Author: Ben Greenwood
Posted: 28 Aug 2020
Estimated time to read: 5 mins
As schools prepare to return after a somewhat unconventional summer break, SLT and classroom teachers have a lot on their plates. It’s a stressful time for staff and students, and constantly changing (and often contradictory) advice from the government hasn’t helped either.
The official advice from the government is to closely follow their Guidance for Full Opening of Schools. It is recommended that this guide is read fully. This blog is not intended to be read in place of the guide, instead it has been written to consolidate knowledge in a more concise format and give staff members a reminder of the systems of control.
Returning to school during the pandemic is a unique challenge for our schools, it’s something they have never had to prepare for before, and with so much at stake it’s important that everything runs smoothly in September.
Keeping schools safe as students return
The government’s advice details how to minimise the risk of infection and prevent further outbreaks. It is broken down into nine actions schools can take, or ‘systems of control’. These systems should work to keep schools safe and allow local health protection teams to monitor the situation more closely.
What are the systems of control?
The ten systems of control are broken down into two stages: Prevention and Response to Infection. The first seven controls are put in place to prevent a possible infection and reduce the risk of an outbreak. The final three are controls to put in place if there is an infection in the school.
These actions are all preventative measures designed to minimise the risk of infection in schools.
1. Minimise contact
The best way to prevent the spread of infection is to ensure that those who could be ill aren’t in school. This can be achieved with a firm home-school agreement, ensuring that parents and students know just how important it is to stay home if anyone in their household shows symptoms.
After the summer holidays, which were preceded by extra weeks at home, it’s likely that parents will be eager to get their children back to school. It can be easy to overlook a slight cough or loss of smell when you’re juggling full time work with childcare. Remember, parents, schools will close again if there are further outbreaks, so keep any child with symptoms at home and get them tested as soon as possible.
2. Wear facecoverings where recommended
The government added the wearing of facecoverings to the list of systems of control after initially telling schools they weren't required. This U-turn did cause a little bit of a stir. Face masks are now compulsory in school where possible.
3. Wash hands
We know by now that the most effective way to tackle coronavirus is to kill it when it touches our skin. This is done by washing hands more frequently and for the correct amount of time. There’s a number of techniques out there to ensure students scrub properly, like singing happy birthday all the way through whilst washing hands.
The key here is to ensure that all staff and students make this a regular part of their school routine. In the same way that sitting down and getting out books and a pen in class is an automatic action, washing hands should become an autopilot response.
4. Maintain hygiene
We’ve covered extremity hygiene but, as a respiratory virus, COVID-19 is carried and spread mostly via the lungs, mouth and nose airways. Infected particles from coughs and sneezes can infect those nearby. This means employing the Catch it, Bin it, Kill it protocol and could mean mandatory mask wearing for students and staff.
The government has, so far, only made face masks mandatory in schools in areas where a local lockdown is in place. But it’s up to headteachers to decide if they are willing to make mandatory mask wearing for students age 11+ part of school policy. Ask your managing SLT for more details if you are unsure.
5. Keep school clean
Infected particles from the lungs and throat are released from talking, breathing, coughing and even simply touching surfaces. For this reason, all frequently touched surfaces, like door handles, desks and banisters should be cleaned frequently throughout the day.
If possible, try to keep the same groups or ‘bubbles’ in the same rooms and allocate toilet blocks for different sections of the school to keep cross-contamination to a minimum. This will also aid Test and Trace and keep infection rates within the school down in the event of an outbreak.
6. Social distancing
Keeping two metres apart where possible is still the official government advice in all indoor spaces. However, if this isn’t possible then trying to maintain a metre distance is also allowed. Maintaining social distancing among staff will likely be relatively easy, but students pose more of a challenge.
Having as many physical reminders and separation apparatus (plastic bollards, cones, temporary fences etc.) will ensure that students take distancing more seriously and give them tangible boundaries. Keeping desks as distanced as possible and corridors one-way where possible can also help to maintain these guidelines.
Consider social distancing policy for SEND students and the staff that work with them. For students that might not understand distancing rules, or have needs that require contact, find ways to reduce direct contact or maintain student/carer ‘bubbles’.
Make sure there is also a distancing policy for students that develop symptoms in school and are put into isolation until they are collected by a parent or guardian to isolate at home. Is there a dedicated space for this isolation? Will a member of staff be required in the room? These are all considerations that need to be taken into account.
7. Wear additional PPE where necessary
Whilst this may not always be required, it is possible that you will be asked to wear PPE in school. This could include plastic gloves, a face shield or a plastic apron. It will depend on whether your local area is in lockdown and what your school’s policy dictates.
The government has essentially left this one up to headteachers to decide, so if you are unhappy with your school’s approach to PPE, request a meeting with your head. If you work with SEND students, you may also be required to wear PPE.
Response to Infection
These actions are to be taken when there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in school.
8. NHS Test and Trace
Staff, parents and students must all be willing to fully engage in the NHS Test and Trace system, should they show symptoms of coronavirus. This includes booking in for a test, providing the details of anyone they have been in close contact with and then self-isolating for 10 days without any developing symptoms.
Schools should be informed immediately of the results of coronavirus tests. Ensure that parents know they need to call as soon as possible to confirm results.
9. Manage confirmed cases
Schools need to act quickly to manage confirmed cases. As soon as a case is confirmed, the local health protection team should be informed immediately. The health protection team will take the lead on contacting those who might be affected and conducting a risk assessment of the school. They will then advise the school on who should be sent home to self-isolate.
Household members of close contacts who have been sent home do not need to self-isolate unless they begin to show symptoms. In that case the entire household should self-isolate. The local health protection team will also inform the school of any infections they need to be aware of and ensure that action is being taken to prevent outbreaks.
10. Contain outbreaks
The beginning of an outbreak is defined in the government’s advice as “two or more confirmed cases in 14 days” or a rise in overall sickness with COVID-like symptoms. At this point the school should closely follow the advice of the local health protection team to ensure that. They may recommend that a class, year group or entire school goes into self-isolation to prevent further spread. However whole school closure will only happen if deemed necessary.
In some cases, a mobile testing unit may be dispatched to the school to run mass testing, again this will be managed by local health protection.
Updated: 03/09/20 - Government added face coverings to list of systems of control.