Following the latest Government announcement, colleges, primary (reception onwards) and secondary schools will remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.
As schools get to grips with the current national lockdown, our education sector H&S experts provide a step-by-step guide to social distancing across your campus.
The facts about COVID-19 transmission
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, spread from the mouth and nose of an infected person through aerosols or droplets produced when coughing, sneezing, talking and breathing. If these droplets enter the eyes, mouth or nose of another person, they can infect them too.
Once the disease is passed on, it takes up to 14 days for symptoms to appear. These might include a high temperature, persistent dry cough and changes to taste and smell. However, individuals can spread the virus before they show any signs of being ill (pre-symptomatic), and others can be infectious without displaying any symptoms at all (asymptomatic).
The importance of social distancing in schools
Because virus-containing droplets can travel and disperse some distance from their source, maintaining clear space between teachers, pupils, parents and visitors is one of the most productive ways to curb transmission. Social distancing not only slows the spread of COVID-19, but can also reduce the need for self-isolation across your school community – which, in extreme cases, can lead to the ‘absence’ of entire year groups or full site closures.
As part of your school’s risk assessment process, it’s essential to identify contact circles (such as form groups or sets) and devise strategies to minimise them.
Guidance for successful social distancing
Tips for teachers and school employees
School staff should aim to stay two metres apart from colleagues, students and parents at all times. In exceptional circumstances that necessitate closer contact – for example, a specific pupil care plan – mitigating measures, which may include PPE, physical screens, or enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures, should be used. Otherwise, take steps to:
- Reorganise spaces, including staff rooms and offices, to create 2-metre gaps between seating. To prevent crowding, display maximum occupancy signs on doors.
- Install Perspex screens in reception areas.
- Host web-based meetings and training using video conferencing software.
- Conduct online Parents’ Evenings.
- Use visualisers to display classroom work on a larger screen.
Tips for students
To limit contact between pupils:
- Add clear 2-metre markers to common queue points, including cafeterias and building entrances.
- Implement distancing in PE, eliminate contact sports and opt for outside activities.
- Encourage students to come to school in PE kit to avoid crowding or the use of changing rooms.
Tips on creating bubbles
As few classrooms can accommodate physical 2-metre separation between students, creating ‘bubbles’ can help minimise contacts and transmission risks.
While primary school bubbles typically comprise one class, secondary school bubbles often include up to a full year group to support a wider curriculum and the need for pupils to move between subject groups.
Whatever your structure, cut out crossover between bubbles by adopting:
- One-way systems around school.
- Staggered lunch times and separate seating areas.
- Bubble-specific classrooms and buildings, allowing teachers to rotate, rather than students.
- Specific guidance from education authorities, such as CLEAPSS, that help adapt non-specialist classrooms for niche subjects like DT and share pointers on distancing in DT labs.
Staying the COVID-19 course
Vigilance plays a pivotal role in effective social distancing, so communicate regularly with employees to identify previously untracked areas of close contact.
Frequent reminders about the importance of the 2-metre rule can overcome complacency and head off problematic behaviour before it leads to a confirmed case or outbreak.