7 ways schools are trying to stop new surge in Covid
- Credit: PA
All eyes are on the success of the return of children to school marking the beginning of lockdown restrictions being eased across the country.
All primary children across Norfolk returned to face-to-face teaching on Monday, while secondary students are also back in lessons, though in some cases the return is being phased.
Reopening classrooms after two months of closure is the first step in the Government’s four-stage strategy to gradually ease the strict rules implemented to contain the spread of the Covid-19.
Amid concerns that reopening may cause Covid R rates to rise, what are schools doing to make sure the safe return of youngsters does not cause a surge?
School run rules
Most schools, particularly those that are small or have limited access, have imposed strict new procedures for dropping off and picking up, including no gathering at the school gates. Some have adjusted start and finish times to keep groups apart and a few have asked parents to fear face coverings. Parents are also not being allowed onto the school site without an appointment.
As excited but nervous children lined up to return to Thomas Bullock CE Primary Academy in Shipdham on Friday, parents were understanding.
The school, which is part of the Diocese of Norwich Trust, donned bunting, balloons, and even bubbles to help children feel at ease.
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Former local head Geoff Barton, now general secretary of the ASCL headteacher union, said: “Early indications are very encouraging and the feedback we are receiving also suggests that attendance is good in the majority of schools.”
Extra washing and hygiene
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When schools reopened in September the Government published 25,000 words of guidance explaining how children and staff should be kept safe and many of the same measures remain in place.
Extra emphasis on hygiene means everyone cleans their hands thoroughly more often than usual, including when they arrive, when they return from breaks, when they change rooms and before and after eating. Schools have implemented hand sanitiser stations, enhanced cleaning and better ventilation.
Keeping classes apart
As in the autumn term primary schools have returned to teaching in ‘bubbles’ or small groups. Large assemblies or collective worship don’t include more than one group, and break and lunch times are being staggered to keep bubbles apart.
Sarah Shirras, co-chair of Educate Norfolk and headteacher at St Williams Primary in Thorpe St Andrew, said: “We are going back to what we did successfully in the autumn term, working in bubbles and in small groups.”
Older children are being encouraged to avoid close contact. Teachers are not restricted to a single bubble, but are urged to stay at the front of any classroom to reduce contact. In class, pupils must sit spaced out side-by-side and facing forward.
Bubbles on buses
Extra rules are in place on dedicated school transport including children being urged to use a regular seat and sit within their bubble or with the same group, making sure boarding and disembarking is properly organised to avoid mixing, and operators maximising the flow of fresh air.
Staff and pupil testing
The biggest change from the autumn term is staff and secondary pupils being tested for Covid-19 regularly to prevent transmission as schools reopen.
Students are being offered three in-school tests this week. Then they will be asked to take two lateral flow tests at home per week from next week onwards, reporting the results to the school.
Face masks ‘strongly encouraged’
The greatest controversy of school reopening has centred on government advice that face coverings should be worn in "all indoor environments" in secondary schools, colleges and universities – including during lessons – where social distancing cannot be maintained.
Guidance says students should be "strongly encouraged" to wear masks, though their use is not mandatory.
Tom Pinnington, head of Notre Dame High School in Norwich, said: "Nobody working in a school wishes to see students or staff wearing masks but they are another tool in our arsenal that will support on-site safety, and ultimately help keep our young people in school.”
Chris Snudden, Norfolk County Council’s director of inclusion and learning in children's services, said: “All of this is really built on us all being compliant and doing the right thing. We know that for some this will be really difficult but schools are very mindful of that and will work very sympathetically with those young people.”
Remote education still being provided
Although attendance is now mandatory for all pupils, schools will still be required by law to provide remote education to any pupils who need to continue to learn from home.
“This includes, for example, where such guidance means that a class, group or small number of pupils need to self-isolate or that clinically extremely vulnerable children are to shield,” the guidance states.