Coronavirus Q&A: Your questions about schools and universities answered

As the government continues with plans to begin reopening schools in England on June 1, Consumer Editor Chris Choi answers your questions.

Owain: I'm 17 years old and currently studying for my A-levels. I'm desperately wanting to go back to school, but my parents aren't keen on the idea. Whose decision is it - mine or theirs?

At 17, the law generally regards you as a child and under the Human Rights Act, children have a right to education. However, there is also a parental responsibility to put a child’s welfare first.

Practically, in cases like this schools can act as mediators and can be given a chance to address these parental concerns and reassure parents that pupils will be returning to a safe environment when they go back to school.

If agreement still can’t be reached, you could consider family mediation, which the school should be able to point you to.

Schools have been told that they need to continue to provide remote education for pupils, so this will continue even after school reopens.

Angeli: I am quite worried about the kids going back to school. The buses will become more and more full. The government should have sorted out the transport system before asking people to go back to work.

It’s going to be a phased return to school – so impact on transport shouldn't be sudden.

Official advice is to consider all other forms of transport before using buses, coaches or public transport to get to school – if possible, encourage children to walk or cycle - or even drive them there if necessary.

If children do need a school bus or public transport, make sure they’re well versed in all the guidelines about social distancing, wearing masks where this isn’t possible and hand washing.

Surveys show that more than half of children currently walk, cycle or are driven to school by car.

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Louise: What is happening to university students? We feel left out of the plans made by the Government. Can we expect a refund for this year because we haven't received a full year of teaching?

Universities across the UK have said that from the Autumn, they will be teaching and delivering a high-quality learning experience to their students.

However, at what point universities allow students to return to campus – and how things will work when they do – is up to each individual university to decide.

Decisions will be based on public health advice and universities’ own assessments of how they can operate safely.

Remember that Government advice is different depending on where you are in the UK, so this could be factor.

In terms of tuition fees, whether or not you are entitled to a refund depends on the contract you have with your university.

Universities generally say that they are working hard to provide remote teaching and support to students while they’re at home over this period, and where this support is there, students are advised not to expect a refund of their fees for this year.

If for any reason you’ve had difficulties learning during this period – including because of illness, because you have caring responsibilities or because you don’t have access to the required IT or other resources, the advice is to talk to your university about this first.

Each university will have its own process for investigating these complaints, but if you’re not happy with the outcome, there are official bodies to whom you can report your concerns.

These are the Public Services Ombudsman in Scotland and Northern Ireland, or the Office of the Independent Adjudicator in England and Wales.

Caitlyn: I attend university in Bangor, Wales. Is it acceptable for me to travel from England to Wales to return to my uni accommodation - which I have had to pay for until the end of June?

Rules in Wales mean that travelling long distances for anything apart from essential journeys is not allowed - and as the university is currently closed, I can’t see how this could be judged to be an essential trip.

It certainly wouldn’t qualify just because you’ve paid for the accommodation - though I can see how annoying that is!

The rules in England also specify that overnight stays away from home are not allowed, so that could be another issue here.

Christina: I work in a school as a cook, but I have been furloughed. I also work in a nursing home part-time. Do you think I will be able to do both jobs when we go back to work? Am I more of a risk to the children than a key worker’s child would be?

Check with both employers that they’d be happy this.A major concern here would be the residents of the care home - people in nursing homes are often extremely vulnerable.

Some nursing homes have even had carers moving into the home so that they don’t come into contact with the outside - which shows how important this issue is.

Of course, any children who are vulnerable to Coronavirus and are attending school would also be a big consideration.

Following safe distancing and hygiene rules would be crucial if going back to work in both places.

Rebecca: We have been told by my 13 month-old son’s childminder that he can return from 1st June, but we don’t want to put him at risk by sending him. My partner and I are both working from home - can we ask a grandparent who is under the age of 70 and not classed as vulnerable to come to our home to babysit during working hours?

Currently this is against the guidelines.

The Government says it has asked its scientific advisors to examine whether a model of household ‘bubbles’ could be introduced in England – that’s where one household would be allowed to interact with another household.

Scotland too is considering this - initially for outside space.

Sarah: I’m a single mum with one 10 year-old daughter. My parents are 75 and vulnerable. They usually look after my daughter when I work on Fridays and Saturdays. I’m still on furlough from Homebase, but my hours can’t be changed to school hours. What should I do - and will I still have a job to go to?

Of course, it would be against health guidelines for you or your daughter to mix with your parents at the moment.

If you’re unable to work because of caring responsibilities – including caring for children who are at home because of circumstances resulting from Coronovirus – at the moment you are eligible for the furlough scheme.

As you’ll know, your employer has to agree to keep you on furlough, but the scheme has now been extended until the end of October - so if your employer agrees, they may be able to extend your furlough until then – or until you can make other arrangements for your daughter.

From the beginning of August, a new amendment to the scheme means that employees will be able to go back to work part-time if their employers contribute to a proportion of their wages, so it may be worth talking to your boss about whether that could be an option – if some of your hours could work around school when your daughter goes back.

If your employer won’t keep you on furlough at all, you may be able to take annual leave if you have this available to you - so that you can care for your daughter at home.

If not - and if you can’t make other arrangements for your daughter’s care, you could ask to take unpaid leave to be at home with her.

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Steve: Are children (or teenagers) allowed to stay over at separated parents' homes when both families have multiple people living in the household?

According to Government guidance, where the parents of children under 18 live in separate homes, the children are allowed to move between their parents’ homes.

This is allowed even if there are other people in those households.

However, the guidance does not say that children must move between the households – the decision is down to the parents – and the risk to the children, parents and any other people living in their households should be weighed up when making that decision.

For example, whether any member of either household is vulnerable to Coronavirus should be a consideration – as children coming in and out could put them at greater risk.

Remember, if the child or anyone in the household they are in develops symptoms of Covid-19, they should not be moving between households until the period of self-isolation is over.

(If the child themselves has symptoms, they should isolate for seven days; if another member of the household has symptoms, the child should isolate for fourteen days).

Anonymous: I am very anxious about going back into school on the 1st of June - when we'll have around 400 staff and children in. We have been told that we are not to allowed to wear any masks or protection when we go back in. Bearing in mind the large number of staff and children who'll be there, can the school do this?

Officials say ‘The majority of staff in education...will not require PPE’ (except when it’s not possible to stay two metres away from a child with symptoms).

Emphasis is on cleaning hands, cleaning surfaces and minimising contact. Employers can specify a dress code, and this generally falls into that.

If you don’t feel safe, you can raise the issue with management, unions or the Health and Safety Executive.

Guidelines do not advise that pupils should wear face masks in school when they return.

Schools have been told that they need to ensure social distancing is possible at all times in school, so the wearing of face masks or PPE should not be necessary.

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Rebecca: I am a university student and I had to travel back before lockdown to come home to my family. I wasn't able to bring all of my belongings and I had to leave some in my student halls - will I have a valid reason to travel to collect them? If not, when will I be able to do this?

There are now guidelines on this if both you and the student accommodation are in England.

You can do this 'if you avoid public transport (where possible) and follow travel and social distancing guidance'.

Wherever you are in the UK, think about whether you could get belongings mailed or couriered instead of making this trip.

Karen: I noticed that someone who lives with her own three children has been having lots of visits from her sister, brother-in-law and their three children. She has told me that because she is the registered childminder for her sister's three children, she can have as much contact with them as she likes. Is this the case?

In England, childminders are allowed to work - as long as they are only caring for children from a single household.

From the 1st June, childminders in England will be allowed to reopen for all children.

Social distancing might not always be possible where small children are involved, but distancing should be observed when adults come for drop-offs and pick-ups.

In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, childminders should only be working to care for the children of key workers.

Liz: I am a student in Cardiff and share a small flat with two other girls - one of whom went to London to see her boyfriend at the start of the pandemic. Two weeks ago - during lock-down - she caught a train and came back to the flat where I have been in isolation since the start of lockdown. Yesterday, her boyfriend arrived from London to stay in the tiny flat. This has made me feel uncomfortable and worried. Is this allowed? Can anything be done about it?

No – this is not allowed. In Wales, meeting anyone from outside your household is still not allowed, so your flatmate and her boyfriend shouldn’t have come to the house with you there.

Going to a second home is still not allowed – and they shouldn’t be staying overnight anywhere other than their main home.

This is tricky for you, but a chat with the flat mate is overdue. Ultimately, police can take action against people breaking lockdown rules.

Anyone could report your flat mate and her boyfriend to the police, so they are taking a risk.

Cheryl: My children stay with their dad every other weekend. Last weekend they went to their dad’s friend’s house. They have two children. I found out today that my younger child (aged eight) was in their hot tub with his friend’s two kids (aged nine and 11) - is this allowed?

Children under 18 can be moved between their parent's homes in these circumstances.

In England, you can meet one person from outside your household outdoors – if you observe social distancing.

In Northern Ireland, it is six people. It depends where this took place and possibly whether the hot tub was big enough for social distancing.

It may perhaps be time for a friendly chat between these parents to establish precisely what happened and how wise it was.

Nikki Ollins: My daughter-in-law is a teacher and is due to go back to school next week. However, they have a 15 month old daughter. Normally, my daughter-in-law's mother would look after her, but she is over 70 - and of course nobody is allowed to go into anyone else’s house. My daughter-in-law's headteacher has said that if she can’t come in, she won’t get paid. What are the rules about this? I haven’t seen any press coverage and can't find guidance anywhere.

Employers are asked to be as flexible as possible with employees who are unable to return to work because of childcare responsibilities.

It’s worth your daughter-in-law talking to whoever employs her about the situation - which for a lot of state school teachers would be the Local Education Authority.

If your daughter-in-law is still being told that she won’t be paid if she cannot work, it may be worth trying to place her daughter in a nursery if she can.

She is likely to be eligible for help from the Government with nursery fees under Tax-Free Childcare - which means that the government pay £2 for every £8 per week working parents pay for childcare for children under 11 – up to a total of £2,000 per year.

Lisa: Will our public areas like shopping precincts, parks and areas around pharmacies, schools and GP surgeries be spray cleaned as they have been in other countries?

The official advice is that disinfecting outdoor spaces would not be an effective use of resources – which is why we haven’t seen it here.

School guidelines in England say to ‘clean and disinfect regularly touched objects and surfaces more often than usual using standard cleaning products’.

Staff and children need to be reminded to wash their hands more frequently than normal.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know