children and young people with education, health and care (EHC) plans are not attending their education setting because they are following public health advice, multi-agency professionals should collaborate to agree how to meet their duties to deliver the provision set out in the EHC plan.

Ongoing communication with parents and carers is important so that they are fully aware of any changes to arrangements for their child.

Some pupils and students with SEND may need specific help adjusting to any changes in their routines that emergency measures may involve. Staff should plan to meet these needs based on the individual pupil or child and their circumstances. For example, by using social stories.

To make sure pupils and students with medical conditions are fully supported, use individual healthcare plans to help ensure they continue to receive an education in line with their peers. This should include working with:

  • families and the relevant health professionals
  • local authorities and other services as necessary

Social care services for disabled children which provide respite care should continue to operate. This includes:

  • residential and non-residential respite services
  • formal and informal care in the family home

Consider whether you need any additional processes for pupils and students who regularly:

  • attend more than one site or different providers
  • move between a training provider and workplace as part of an apprenticeship, traineeship or supported internship

Residential specialist settings

In an emergency, we expect residential special schools and special post-16 institutions (SPIs) continue to maintain full attendance of all pupils and students where possible. In the exceptional circumstances where you may need to send some pupils and students home, you must:

  • inform your local authority immediately
  • maintain a register of those sent home

During this period, the local authority should contact the family frequently to:

  • ensure that they are managing any risks
  • establish if they need any extra support

Any necessary health and therapy support should continue if the child or young person returns to their family home. This includes access to medical supplies.

If you’re temporarily unable to provide full provision, try to keep the child or young person as a resident, rather than to send them home. This is especially important if they lack suitable alternative accommodation. Discuss any actions with the family and young person, and the commissioning local authority.


If you have an insurance policy that covers a government-ordered closure of a setting and unspecified notifiable disease, you should get advice from your insurer or broker. They will tell you if the terms and conditions in your policy allow you to make a claim. This is sometimes called business interruption insurance.

Schools that are commercially insured should contact their insurer direct. If you’re a member of the risk protection arrangement, refer to the contact details in your member pack.

Registered out-of-school and childcare providers must carry the appropriate insurance to cover all premises from which they provide childcare, including childminding. For example, public liability insurance.

Nurseries should check the terms and conditions of their public liability insurance policies and consult with their insurance providers and brokers to determine their coverage for the emergency.

For general advice on insurance matters, contact the Association of British Insurers (ABI) on 020 7600 3333 or email

Different insurers may offer different forms of emergency coverage. You should shop around to find the most suitable cover at the best price. The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) can offer guidance on how to look across the insurance market for the best deals. You can contact them on 0370 950 1790 or email

If you’re unsure which insurance you need, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

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