We’re sure you’ll have all read the Department for Education guidance that was issued last week. Thankfully we think the guidance is more straightforward for most schools than it will have been in recent months. It’s not our intention to go through the guidance in detail for this post, however we thought it would be useful to offer some prompts for some of the main points:
- Numbers of persons in school – The main part of the new plans is that everyone will return to school in September. This coincides with relaxing of the shielding guidance from 1st August 2020. There may still be some medical exceptions for those persons that are still extremely susceptible but we anticipate that the majority of people will no longer be subject to restrictions. You may have a number of staff or students that will be anxious about a return to the school. You will need to reassure them, by being able to share you plans and documentation, that you have done everything possible to make the environment safe for all concerned.
- Social Distancing – Currently the guidance is that everyone maintains a 2m distance. From September, this changes quite radically. For primary schools, the requirement for social distancing is much reduced. If smaller groups can be managed, then this should be the preference, but the reality will be that this isn’t practicable for most situations. It is therefore the case that for primary schools distancing between pupils can be reduced, however the guidance is still for adults to maintain 2m distancing wherever possible.
For secondary schools, however, the expectation is that distancing can and should be maintained. There is no mention of 2m specifically in the guidance, just “separation”. This will require some consideration as to how this will be achieved especially with the movement between lessons and the positioning and cleaning of furniture if different rooms are to be used.
- Group sizes – The new buzzword “bubbles” is not over we’re afraid. This will now become the most important method of controlling infection spread. Mixing of bubbles must be kept to an absolute minimum, as the requirement to isolate in the event of a positive test remains in place. The good news is that bubbles can now be in excess of the current limit of 15 pupils. Again, for primary and secondary schools the practicalities differ slightly. In primary schools this makes sense as the class teachers will tend to remain with those pupils for the duration of the school day, and therefore the bubble size can be kept to the class sizes. For secondary schools this presents more of a problem and so the bubble size may have to be the size of the year group to allow the full range of subjects to be taught. This will mean that social distancing for teachers in secondary schools must be more rigidly enforced in order to prevent mixing of the bubbles.
There is an appreciation in the guidance for the requirements of those with SEND. As these pupils may require additional help there is an allowance for temporary workers, supply teachers etc. to travel between different schools and to be exposed to multiple bubbles. They must, however, follow strict distancing from other staff members and keep contact to a minimum.
- Desk Arrangements – The big change here is reflected by the changes to social distancing. Pupils should now be positioned shoulder to shoulder, facing the same direction. Situations where pupils face each other should be avoided wherever possible. This might mean that schools need to consider the need to remove any unnecessary furniture from the classrooms in order to accommodate any new layouts. This could be problematic if classroom furniture is designed to form ‘grouped tables’, however it may be the case that, for example, furniture such as trapezoidal tables can be arranged alternatively to form a long line, rather than the usual hexagonal arrangement.
For primary schools, it may mean that the most favourable approach will be to form long rows in classrooms, as the need to separate desks is removed. Secondary schools may not have to adopt their classrooms too much, but in this case tables should still be kept separate as much as possible.
The big change here is that the capacity of each classroom is increased from the current limit of 15 pupils. The capacity now will be the total class size required in the room. Classroom calculations, therefore, should return to the normal calculation and you shouldn’t require a new calculation specifically for COVID-19 situations.
Everything else that is already in place should continue, just on a larger scale. This means that staggering of the start and end of the school day should continue. Staggering of breaks and lunches should also continue, however you may have to give consideration to the deliver of hot food, particularly if these arrangements are required to continue into winter months and if you have a larger number of vulnerable persons.
There is also still the requirement to assess and record your plans. This means that a specific risk assessment is required, although you may be able to amend your current assessment to reflect the changes. We’d also urge you to document any decisions that have to be made, especially when you can’t comply fully with the guidance. Demonstrating your thinking is essential and will be your defence against any criticism of your plans – this could be achieved by recording the issue, why the guidance can’t be met and therefore what you are planning to do instead. At times such as these, questions are bound to be asked and you do not want to be unprepared when giving any answers.
For our clients, revised documentation will be issued in the forthcoming week. For anyone who requires any advice, we are only too happy to help and so please do not hesitate to contact our trained consultants on 01302 341344 or firstname.lastname@example.org
By Ian Clayton CMIOSH, Health & Safety Manager