In early March, the DFEE took the unusual step of issuing guidance to schools on how to deal with a disease affecting not children, but farm animals - foot-and-mouth. Rural schools, especially in areas where the disease has been identified, will already be aware of its impact, with some pupils and staff staying at home to avoid spreading infection. The Chief Veterinary Officer's advice is that, even in these areas, providing sensible precautions are taken, travelling to and from school should normally be possible.
Schools in affected areas should try to open and provide a full curriculum - or at least provide care for children to enable their parents to go to work. In the unlikely event that insufficient adults are available to care for the children, then schools could "probably" close legally, for health and safety reasons.Where children are prevented from attending school because of government restrictions to their routes, the absence should be treated as authorised.
All farm visits, or trips that would take children to or over farmland, should be postponed.
The advice stresses that, as foot-and-mouth disease poses no threat to human health, there should be no risk to children eating school lunches. If food supplies are disrupted and it becomes impossible to provide the usual lunch service - including, from April 1, the legal obligation to provide a meal that meets the new nutritional guidelines - local education authorities and schools should try to ensure that any alternative provision is as nutritionally balanced as possible.
For full information, see www.dfee.gov.uk.footandmouth, or phone the helpline on 0845 0504141