What risk assessment questions are schools asking ahead of June 1 opening?
Dozens of questions are being asked by schools in Suffolk as they prepare to open schools from June 1 in a bid to ensure safety.
Reception, year one and year six at primary schools are to return from June 1, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but it has prompted widespread controversy over whether safety measures can be put in place in time.
Some authorities have outright refused to send pupils back so soon, although Suffolk County Council is not one of those and is working with schools on safety plans.
Many schools have remained open to vulnerable pupils and children of key workers.
According to schools and unions, some of the common risk assessments being carried out include:
• What measures can be used to ensure pupils socially distance?
• How can pupils who may not have made much progress during home-schooling get the adequate interventions they need?
• Will classes have strict separate break and lunch times?
• How can pupil numbers in corridors be limited?
• Will toilets and hand washing be regimented through strict times for each class?
• Are there adequate staff numbers given some are self-isolating and class sizes are due to be smaller?
• How frequently must surfaces be cleaned, who will do it and how will the additional staff or cleaning materials be funded?
• Will staff have to wear PPE and is there enough?
• What action plan is in place if a child or member of staff displays symptoms of Covid-19?
• Will regular testing be needed and how will this be provided?
• What has the response of parents been?
• Will hot lunches be provided?
• Will free school meals provision be in place?
• How can it be ensured that pupils do not share equipment?
• What play-based activities can take place in Reception?
• What will the pick up/drop off arrangements be?
• Will children be taught by qualified teachers at all times?
• What resources will or will not be available?
Schools have many questions to answer and mitigation measures to put in place, and the answers are likely to be dramatically different from school to school depending on number of pupils, the size of buildings and corridors and facilities available.
It is anticipated that things such as group working activities, sharing textbooks and team sports will be among the ‘normal’ classroom practices not considered safe in the current climate.
Other measures such as one way corridors and classes moving around school at different times are likely to be easier to introduce.
Graham White from the Suffolk branch of the National Education Union said: “As a general rule the older the school building the more likely they will find it unsafe to open to more than key worker and vulnerable children.
“The smaller the intake, the more likely it is they will not open to more than key worker and vulnerable children.
“Those schools which have parents who can work from home, have one parent at home, or have parents who have researched and evaluated risk are more likely to not open wider than key worker and vulnerable pupils.
“Schools will have completed their risk assessments by now. Governors will have assessed these and in consultation with the headteacher will have decided to what extent they can open ‘safely’.”
The government has already confirmed there will not be sanctions for children whose parents are not comfortable sending them to school – most likely among families where someone in the household is considered ‘at risk’.
But it is not yet known if the same will apply to schools which refuse to open or whether final deadlines for opening this year will be imposed.
There is no statutory requirement for schools to inform the local authority on their plans, but the NEU has said it wanted schools re-opening on June 1 to inform parents by the end of the day on Friday, May 22, and to give parents seven days notice for those planning to open later than June 1.
Councillor Mary Evans, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said: “Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown many schools, early years settings and colleges across Suffolk have been open for the children of key workers and vulnerable families.
“We owe them a huge thank you for all they have done during these unprecedented times to educate and look after children throughout the county. Alongside remaining open, school and college leaders and their staff have worked hard to set up, from scratch, remote home learning for children during lockdown.
“Suffolk County Council officers have been working very closely with leaders from the early years sector, schools and colleges throughout lockdown to support them in rising to the challenges posed by this crisis.
"Our collaborative approach continues as together we work with primary sector leaders across Suffolk to support their plans to open for more children from June 1, based on the Government’s ambition.
“This has included working with school leaders to develop guidance on major issues such as risk assessment, which is being shared with all schools later this week. We are also helping them produce guidance for parents. I will be sending out a briefing to all my county councillor colleagues this week.
“This is a very complex situation and for all of us involved in the discussions, the fundamental priority has been the safety of the children and the staff.
“SCC officers have been talking with the local representatives of the unions as well as with officials from the Department for Education. For all of us at the county council it has been incredibly important to listen to the concerns of school leaders to enable us to understand how best to support them.
“We, of course, understand the anxieties of parents and staff which is why we are working so closely with primary school heads and the leaders of early years settings to help them prepare for a phase return of more children.
“The decision to welcome more children back will be based on robust risk assessment around pupil and staff safety in order to fulfil the Governments wider school attendance ambitions.”
More by this authorJason Noble, Local Democracy Reporter
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