18 May 2020

Academies and maintained schools – how to manage issues related to Covid-19 now schools are re-opening

The Department for Education (DfE) Guidance: Implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings

The DfE’s latest guidance indicates that schools may start to reopen from the 1st June 2020 provided that the rate of Covid-19 infection is decreasing. Schools have of course remained open, during the lockdown period, for vulnerable children and children of key workers, but parents of these children were encouraged to keep them at home if they could. The DfE is now encouraging all eligible children to be sent to school.

Schools have now been given three weeks to prepare for children returning in phases from the 1st June 2020. The first years to return are nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6 in primary schools. It is also expected that year 10 and year 12 pupils, due to take exams next year, should be offered face-to-face support by secondary schools or sixth form colleges. This gradual return of pupils will mean reduced numbers in classrooms and will allow educational settings to put protective measures in place. We would recommend following the guidance on a phased return and not immediately re-opening to all pupils.

To assist in the preparation for re-opening, the DfE has released guidance to support staff to deliver this approach in the safest way possible.

Effective infection protection and control

A range of approaches should be introduced to reduce the risk of transmission of infection.  Examples include:

  • minimising contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who have coronavirus symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend schools;
  • cleaning hands more often than usual;
  • ensuring good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach;
  • cleaning frequently touched surfaces often;
  • minimising contact by altering, as much as possible, the environment (such as classroom layout) and timetables (such as staggered break times).
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)

It is not recommended that PPE be worn in schools, particularly by those who may not be able to handle them correctly (for example, young children) as it may inadvertently increase the risk of transmission.

The only situations where PPE should be worn are as follows:

  • if a child has intimate care needs; and
  • if a child becomes unwell with symptoms of coronavirus while in their setting and needs direct personal care until they can return home.

If staff want to wear PPE in other circumstances you should discuss these concerns with them and where appropriate seek legal advice.

Shielded and clinically vulnerable children and adults

Children that have been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable to contracting coronavirus, due to pre-existing medical conditions, are not expected to return to school at present.

Clinically extremely vulnerable staff are advised not to attend work but should be encouraged to support remote education, carry out lesson planning or other roles which can be done from home.  Clinically vulnerable individuals who cannot work from home should be offered the safest available on-site roles, staying 2 metres away from others wherever possible.

If a child or staff member lives in a household with someone who is extremely clinically vulnerable they should only attend an education setting if stringent social distancing can be adhered to and, in the case of children, they are able to understand and follow those instructions.

Class or group sizes

The DfE recognises that early years and primary aged children cannot be expected to keep 2m apart from each other or staff.  However, where possible, children and staff should only mix in a small, consistent group and that small group should stay away from other groups. For pre-school children in early years settings, the staff to child ratios within Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) continues to apply and the DfE recommends using these to group children.

For primary schools, classes should normally be split in half, with no more than 15 pupils per small group and one teacher and, if needed, a teaching assistant. For secondary schools, the same principle of halving classes will normally apply.  Any setting that cannot achieve these small groups at any point should discuss options with their local authority or trust.

How to implement protective measures in an education setting before wider opening?

Planning and organising

The following steps should be considered:

  • refresh your risk assessment for children and staff in light of recent government advice;
  • organise small class groups;
  • organise classrooms maintaining space between seats and desks where possible;
  • refresh the timetable:
  • consider which lessons or classroom activities could take place outdoors
  • stagger assembly groups
  • stagger break times
  • stagger drop-off and collection times
  • childcare settings or early years groups in school should consider how play equipment is used ensuring it is appropriately cleaned between groups of children using it;
  • remove unnecessary items from classrooms and other learning environments where there is space to store it elsewhere; and
  • remove soft furnishings, soft toys and toys that are hard to clean.

Communicating your plans

The following steps should be considered:

  • tell children, parents, or any visitors not to enter the education setting if they are displaying any symptoms of coronavirus;
  • tell parents that if their child needs to be accompanied to the education, only one parent should attend;
  • make clear to parents that they cannot gather at entrance gates;
  • communicate early with contractors and suppliers that will need to prepare to support your plans for opening for example, cleaning, catering and hygiene suppliers.

When open, top tips to consider:

  • Keep cohorts together where possible and ensure that children are in the same small groups at all times each day;
  • Ensure that the same teacher(s) are assigned to each group and, as far as possible, these stay the same during the day, recognising for secondary settings there will be some subject specialist rotation of staff;
  • Ensure that wherever possible children and young people use the same classroom throughout the day, with a thorough cleaning of the rooms at the end of the day;
  • Where possible, all spaces should be well ventilated;
  • Outdoor equipment should not be used unless the setting is able to ensure that it is appropriately cleaned between groups of children using it;
  • Encourage parents to walk or cycle where possible.

What if a pupil attends more than one educational setting?

This has not been specifically addressed in the DfE guidance but where any child attends more than one educational setting we would suggest that a risk assessment is undertaken to evaluate and minimise any risks.

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About the Author
Emma Swann, Partner

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