Following the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on 10th May that suggested primary schools should prepare to open to more pupils from 1st June, the Department for Education have now published a series of advice documents and frameworks, on how schools should plan for this.
Our round up of this initial advice, plus some helpful hints and tips schools might consider in deciding how and when to implement it, is included below.

1. Review Health and safety policies

Prior to taking these decisions, school leaders should review their existing health and safety policies, and risk assessments, and update these in line with the current situation and “COVID-secure” guidelines. The DfE has also now published a planning framework with step-by-step actions for schools to follow.

There will potentially be a number of new policies and procedures required and amended ways of working discussed as you update your risk assessment and work your way through the planning framework.

Once these are agreed and decisions made, we strongly suggest combining them as a formalised record, such as a “Safe Operating Procedure” or similar document that is shared with staff and any required training implemented. Extracts from the document might also be useful to share with pupils and parents.

This could include sections on the following topics:

  • Government documents and guidance that has been reviewed and considered;
  • Advice to staff and families about when not to come to school (those displaying symptoms, and what the arrangements will be for those in vulnerable or shielding categories)
  • Advice on means of travel to and from school;
  • Access and egress to and from the school site – how will safe drop off and collection take place, will visitors be allowed on site?
  • General approach to social distancing;
  • Cleaning regimes – following the government advice on cleaning in non-healthcare settings;
  • Implementing hand cleaning and good respiratory hygiene practices;
  • Different arrangements for specific circumstances – intimate care, first aid; and,
  • Procedures for if someone becomes unwell/ displays symptoms whilst at school and requirement for self-isolation.

It is important to remember that all existing Health and Safety legislation and requirements still need to be complied with whilst putting in place updated plans.

2. Measures to reduce the risk of transmission

Primarily the DfE advice sets out a hierarchy of controls that when collectively implemented substantially reduce the risk of transmission of any infection. These measures include:

  • Minimising contact with individuals who have symptoms;
  • Cleaning hands more often than usual;
  • Ensuring good respiratory hygiene;
  • Cleaning frequently touches surfaces; and,
  • Minimising contact and mixing of the school population.

3. Clear messaging and procedures

In line with national advice, anyone with symptoms of Coronavirus (or self-isolating alongside members of their household) should not enter or remain on the school site.

Make sure this message is communicated regularly to staff, pupils and families including via signage at key entry points.

You will also need to have a procedure in place in case anyone becomes unwell whilst at school. Staff should leave the school as soon as possible; and you should have an agreed location where pupils can safely be supervised whilst they wait for a parent or carer to collect them.

4. Changes to class sizes and layout

Another key principle the guidance sets out is to organise children into smaller consistent teaching groups, of no more than 15 pupils, so they only mix with a finite number of children plus adult(s).

This will usually mean splitting your existing classes into half, and deciding where each group can be taught – beside existing classrooms, what other spaces can you use – larger group rooms, nurture rooms, halls, before and after school club spaces?

Within each new classroom space, what furniture or equipment can be moved, or stored elsewhere in order to allow you to re-arrange the room and maximise the distance between desks and workstations. What resources are required to teach each group?

Bear in mind that any re-allocation of furniture and equipment must NOT block fire escape routes or otherwise interfere with your existing fire safety arrangements.

5. Measures to minimise interaction between classes

Interaction between these smaller groups and other teaching groups or adults should also be minimised.

This will likely mean you need to stagger drop off and collection times, break times and lunchtimes to avoid multiple groups circulating at the same time.

Alternative arrangements for dining, such as a different meal offer or use of classrooms and external spaces for dining might need to be considered.

It might also mean you need to look carefully at which groups are using which spaces – can you use spaces that directly access the outdoors rather than those accessed via corridors whilst fewer year groups are in school? Be aware that significant changes to the way you operate the school might require a formal review of your fire risk assessment.

6. Identify the pinch points

Identify where the pinch points are, where people might temporarily pass others and / or naturally need to congregate.

Are there ways this can be avoided? For instance, can you alter which access points to the school are used?

If this cannot be avoided, can you re plan routes around the site, using the outdoors spaces as much as possible, or create one-way systems to minimise cross overs?

Can you use furniture or temporary floor markings to keep people the recommended 2m distance apart? Can doors be safely propped or left open to minimise travel times and contact of handles, again only in accordance with your fire strategy.

7. Increase cleaning regimes and equipment review

Enhanced personal measures (increased hand-washing and other good respiratory hygiene e.g. catch it, bin it, kill it) alongside increasing cleaning regimes are highlighted as key control measures to be implemented.

Other detailed guidance on these aspects are published elsewhere, but schools are being encouraged to review what equipment is kept accessible within classrooms, and how easily it can be cleaned when used by multiple children.

You might want to consider ways to store and allocate resources such as pens and pencils so they are only used by one child, or ask for some personal items to be brought in from home e.g. water bottles.

8. Involve governing body and professional advisors

Finally, make sure to involve your governing body and professional advisors.

Within your Governing Bodies, Board of Trustees and wider networks, there will be a range of people who will be dealing with implementing similar measures in their workplaces – use them as a sounding board for your plans, and ask whether there is any other support they can offer.

Remember that, along with the Headteacher, Governing Bodies or Boards of Trustees, have a duty of care both as employers and to pupils. Good governance procedures would, therefore, suggest Governing Bodies or Boards are consulted on and sign-off any key decisions regards the re-opening and changes to health & safety policies or risk assessments. The National Governance Association can provide further guidance on this.

If you would like to discuss this in more detail or if you have any questions, please get in touch with our Development Manager, Nikola.

For the most recent DfE guidance, visit:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preparing-for-the-wider-opening-of-schools-from-1-june/planning-guide-for-primary-schools

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-educational-and-childcare-settings-to-prepare-for-wider-opening-from-1-june-2020