In Depth

How schools will be different when they reopen their doors to students

Increased hygiene measures and staggered starting times to become the new normal

The largest union of headteachers in the UK has announced that a majority of schools will be ready to welcome back all pupils when term starts in September - although what they find on their return may be quite different from what they left in March.

Despite the introduction of an array of mandatort safety measures over the summer, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) confirmed that 97% of schools were ready to reopen on schedule.

However, the union’s general secretary, Paul Whiteman, warned that schools cannot introduce “any more last-minute plans”, a reference to this week’s U-turn on the use of masks in schools in England, the Daily Mail says.

Face masks in secondary schools

Much has been made of the government’s inconsistent messaging on the use of masks in schools. Boris Johnson announced this week that secondary schools in high-risk areas of England must ensure all pupils in year seven and above wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas.

The government has “left it up to head teachers” in regions without high infection rates to choose whether to introduce the masks, The Times reports. A survey of schools by the paper found “some will insist all secondary pupils wear them in corridors and other communal areas, with one making them mandatory in the classroom”.

Enhanced hygeine

The government has advised head teachers to introduce more stringent hygiene practices to reduce the risk of the disease spreading among students and staff.

Student hygiene will be of “paramount importance, with newly installed outdoor basins encouraging regular hand washing”, The i reports. Additional cleaning staff will also “routinely deep clean the schools”, the paper adds. 

Quarantine

The government has also insisted that schools keep pupils with Covid-19 symptoms, or with family members who show symptoms, away from school.

No. 10 says it wants schools to ensure that “pupils, staff and other adults do not come into the school if they have coronavirus symptoms, or have tested positive in at least the last ten days”.

Schools have also been asked to ensure that anyone who develops symptoms during the school day is sent home, which Downing Street says is an “essential action to reduce the risk in schools and further drive down transmission of coronavirus”.

Staggered start times

According to the BBC, a number of schools around the country plan to stagger start and finish times for pupils, without shortening the number of teaching hours each pupil receives.

The Times survey revealed that at least 200 schools are introducing staggered times, with earlier or later starts for different year groups. The Academies Enterprise Trust, which runs 52 schools in England, said most of its institutions would have staggered starts and finishes.

Student and staff bubbles

The government says it wants to introduce a system of “bubbles” aimed at “reducing the number of contacts between children and staff”.

“This can be achieved through keeping groups separate (in ‘bubbles’) and through maintaining distance between individuals,” the government schools portal says, noting that these are “not alternative options and both measures will help” depending on the demographics of the children being regulated.

For younger children the emphasis will be on separating groups, while for older students it will be on individual distancing. 

The bubble system also means that schools should avoid large gatherings such as assemblies or collective worship with more than one group.

Saturday lessons

A less common solution not listed by the government is the introduction of Saturday opening for schools.

According to the Daily Mail, two academy trusts have confirmed that they will open on Saturdays to help children catch-up with work missed during the six months of school closures due to Covid-19.

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