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Government plan calls for floor dividers to keep youngest children up to 3.5 metres apart

The government today released its plans for keeping school children safe from coronavirus including keeping the youngest children 3.5 metres apart and a queuing system for the school run. 

From June 1, primary school children in reception, year 1 and year 6 classes are due to return and Boris Johnson tonight insisted that would happen as planned.  

But the release of the new guidance for teachers and heads today comes after teaching unions and the Government have been at loggerheads for weeks over the safety of opening schools – and could yet cause more disagreements.

The National Education Union (NEU) is leading opposition to a June 1 return, and some 50 councils are also set to defy the Government’s instructions. 

The main steps outlined in the guidance for teachers are:

  • Children under 2 years need 3.5 metres squared per child, two-year-olds need 2.5 metres squared per child , and children aged 3 to 5 years need 2.3 metres squared per child; 
  • Once children have returned make sure any surfaces touched are cleaned several times a day; 
  • Consider how you can keep small consistent groups of children together throughout the day;  
  • Staff will have to implement some kind of queuing system when picking up children, to limit contact with carers 
  • Dividers could help keep children in different parts of the room; Remove all soft toys or any toys that are hard to clean; 
  • To reduce the risk of infection ensure children with symptoms and staff who are symptomatic to not come in; 
  • Ensure social distancing of groups of children and staff as much as possible; Ensure hands are washed regularly throughout the day and children are observed doing so; 
  • Ensuring you have a good supply of disposable tissues throughout the setting to implement ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ ; 
  • Arrange for children to be collected at the door if possible; 
  • Limit visitors and keep windows open for ventilation; 
  • Institutions should have a policy in place for responding to a case of coronavirus  

Students form a long line to have their temperatures checked before entering class at Jeonmin High School in Daejeon, South Korea last week

These are the main steps set out in the guidance for teachers:  

Preparing the premises

The government guidance published today stipulates that the first thing institutions should do is ensure the premises is ready to receive children safely.

The building should be checked if it has been out of use for a long time, and if it has been closed then schools should consider legionnaires checks.  

Any activities should be reassessed in light of the coronavirus pandemic and once children have returned ‘all frequently touched surfaces, equipment, door handles, and toilets, used during the day, will need to be cleaned thoroughly several times a day.’ 

Educators will have to consider how best to use the space of their premises ‘and how they can be best used to keep small, consistent groups of children together throughout the day, and to keep the groups apart from each other.’

The guidance adds: ‘Depending on the size and the layout of individual settings, consider how floor space, rooms and outdoor space can be organised to ensure physical distancing between staff and between groups of children, considering the early years foundation stage age-based space requirements.’

Children under 2 years need 3.5 metres squared per child, two-year-olds need 2.5 metres squared per child, and children aged 3 to 5 years need 2.3 metres squared per child.

It could be useful to utilise area dividers to keep children in different parts of the room or use floor markings to help staff keep track of different groups.

Area dividers may help to keep children in different parts of the room, and floor markings could be helpful in assisting staff with keeping groups apart. The use of communal spaces in settings should be managed to limit the amount of mixing between groups as much as possible.  

The guidance adds: Public health advice is to remove all soft toys, and any toys that are hard to clean, such as those with intricate parts. Where practicable, remove soft furnishings, for example pillows, bean bags and rugs.’ 

This photo, taken in the town of Tourcoing on the border with Belgium, shows boys and girls forced to stay away from each other inside areas marked out with chalk.

This photo, taken in the town of Tourcoing on the border with Belgium, shows boys and girls forced to stay away from each other inside areas marked out with chalk.

Implement measures to reduce risk for staff and children

Schools and other premises where children are going to be learning or looked after should look at how to reduce possible transmission of coronavirus, the guidance says. 

The new measures admit that children in early years are unlikely to keep two metres apart but there are a range of protective measures, these are:

ensure parents are advised to keep children with any symptoms at home; ensure staff who are symptomatic do not attend work; frequent hand cleaning and good respiratory hygiene practices; regular cleaning of settings; minimising contact and mixing

The guidance says that staff are encouraged to keep group sizes to a maximum of eight children and ‘to ensure that there are no more than 16 children in a group in early years settings.’

It is understood that children and staff in early years provision are unlikely to be two metres apart but that children and staff should mix in a ‘small consistent group’ and that ‘small group stays away from other groups.’

The new measures should ensure that: 

physical distancing between groups of children and staff as far as possible; that individual groups use the same area of a setting throughout the day as much as possible; that the sharing of toys and resources is reduced; that any toys or resources that are shared can be easily cleaned between different groups’ use

The guidance also states that children should take part in handwashing throughout the day and they should be supervised.

There should also be a number of disposable tissues to ‘implement ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’. 

Enhanced clearing is a core mantra within the government measures and says that all surfaces touched by children, such as doors or doors, are cleaned more regularly than usual. 

There should also be a clear policy on bringing toys or items from home and this should only be done if ‘absolutely essential’. 

Staff will have to implement some kind of queuing system when picking up children, to limit contact with carers.

The guidance suggests that ‘for example by limiting drop off and pick up to one parent or carer per family and staggering timings.’

It adds: ‘Consider how you can use technology to communicate with parents and carers digitally, for example when providing handover information at the end of the day.’

Schools should also keep windows open as much as possible and limit the amount of visitors.

The guidance states that the vast majority of children and staff will not need PPE and that staff do not have to take the temperatures of children every day.

Reviewing staff for availability at work 

There should be an audit that takes place on what staff are available to start work on June.

The guidance says that: ‘Anyone who is displaying coronavirus symptoms, or has displayed symptoms in the previous 7 days, or lives with someone who has displayed symptoms in the previous 14 days, should not attend work unless they have tested negative for coronavirus.’

A staff member who is clinically vulnerable is also advised not to attend school.

Agree a protocol for responding to a suspected case of coronavirus and ensure setting is prepared 

 A school’s sickness policy should be amended to reflect what to do if you have a case of suspected coronavirus.

The guidance states: ‘Anyone who begins to display coronavirus symptoms while in the setting should be sent home immediately and follow government guidelines on what to do if you or someone in your household develops symptoms. 

‘If a child is waiting to be collected, they should be separated from their group and isolated with one member of staff if this is possible.

A facemask should be worn if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained from a child who is symptomatic and awaiting collection and if contact is necessary, then gloves, an apron and a facemask should be worn. 

‘If a risk assessment determines there is a risk of splashing to the eyes, for example from coughing or spitting, then eye protection should also be worn.’

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