How will it look returning to school after COVID-19?
So, it now looks as though schools will return in September. The Dfe website is full of advice about how this should happen and lists the new responsibilities which schools will have to assume. What a different start it be for parents, pupils, teachers and all the other people who make schools work.
There will be a lot more preparation needed first of all before the start. New ‘deep cleaning’ procedures will have to happen. This might have training implications for some teams, maybe more equipment and materials. Whichever planning is needed it will have financial implications for the school. Cleaning budgets have been cut in recent years and the time allocated for each square metre cleaned will need to be increased to allow the school to follow hygiene advice fully.
So, once the buildings have been deep cleaned and are ready, the new signage is in place, the logistics of movement and reorganised entrances and exits has been schemes out we are ready to open. The Leadership team will have dusted down and upgraded their risk assessments to prepare, protect and prevent. That’s when the real problems start when we introduce the human factor!
Schools are places where thousands of human interactions take place every day. To plan to formalise, organise and even restrict this is a logistical nightmare. You must remember that in secondary schools the timetable will have been completed during the lockdown. Timetables’ everywhere will have been examining their work and looking at what they can do to comply with the new regulations and offer the best for their pupils. Secondary schools rely heavily on specialised rooms and generally pupils move around to be taught in them. It is not possible to move kit or fixtures. That means that in the new year significant numbers of pupils will be moving around their building to go to their classes. Should they all be masked for movement? We understand that young people are not a major risk group, but all have family and contacts outside the school environment. This must be one of the biggest areas of concern.
I have seen some imaginative solutions including allocating ‘pods’ of children to different areas of the school and trying to equip each area with the range of rooms needed to deliver the curriculum. This will certainly restrict movement and contact. Even more revolutionary for a secondary school is to let the pupils stay in a room and the staff move to each location. Many schools have interactive white boards in every room, and this would reduce the impact of not teaching in a specialised classroom. This may be the biggest single change which would have the biggest impact. These changes also come with new seating options returning to desks or tables in lines and rows as primary schools have already done. I hope to be able to talk about remote and community learning later.
So, once we have initiated a safer infrastructure for the delivery of teaching, we now need to consider arrival and departure protocols, social time and breaks. Staggered arrival and departure times are a simple way of restricting contact between pupils, but they have significant implications for the timing of the school day and the transport arrangements to and from school. Should the school day start earlier and finish later with an overlap period being the only time the whole school population is on site? I can tell you that having written school timetables for years that this is a big headache! It would mean effectively that you were scheduling with all staff being part time. Not having the freedom to deploy teachers throughout the week is a major challenge. However, this may have to be considered as it is one of the devices which would limit contact. Dealing with break and lunchtime is again a big issue. Breaks could be taken at different times of day, but not when food preparation is involved. Some schools already have more than one ‘sitting’ and this must help. Overall the level of supervision needed when pupils are in the yard or on the field will have to increase.
I feel the most important contribution to the success of this return is for honesty from parents and compliance from children. If they don’t come to school if they feel unwell and follow the rules once there it may well work.
We are not there yet and there will be further conversations over the Summer as Teaching and other Unions seek reassurance about the safety of their members. Parents, too, want to know their kids will be safe and it may be necessary for schools to publish a clear plan about how they will comply.
One thing is certain-any return in September will be unlike any I or any other staff member has experienced before. The chatty buzz of post Summer is likely to be replaced by a more wary and distanced approach. We don’t know yet how any of it will work.
Produced by Michael Mckeever, 06/08/2020