Last week, the Prime Minister advised that the country would be moving to Step 4 of the COVID-19 roadmap. The DfE has published its guidance on the safe operation of schools (which can be found here) and this has been endorsed by Public Health England.
For schools, this guidance is likely to raise more queries than it answers, and it could also promote anxiety amongst your staff during a particularly stressful end of term. In this update, we hope to provide you with some straightforward advice, having been in discussions with the HSE on the subject.
Our primary advice is to not change any controls prior to the end of the summer term. Although these new protocols could come into force from the 19th July, the end of term is so close that we would not encourage you to make any changes from what you’re currently implementing at the present time. We would also ask you to consider the reaction if you do change your controls and this caused a rise in infection rates in your school community when it is likely that most of your staff, pupils, parents, have some form of holiday or break booked?
Looking into more detail:
- Risk Assessment – there is still a requirement to control the risk of infection from COVID-19 and this should still be documented in a written risk assessment. We would caution against simply making this part of another document at the current time. Keep the risk assessment separate. The good news is that much of the changes will mean that we can delete a large proportion of the current document, and our updated assessment will be available to our clients shortly.
- Mixing and ‘Bubbles’ – When you do move to the Step 4 protocols, bubbles will no longer be required. This is likely to primarily impact secondary schools where the easing of bubbles might facilitate easier arrangements for lessons. But do consider the benefits that bubbles have brought. Staggered lunch and break times have, in our experience, reduced issues in playgrounds. You might want to consider keeping some of these controls to continue to maintain low incident rates particularly at break time.
There is a requirement though, to consider the re-introduction of bubbles, if infections rise within your school, through the introduction of a formal outbreak management plan (see below).
- Track and Trace – Schools will no longer be expected to undertake contract tracing. NHS Test and Trace will only contact persons within schools where the positive case specifically identifies the individual as being a close contact. From 16 August 2021, children under the age of 18 years old will no longer be required to isolate due to close contact of a positive case. They will be advised to undertake a PCR test instead and then isolation will be based on the outcome of that tes
- Face Coverings – From Step 4, facial coverings will no longer be required for pupils, staff and visitors in classrooms, communal areas, or public transport. This is the change that might worry your staff the most. We would advise you to encourage your staff to use facial coverings at their discretion. Some staff may feel safer in the working environment with a facial covering, and in order to ease their worries, it would be sensible to allow them to do this. This could be managed on a case-by-case basis
- Outbreak Management Plan – There is now a requirement to have a formal policy on how measures may be stepped up and down. If you have several confirmed cases within 14 days, then you may have an outbreak and the DfE helpline (0800 046 8687 / Option 1) should be contacted. The plan should consider the following elements:
- The reintroduction of asymptomatic testing sites for secondary schools.
- The temporary reintroduction of facial coverings in communal areas and / or classrooms.
- The reintroduction of shielding by the government (please note that this can only be reintroduced by national government, not by the schools or local authorities).
- The limitation of residential visits, open days, transition days, parental attendance, and performances in schools.
- The possibility that the school might be asked to limit attendance. This would only be a last resort. If this was to be implemented then all vulnerable children, children of critical workers, children in reception, year 1 and 2, and years 10,11,12, and 13, should continue to attend school.
Some of the control measures that we have enacted over the past 16 months are expected to remain in place. These are:
- Good hygiene – Handwashing should continue to be a regular practice using soap, water, or hand sanitiser. With the relaxation of social distancing, increased hygiene may be easier to implement as there will no longer be a restriction on the number of persons using toilet facilities at any one time.
Good hygiene also includes continuing with the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach.
- Maintain good housekeeping – There should continue to be an appropriate cleaning schedule. This can be achieved using standard products such as detergents. If you have increased cleaning measures at the present time, and this is no longer practicable to maintain (such as cleaning throughout the day due to economic factors) then you should decide the measures that you can implement to maintain a clean environment.
- Keep occupied spaces well ventilated – Keep in mind the balance between maintaining ventilation but providing an appropriate temperature for users of the building. You might not want to open every classroom window, for instance, in the middle of winter. Also be wary of propping open internal fire doors.
- Continue your testing regime – All staff (including primary school staff) and pupils at secondary schools should continue the twice weekly testing until at least the end of September. Schools are not required to provide test kits over summer (unless a pupil is attending summer school) as kits are readily available in the community or from local pharmacies.
- School visits – International travel will be permitted from the start of the Autumn Term, but not before. This would be subject to the current travel list and any international travel legislation. You should also consult with your insurer about the travel plans to assess the protection available. Trips must be risk assessed, and the hazard of COVID-19 must be included. National and overnight visits remain permitted as per present guidance.
Finally, we would advise that you look critically at all the changes that you have made over the past 16 months and decide what you wish to keep. You might have found that staggering the start and end of the day has made traffic management much easier, for instance. Whatever it is that you have done that has been successful, then consider keeping it.
We know that you will have many questions regarding Step 4 of the roadmap and ProAktive are here to support you through this transition. You can reach us on 01302 341 344.