The UK has recently moved into the next phase of the lockdown.
During a national address, the Prime Minister explained that though the lockdown remains largely in place for now, he also shared the plan to get the economy moving again.
Boris Johnson revealed that this will involve getting people back to work, as well as making the workplace safer, and getting children back to school as soon as the 1st June – as a way of helping working parents and teachers.
But many have questioned how a return to some semblance of ‘normal’ school life would work, given how many teachers and students exist in such close quarters in most schools across the UK.
Of course, like all aspects of managing the coronavirus outbreak, social distancing will likely be key.
But how will this work in practise in our schools?
How might social distancing in schools work?
Some pupils across the country are still attending school, due to being children of key workers, who are still required to work at this time.
But the Prime Minister has explained that schools could go back in a phased approach as early as 1st June.
Because of key worker children already at school, the government has actually already published advice on social distancing in schools. Importantly, this advice is only relevant to the select few pupils and teachers still in school at the moment, but it could be an interesting indication of how things may work when more pupils return to education.
To ensure that the risk of spreading the disease is as low as possible, the government have said that any visitors to the school should not enter the education setting if they are displaying coronavirus symptoms. And this is likely something that should continue as and when more kids return.
They have also said that the way in which pupils arrive at school should be considered – by reducing mass transport such as coaches or buses. This could also continue when more pupils go back to school. The government also states that class sizes, at the moment, should be kept as small as possible. However, how this might work when all schoolchildren return is difficult to predict.
Staggering movement of pupils and teachers around the school is another means of maintaining social distancing. For example, staggering lunch times, class end times, and breaks, could help to reduce contact between pupils and teachers.
Teachers and parents are also being encouraged to remind children of the importance of regular hand washing for 20 seconds, sneezing or coughing into a tissue or elbow, and not touching their faces.
These are likely all things that would continue when schools reopen on a larger scale – with potential to step up the measures, too.
The government said that further social distancing measures could also include:
- sitting children at desks that are far apart
- ensuring everyone queues and eats further apart than normal
- visiting the toilet one after the other
- putting guidelines on the floor in corridors
- avoiding unnecessary staff gatherings
Much has been said about the potential plans to phase children back to school in stages as well. In fact, Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney has said that is ‘inconcievable’ for all children to return to school on the same day, saying there would be a ‘phased’ return to allow for social distancing.
This may mean some children visiting school in the morning and others in the afternoon, or allowing certain age groups back to school first.
Why are governments able to consider sending children back to school?
With as much as we know about the coronavirus so far, it seems that children are much more likely to experience the virus in a more mild way than adults.
That means that for the vast majority of kids, COVID-19 won’t cause serious illness.
Studies have also suggested the risk of coronavirus transmission in schools is very low.
This is likely one of the reasons that a return to schooling is one of the first things being considered when it comes to easing the country out of lockdown.
How have other countries tackled social distancing in schools?
In one school in Eastern China, school children have created wide-winged hats for themselves, on the advice of school teachers, in order to help maintain a one metre’s distance from one another.
At the Yangzheng Elementary School in Hangzhou, kids have created social distancing hats out of cardboard, leaves and other arts and crafts materials, measuring one metre long, to ensure a distance between one another is maintained.
In other schools, masks have been made compulsory, and thermal imaging has been installed to check children’s temperature before they enter the school. Schools in China have now re-opened for all ages.
In Denmark, where there have been 452 COVID-19 deaths, schools have reopened for younger children only. There are strict guidelines to follow – including staggered playtimes, individual desks so children don’t have to share a table, one teacher to every 10 children, and outside classes where possible. Surfaces also must be disinfected twice a day.
Similar guidelines have been put in place in schools in Norway – parents are not allowed in to school, and surfaces are cleaned twice a day. Children are encouraged to keep a 2 metre distance, and they can’t bring in toys from home.