COVID-19 has created a vastly different world for school-aged children. Starting in March last year, millions of children experienced homeschooling for the first time, as parents and caregivers instantly became teachers. Students in the UK have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, having been forced to homeschool for months on end. With repeated national lockdowns and numerous school shutdowns, traditional classroom-based learning shifted drastically.
We’ll explore some of the challenges faced by educators globally and suggest ways for schools to react faster to new risks, maintaining the safety of children, parents, and staff during the pandemic. Keeping the school environment safe is everyone’s responsibility and we’ll help your school get safely back faster with top tips for education.
Back to school in the UK
This year, school reopening plans have been changing at a moment’s notice. Schools in Wales are offering a phased return, with most students not fully back until after Easter. In Scotland, secondary school children are allowed back part time. In England, all pupils were back by 8th March.
The difference is that regular COVID tests are expected to be a ‘staple’ of everyday school life, as well as face coverings made mandatory for secondary schools.
It’s clear that many UK schools are doing everything they can to remain COVID-free. But when school life becomes fully operational, relying on tech to manage issues will be a valuable safety net when the potential for transmission is high.
A phased return to the classroom
In Australia, a study published in the Lancet has shown that virus transmission is minimal in children, meaning it is safe to reopen schools with strict precautions.
In the US, there is more reluctance about getting back to school. Teachers are hesitant to return until the virus has been contained further. Some are pushing to delay in-person learning, with some US states declaring ‘it’s simply not safe’.
So, how do we keep education safe in the midst of a global pandemic?
SafetyCulture is leading the way for schools to return safely and stay on top of new guidelines.
Digital checklists provide peace of mind
This time round, it’s about improving on our approach to risk. A digital device that teachers and staff carry on their person is essential as everyone works to keep everyone safe. Every staff member has a new job – and it’s about putting safety first.
Whilst schools can take measures such as keeping windows open for ventilation, there needs to be guidance that educators refer to at the touch of a button. Remembering to take all the necessary precautions can be challenging, especially if teachers have to self-isolate or there are supply teachers taking the helm.
Using digital checklists that are collaborative with a real-time chat log (that operates just like Whatsapp) enables staff to discuss issues and quickly remedy any potential risks, whilst staff members are distributed throughout the school. For added transparency, publish your digital inspections on your school website to offer parents extra peace of mind.
Here are some suggestions on what to capture in your digital inspections:
PPE: Are staff wearing appropriate PPE? Do children know about the risks of not wearing a face covering, if mandatory?
Tip: Keep a stock of spare face coverings in the classroom, ready for pupils to take one should they forget their own.
Social distancing: Are tables appropriately spaced? Do pupils have enough space to move around the classroom freely without getting too close to others?
Tip: Make floor markers with a fun design so younger children are more likely to stick to the guidelines.
Digital learning: Is every opportunity to remove paper based learning implemented? Can pupils view videos instead of sharing books or papers?
Tip: A personal digital device that is sanitized after use could be encouraged.
Sanitization: Are tables sanitized? Are chairs cleaned after every lesson?
Tip: Remember to sanitize smaller spaces, such as coat hooks and door handles.
Cohorting: Are measures in place to keep large groups apart? Can you stagger break and eating times to avoid too many people in one space? Can unused or under-utilized school spaces, including outdoor spaces, be repurposed to increase classroom space and facilitate social distancing?
Tip: Keeping certain sections of the school closed for a morning or afternoon allows them to be deep cleaned ready for the next class.
Essential learning: Are singing and music recitals off-limits? Is all non-crucial learning suspended until further notice?
Tip: Put up posters around the school informing staff, pupils and parents what activities are allowed.
Hand washing: Are hand washing stations near to the classroom? Are pupils being directed to wash hands after every class?
Tip: Encourage singing a 20 second song for younger children whilst washing to make it fun.
Contact tracing: Are contact tracing measures in place? Do children know to update the school with changes in contact details?
Tip: Send a weekly email to inform parents of updates, and include a reminder to update the school information regarding changes to contact information.
Communication: Do all pupils and staff know the symptoms of the virus? Are any illnesses communicated effectively to the necessary people? Do parents know to keep their child at home if they have any symptoms?
Tip: Set up alerts that can be distributed to parents at a moments notice; perhaps SMS notifications or a Facebook alert.
Ensure operational efficiency with micro-learning
Teachers have a lot to think about. They have to provide engaging and insightful lessons, keep the children interested and focused, and make sure they are meeting academic criteria. COVID-19 has added another layer of complexity onto what is already an often stressful job.
UK schools can navigate this challenge by embedding micro-learning into their mobile device, which offers a range of customisable modules that can provide schools with a personalised approach to staying COVID-free. EdApp microlearning enables businesses to keep their remote and distributed teams up to date with the latest protocols and provide onboarding training.
Communicating safety measures can boost reputation
With new guidance such as “consider staggered starts or adjusting start and finish times to keep groups apart as they arrive and leave”, there is a lot to think about when planning social distancing and bubbles. Do children stick to the rules whilst in school, but all crowd together when rushing to leave the school gates?
Comments on UK website Schoolweek report that parents are ‘worried’ and ‘anxious’ about the return to school after such a long time. For those schools that can not only implement but communicate their measures, safety can be a strong value proposition – and can now be a factor for parents as to where they send their children.
With iAuditor offering a streamlined approach to inspections and reporting, our data has found that short checklists, repeated often, can be the most effective method to drive meaningful change.
We’ve got a whole list of resources below for educators to navigate a safe reopening and maintain a low-risk environment during the pandemic. Check it out below.
We wish all educators the best for the coming academic year.
- School Reopening Checklist
- School Transportation Checklist
- School Cleaning & Disinfecting Schools
- School Food Preparation Checklist
- COVID-19 official checklists
- Get more information on SafetyCulture’s solutions for education or sign up for free as a K-12 school.
The information contained in this article is general in nature and you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your specific needs. Legal and other matters referred to in this article are based on our interpretation of laws existing at the time and should not be relied on in place of professional advice. We are not responsible for the content of any site owned by a third party that may be linked to this article. SafetyCulture disclaims all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded) for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information contained in this article, any site linked to this article, and any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.