Children in England returned to primary schools in a phased process on 1st June with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils.
The government hopes that all children will have returned to school in September, but headteachers have been given the flexibility to decide for themselves if and when to admit more pupils.
This gives schools more time to prepare for a full re-opening.
Like any other threat, pupils and staff need to be protected against Covid-19. Learn what this looks like in practise.
What health and safety areas do you need to consider?
To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in school, there are several safety aspects that need addressing, each with their unique complexities:
- Social distancing (classes, crowd control, visitors and zones)
- Shielding vulnerable people
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Mental health
Let’s look at these areas in more detail.
1. Social distancing
Classes should contain no more than 15 students and a single teacher or TA. Students can only mix with others in their bubble, and you need to identify these bubbles in your risk assessment as a Covid-19 risk control measure.
Exploring and testing available technology to enhance learning is also critical as is staggering attendance for face-to-face learning.
- Crowd control
Access points from the school grounds and building must be clearly signposted, with wayfinding around the internal footfall of students, colleagues and visitors. Establish potential staggered drop-off and pick-up points and, if possible, increase access space and parking.
Also identify any potential queuing spots in the school (such as canteens, assembly halls, arrival and departure stations, corridors, toilets and stairways) and consider how these are signposted.
Visits, where possible, should be by appointment only while access and reception routes need to be clearly marked and signposted. Additionally, consider the use of remote sign-in software for staff and for class registers.
Keep any ‘no go’ zones or changes updated as you review queuing zones and travel routes around the school. These may need to be altered based on feedback and as more students and colleagues return to school. Check that zones out of access do not impede your fire escape arrangements.
2. Shielding vulnerable people
Assess people at increased risk of harm or those who may be currently shielding (including family members for students and colleagues). Learn more about shielding and protecting vulnerable people.
Assess and understand how colleagues and students will travel to school as part of your risk assessment. If buses are used, discuss staggering bus timetables and arrival and departure times. Encourage walking if possible, and consider if you need to provide extra storage areas for bicycles.
Also, ensure lifts are included in your risk assessment if usage or capacity is reduced due to Covid-19 risk.
Check that any cleaning SLAs have been updated, with rotas for cleaning of common touchpoints and equipment. Do seek advice on your specific school and circumstances.
A ‘heat map’ – a plan of the school with common routes and touchpoints clearly identified by area (red, amber, green) – is a good way to keep on top of cleaning.
Continue to communicate good personal hygiene and handwashing with students and colleagues – this still remains a critical risk control to prevent virus transfer.
Posters and hand hygiene points should be positioned near common touchpoints such as doors, washrooms, stairs and entrance/exit doors.
According to gov.uk, the majority of staff and students in education will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of two metres from others.
PPE is only needed in a very small number of cases:
- children, young people and learners whose care routinely already involves the use of PPE due to their intimate care needs should continue to receive their care in the same way
- PPE should be worn if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained from any child, young person or other learner displaying coronavirus symptoms
If you can’t obtain the PPE then you can approach your local authority – they should support you to access local PPE markets and available stock.
6. Mental health
Mental health support is fundamental to risk assessment, care and communication for all. It is especially necessary during this stressful time as many face financial problems, family illness and health anxiety. Your approach should include:
- open questions
- frequent discussions
- consideration of bereavement support
- assistance programmes for colleagues
- confidential communication options
- sign-posting for students, parents and carers
- mental health first aid training for staff
The HSE ‘Talking Toolkit’ gives examples of ways we can discuss stress and pressure and how this can be alleviated.
Managing other health and safety risks
Focusing purely on Covid-19 means you may neglect your other health and safety risks, such as:
- Planned preventative maintenance – keeping all your buildings and maintenance up to date
- Outdoor spaces and play – ensuring outdoor play areas meet recommended safety standards
- New members of staff – ensuring that adequate inductions, supervision and moral support is available for new employees
- Fire arrangements – servicing and maintaining fire alarm and detection systems, and briefing colleagues and students on changes to emergency arrangements
- Asbestos – If your school was built before 2000 you must have an up to date asbestos management survey and plan
Keep on top of all your school’s health and safety areas with expert help. Our webinar is a great place to start.
Rebuild your school community safely
We teamed up with our partner, One Education, to condense guidance from the government, unions, trade associations and the HSE on how schools can safely reopen to full capacity during and after Covid-19.
Watch it for free and learn more about:
- Your legal health and safety obligations
- Effective risk management
- Key practical considerations (people, environment and travel)
- Applying the Plan – Do – Check – Act (PDCA) model to risk management
Successfully rebuild your school community during and after Covid-19 while keeping all other risks continually in check.