Many schools will have sports facilities that are, in normal circumstances, open to members of the public or for use by sports groups and clubs. In line with other providers of sports facilities, schools were required to close these facilities from 21 March 2020 during the lockdown. The Government has over recent weeks allowed certain sports facilities to reopen with the most significant announcement so far being made by the Prime Minister on 9 July 2020. From 11 July 2020 outdoor swimming pools and sports facilities were able to reopen provided they could be used safely and, from 25 July 2020, indoor sports facilities and swimming pools could also reopen their doors (if it was safe to do so).
This guidance applies to schools in England, schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will receive separate guidance.
In light of these developments schools are considering when and how they will reopen their sports facilities to the public on a commercial and/or charitable basis. Of course, schools have an additional challenge that other providers of these facilities do not need to overcome; pupils and staff are also likely to be using the same facilities and consideration of their safety is of paramount importance. This note is intended to assist schools in deciding whether to open some or all of their sports facilities outside the school community. It also considers the practicalities to keep in mind so that facilities are opened in line with Government guidance.
Guidance in this area is being created and updated at pace during this time. As of 27 July 2020 the following guidance should be considered before reopening sports facilities:
- Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), Guidance for providers of outdoor facilities on the phased return of sport and recreation in England (last updated 17 July 2020)
- Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Working safely during coronavirus (Covid-19): providers of grassroots sport and gym/leisure facilities (last updated 23 July 2020)
The guidance documents are kept under review and we expect regular updates will be published; schools should check the gov.uk website for the most up-to-date versions. In addition schools should always consider whether there are local restrictions in place in their area. If so, they should first read the guidance relevant to their area as this may supersede the above guidance.
Sports facilities in schools
The DfE guidance above on the full opening of schools from September 2020 is clear that it expects independent schools to follow this guidance in the same way as state-funded schools.
Section 3 of the guidance covers physical activity in schools; this is focused on how physical education and sports are delivered to pupils. It covers matter such as pupils being kept in consistent groups, sports equipment being thoroughly cleaned between each use by different individual groups and contact sports being avoided. It also prioritises outdoor sports where possible, and large indoor spaces used where it is not, maximising distance between pupils and maintaining standards relating to cleaning and hygiene.
The guidance does not directly address whether schools can reopen their sports facilities more widely to the public or external sports groups. However, the guidance does permit schools to make use of external facilities as long as they are used in line with Government guidance for the use of, and travel to and from, those facilities. As the DfE guidance does not expressly exclude a school from opening its sports facilities in line with other providers of such facilities, our view is that schools can reopen these facilities provided they follow the applicable DfE, DCMS and BEIS guidance listed above (as updated).
Outdoor sports facilities
The DCMS guidance for providers of outdoor facilities is clear that outdoor facilities can be opened as long as it is done so safely, following a risk assessment and in line with Government guidance. The key points being:
- Social distancing and hygiene: All activity should be consistent with the Government guidance regarding health, social distancing and hygiene. More information on this is available via the link to the guidance above. A consideration of the whole end-to end ‘user journey’ when planning safe operating practices; this means all activities from the time of arrival on site to leaving, not just the sporting activity. This may involve providing hand sanitiser on entering and leaving facilities, frequent cleaning of touch points, participants bringing their own sports equipment and ensuring that any pinch points are made available in a way that social distancing is possible.
- Communications: Outdoor facilities providers will need to communicate clearly and regularly with participants setting out what they are doing to manage risk, and what advice it is giving to them to do likewise. The guidance refers to organisations ideally publishing action plans to re-open safely. Providing information on when and how to safely access sports facilities is important.
- Records: Organisations should require external groups to provide them with the names of all individuals using their facilities in advance. The school should keep this for 21 days should it be needed by NHS Test and Trace.
People should continue to socially distance from those they do not live with wherever possible. This means a distance of 2 metres between people from different households, or 1 metre plus mitigations (such as face coverings or avoiding face-to-face contact) where 2 metres is not possible. Outdoor sports participation should be restricted to participants exercising by themselves, with members from their same household, or in a group of no more than 5 other people from other households, while observing social distancing guidelines. Two households are allowed to meet, provided members of different households observe social distancing.
A previous version of the guidance set out useful detail on what social distancing meant for team sports. Unless an approved team sport (see Recreational team sports below), people who play team sports can meet to train together and do things like conditioning or fitness sessions but they must be in wholly separate groups of no more than 6 and follow social distancing guidelines. While groups could practice ball skills like passing and kicking, equipment sharing should be kept to a minimum and strong hand hygiene practices should be in place before and after. The previous guidance also stated that physical contact with anyone outside of one household is not permitted, therefore playing of any games (small sided or full) is also not permitted.
In our view, if the school’s risk assessment allows for it, schools may be able to safely accommodate more than one group of up to 6 people, as long as each group is entirely separate. For instance, any coach attending would have to stay in one group and not interact with other groups. Whether schools can accommodate more than one group of up to 6 whilst keeping them apart will depend on factors such as the activity taking place, the size of the facility and whether it is possible to effectively keep the small groups separate for the entire ‘user journey’, i.e. from their arrival to leaving the site. No more than 30 people can gather outdoors meaning a maximum of 5 groups of 6 people although this can be relaxed in certain circumstances.
The guidance is clear that toilets and through-ways can be opened for use by those hiring outdoor facilities. When accessing and leaving toilets, areas of contact should be wiped down, hands should be washed thoroughly and paper towels should be used where possible. Clear signage will ensure that people can find their destination quickly. Pinch points and busy areas should be considered; queues and one-way systems may need to be put in place to reduce congestion.
Indoor sports facilities
Indoor gyms, swimming pools and leisure facilities (including sports halls and arenas) can open from 25 July 2020. Detailed guidance on this is contained in the BEIS guidance listed above. The measures that will need to be put in place are similar to those detailed above with respect to outdoor facilities but the BEIS guidance should be carefully reviewed and implemented before these facilities open. A specific risk assessment for each facility and the proposed activity should be undertaken. Examples of measures that should be considered before reopening indoor sports facilities include: identifying the number of people that can follow social distancing in the facility, encouraging people to arrive at the facility in their sports kit and where possible to travel home to change/shower, ensuring good ventilation by keeping windows open, avoiding people needing to raise their voices (e.g. by playing loud music) and doors being left open where feasible.
Recreational team sports (including sports clubs)
The DCMS framework allows for competitive sport to take place whilst maintaining appropriate compliance with social distancing and permitted group sizes. It acknowledges that these sports may be reliant on third party owned or managed facilities and adherence to the framework should be worked out collaboratively between club and facility owner. It requires each facility to have a specific facility operations plan that incorporates a full risk assessment.
Competitive recreational sport is only permitted if the DCMS framework is fully implemented by a national governing body (NGB) and complemented by a public health approved action plan for each sport, with activity taking place under an official governing body’s oversight. Compliance with current guidance on social mixing must be maintained at all times when not on the field of play.
In practice, this will mean that schools can only accept bookings from team sports clubs whose governing body has an approved action plan in place which the club has implemented alongside Government guidance. Once approved at the NGB level, clubs must develop a written Covid-19 plan and risk assessment prior to playing their sport. Preparation in advance must include those in charge of the session taking part in specific training, as necessary, and participants being asked to consider if their underlying health may caution against participation. These documents, once drafted and approved, must be provided to all coaches, assistant coaches and welfare officers.
Guidance for team sports that has been cleared will be linked on GOV.UK. If guidance is not linked on GOV.UK, then the sport has not been cleared to restart. As of 27 July 2020, the England and Wales Cricket Board, Football Association and Hurlingham Polo Association are linked on GOV.UK. NGBs for other sports are developing guidance and the expectation is that more sports will be cleared to restart in the coming days and weeks.
All team sports clubs running activities for children should also consult the DfE guidance on Protective measures for out-of-school settings (last updated 10 July 2020), which sets out further practical steps providers of community activities, holiday clubs, after-school clubs, tuition and other out-of-school provision for children should follow to minimise the risk of transmission for children attending their settings.
Where schools have hiring agreements in place with external sports clubs and groups to use sports facilities, we advise adding a Covid-19 addendum. An addendum should cover the sports club’s obligations to the school in terms of following their sport’s NGB action plan and relevant Government guidance (including carrying out its own risk assessment). It should also list the practical measures the school has put in place to keep its sports facilities safe and compliant with guidance and health and safety law. We advise schools to require sports clubs to agree to a Covid-19 addendum in writing as a prerequisite to allowing them to use their sports facilities.
Insurance is a key consideration. Schools should seek their insurer’s approval before reopening sports facilities for external bookings and should be aware that their insurer may wish to see a copy of their school’s completed risk assessment in order to consider the matter further.
In terms of practicalities you may wish to consider implementing and enforcing guidelines such as:
- Ask users to arrive in their sports kit
- Strictly observe booking times and enforce your timetables and allow time in-between bookings to undertake cleaning
- Ask service users to declare if they are currently or have in the past 14 days felt unwell
- Limit the facilities and services you would ordinarily offer.
Providers of both outdoor and indoor sports facilities can open their facilities but current Government guidance maintains strict rules around how this takes place. The DfE guidance does not expressly exclude a school from opening its sports facilities in line with other providers of such facilities.
Before making sports facilities available again for hire, schools must carry out a risk assessment for each facility and proposed activity. Schools must be satisfied that measures are in place to keep participants safe in line with all relevant Government guidance but also that pupils, staff, visitors and others who may use the same facilities are protected. No more than 6 people (including a coach or trainer) can gather to carry out permitted non-contact activity (but see below on recreational team sports). Where multiple groups of 6 can safely and separately use sports facilities, there must not be more than 30 people in total at that facility at any one time unless certain conditions are met.
Recreational team sports involving larger gatherings are also permitted provided that public health has approved the action plans of national governing bodies for sports. So far the England and Wales Cricket Board, Football Association and Hurlingham Polo Association are cleared to restart. Schools will need to work with sports clubs playing these approved sports to ensure that it takes place in line with the relevant action plan. Clubs will also need to carry out their own risk assessment.
Other guidance around, for instance, physical distancing, equipment sharing and hygiene must also be explained and strictly followed.
These restrictions may (or may not) prevent or dissuade some external groups from hiring sports facilities for the time being. If this is the case, schools should consider whether it is worth their while making them available for hire straightaway if it transpires that only a small number of groups would be allowed or prepared to use it given these restrictions. Some schools may wish to consider a reopening at the beginning of September. Clearly this may become less of a concern if restrictions are eased further, or if sports clubs, over time, become increasingly prepared to accept and follow the measures in place.
We expect Government guidance on sports facilities will be updated regularly. There may also be clarification from the DfE on the issue of reopening school sporting facilities for public use, although this is less certain. We strongly advise keeping this matter under regular review and revisiting your school’s risk assessment if/when this happens.
Harrison Clark Rickerbys
30 July 2020