Creating a safe space of the children of key-workers part 2: Promoting social distancing within the school

This is the second part of a blog that focuses on the issues involved with protecting the children of key-workers and suggests some possible solutions.

Part 1 which is focused on temperature screening all building occupants on a daily basis.

This section shares some of the decisions we have made to try to promote social distancing between the occupants.

Disclaimer: This is very much a plan being improvised as we go. I’m not claiming to have all the answers, just hoping it helps other schools in similar situations.

How to maintain social distancing within the school setting

We have decided to break our school day into 5 ‘lessons’ This is because it maintains some consistency around the standard school day and also because we are planning for roughly 100 students. This will allow for 5 groups of 20. Group size a fine line to walk; the more groups there are the more staff you need, which increases their personal risk. However, the smaller the group size the easier it is to provide the necessary social distancing.

Note: They are not really lessons. The students will be mainly completing the same work set for the rest of the school to do remotely.

Our general thinking has been based on the following principles:

  • It is essentially impossible to stop all physical contact between teenage children
  • Teenagers do not respond well to coercive directions.
  • These students are going through quite a lot emotionally. Their parents are having to leave them and risk their own health for the greater good. We need to be sensitive to their situation. Sitting them at exam desks for 5 hours a day would be better for social distancing but not good for their health overall.
  • This is a long term process. We need it to be able to work for the rest of the school year if needed.

These principles have guided us to make the following decisions:

  1. Between every ‘lesson’ the students will wash their hands. Simple.
  2. Classroom use will be prioritised by size. We are fortunate to have had a new school building in the last 10 years. This gives us some classes which have removable walls. We will use the double space classrooms to hold one group. So students can sit one to a desk; social distancing without feeling isolated. If we don’t have enough double rooms then we will use the largest classrooms (probably the science labs in most schools).
  3. Computer rooms. This is a worry. We need access to IT but also need to create space for the students. We will remove 12 of the 32 chairs in the room and encourage students to sit at alternating PC’s. Given the layout of our room it should just about work.
  4. PE. We will do sport each day. Guidelines issued by UK government press conference on Friday suggested the risk from sport is low providing the social aspect is minimised. We will aim to do PE outside if the weather permits. If PE does have to happen in the sports hall then we will need to get students to wash when leaving and returning to the changing rooms. Also no high fives etc..
  5. Unstructured times and persuading the students to maintain distance. This is where we need to be vigilant. Lots of running around the blowing off steam is to be expected, but we need a simple cue to get students to let go of each other and avoid hugging. If it is too aggressive it will be actively rebelled against. It needs to be pitched at a peer to peer level. We have decided our cue will be “respect his/her personal space” So the supervisor can remind the students with that cue on the first instance and then follow with a more direct instruction if needed.

We have created a small amount of new signage to continue to remind the students (and staff) of the simple rules

Once the students leave

The second consideration is what to do when the students leave. We will rigorously track which classrooms are used. These rooms will receive a detail clean each night, ensuring all surfaces, switches and handles are wiped.

What about other staff that need to work in the building?

IT support are hugely important for the remote school to function. We have split our two IT technicians into separate rooms. No one else is allowed to cross the door threshold. This way we can avoid contamination and ensure their safety.

Some staff will not be able to work remotely. They have inadequate living spaces for their family to live in and for them to work effectively. So while not encouraged staff to work in the building, we might need to plan for a small number to work inside the school each day. They must sign in and record their temperature like everyone else. They must stipulate the room they will be working in and spend the majority of the time in that room. They are not allowed to use common spaces or offices that others are working in. At the end of the day the log is used to instruct the cleaning staff of which rooms to clean.

So that’s our plan so far. On Monday it might all change after all

…or in this case cough in your face.

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