The problem with staggered start times in primary schools by years or classes.

The government has suggested the schools stagger the start and end of the day to reduce the number of people congregating around the school entrance. Schools, desperate for guidance and support from a pathetically ill-equipped DfE, have taken this on board and most schools have some sort of staggering to the day. They also do other things like try to create multiple entrance points, class bubbles and one-way systems. These are really good ideas. As a secondary teacher I can totally see the benefit of spreading the students entrance times out.

However, in a primary setting I actually think there is an issue with staggering by years or classes. I this is more dangerous for one simple reason; supervision. In a secondary setting staggered start and finish times spread the students out. In theory yr 7 will turn up to the campus at different times. to yr 8 etc.. In a primary setting this is not what is going to happen for a significant number of students. There are many primary students who have siblings in other years. These students will arrive with their siblings and a parent, but their start time will be later. Let’s say its 15 minutes later. Now these parents can’t leave their other child out the front of the school. They must stay and supervise them. There will be other families in similar situations, so they will aggregate outside the school gates. This is a problem for two reasons; firstly, it creates a bottle neck making it harder for other parents to drop their children off safely. Secondly it increases the chance of infection.

The two factors affecting the chance of infection are the infectious dose and exposure time. An infected person coughing in your face is a high dose over short time. Whereas talking to an infected person for an extended period in an enclosed space is lower dose, but a longer exposure time. This is an accumulative risk.

Now I accept that parents will be outside in the fresh air/rain/sleet/snow, so the risk is low. But it is not zero. People will get within close proximity and the children will mix, as children do.

Essentially by staggering the entry by class or year you actually increase the chance of infection spreading in your parental community slightly.

Teachers think of the organisation of schools in terms of years, but they forget that that is not how children are organised for the majority of the time. I get that schools want to try and maintain their bubbles, but those bubbles are useless outside the school gates. Children are not organised horizontally by school year/class most of the time. They are organised vertically by families.

A staggering strategy that works

I think a better system of staggering entries would be to stagger them alphabetically. For example, students with surnames A-G turn up first, go through the one-way system and enter their corresponding classes and the parent leaves. 10 mins later the next group go through. The downside of this is each class has students arriving over a longer period of time. Staff need to be in their classrooms to welcome them and students need activities to keep them entertained before the others arrive. I know for a fact that primary teachers are very capable of doing this and already do it. This also impacts on outside supervision of the families, but I think given the lack of children and parents congregating then this can be covered by non-teaching support staff and SLT.

At the end of the day the students with surname A-G leave first and the other students do the settling task they did while waiting for their departure time. This ensures each student has the same learning experience just in a slightly different order. As students leave their desks can be cleaned and prepared for the next day. I see from my twitter poll that a few primary schools have put this system in place but most of them are using years.

We can see the alphabetical model has been implemented in a few contexts. Even though the benefit is small, if it was applied to 77% of all primaries, it could be a literal life saver.

I admit the decision to stagger by years might be influenced by other factors I am unaware of. I do encourage all primary leaders to consider if alphabet staggering would not be more beneficial when considering all the factors involved. I am fully aware I am not an expert in primary school leadership, but it seemed like it was worth chiming in with my 2 pence.

If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them on twitter

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