As schools across the country take cautious steps into the unknown, opinion remains divided as to whether it is safe and indeed practical to bring pupils and teachers back to the classroom.
Despite being given the green light by the government, reports have suggested highly variable levels of attendance in the first week of reopenings, with some schools in regions where the R rate is higher abandoning plans to reopen amidst fears of a second wave.
Indeed, while the government has “strongly encouraged” eligible children to return to school, it has stopped short of making this compulsory. As such, the decision ultimately rests with parents and a lot will depend on their personal circumstances and comfortability.
Having cocooned in relative safety at home for the last few months, families are likely to be fearful of the unknown, and schools will need to prepare themselves to answer the following questions.
Is my child going to be safe?
While it might not be possible to completely alleviate all fears, you can offer reassurance by demonstrating that you have properly considered the risks posed by COVID-19 and implemented sensible and proportionate controls. As with any workplace hazard, the starting point is to conduct a specific COVID-19 Risk Assessment and create a COVID-19 Policy, then share this information with all concerned.
What has been done to ensure compliance during the reduction of occupants?
Your school building(s) may have been unoccupied or partially occupied for some time, and routine health and safety compliance checks should have been being carried out as normal during this period to ensure staff and pupils can return safely.
Will teachers be wearing PPE (as this may be distressing for very young children)?
Currently, government advice is that PPE is not required in schools unless it is worn under normal circumstances for specific tasks, personal care, or where two-metre social distancing cannot be maintained when supervising a symptomatic child. Some staff may wish to wear a face covering; this is a local decision to be made by the Senior Leadership Team (SLT).
How will you keep in regular communication with parents?
Parents will, of course, want to be kept informed about the welfare of their child. Most schools already produce a weekly newsletter, and this can be a simple way to let parents know of any COVID-19 developments and how the school is controlling risk. This is another way to offer reassurance, so remember to reflect on your successes!
Will a normal curriculum be maintained?
The SLT will need to determine what is practical and safe to deliver.
This is unchartered territory and you might not have all the answers; however, taking the time to think about these critical questions will enable you to implement appropriate measures and instil confidence in all stakeholders, whether that be a parent, a school governor or those in between.
Get your FREE Workbook and Policy
To help schools meet their duty of care during COVID-19, our Coronavirus Advice Hub now contains a comprehensive Back into Education Workbook designed to guide you through the actions required to keep staff and pupils safe. This is accompanied by education-specific risk assessments and checklists to help you ensure compliance, plus a COVID-19 Health & Safety Policy that can be downloaded and adapted to suit your environment and activities.