You are here:
School reopening: how to reduce contact at busy hotspots
Find out how to minimise opportunities for contact on site, including creating smaller class groups and setting up one-way systems. Plus get advice on how to keep on top of cleaning and hygiene practices.
Create 'bubbles' of pupils and staff to reduce opportunities for contact
If possible, organise pupils so that they're:
- In the same group at all times during the day
- In the same group on subsequent days
- Not mixing with other groups
- Using the same classroom and space during the day
Keep these groups/'bubbles' separate by:
- Accessing rooms from outside (where possible)
- Having one-way circulation through the school (see the section below) or placing a divider in the middle of the corridor
- The beginning and end of the school day by a short period
- Drop off and pick up times (get more guidance on how to manage drop offs and pick ups)
- Break and lunch times – if you can't stagger lunch times, consider serving cold or 'packed' lunch in more than one location or in classrooms
- The use of shared equipment (which should be cleaned between different groups)
- Staff breaks
- Having assemblies in classrooms rather than together in a shared space
- Limiting the exchange of shared resources (e.g. books and stationery) and limiting the number of resources that are taken home by staff and pupils
Get advice in another of our articles on how to organise your staggered timetable, including a sample timetable that you can adapt.
Example from a school
Heron Way Primary School in West Sussex has told us that they're considering taking the following approach to limit contact between pupils/staff on site:
- Each member of staff and group of 15 children will create a 'bubble'
- Children and staff will stay in these groups all day and won't interact with any other groups
- They'll move around the school using outside doors only, so they won't be using corridors
- There'll be staggered break and lunch times for each 'bubble'
- They'll have staggered drop off and pick up times by children's surnames – staggered drop off times will begin at 8:30am until 9:00am (3 time slots at 10 minutes each), and staggered pick up times will begin at 3:00pm until 3:30pm (3 time slots at 10 minutes each)
Set up a one-way system in school
The aim of a one-way system is to avoid having groups of people travelling in opposite directions and meeting at busy hotspots.
If you're in a:
- Newer school building, it should be easier to set up a one-way system as you should have more stairways and fire exit doors
- Older school building, it may be more difficult – if you're not able to set one up, see the third sub-section just below
To plan your one-way system, you'll need to:
- Look at the plans of your school building(s)
- Highlight areas where one-way systems aren't possible – for these areas, conduct a full risk assessment so you can manage the risk of contact (see the section below on 'if you can't adopt a one-way system' for examples of how you could manage these risks)
- Consider the 'flow' of people around the building for the following circumstances:
- Getting pupils into and out of the building at drop off and pick up times
- Moving pupils in and out of school buildings for breaks
- Moving pupils from classrooms to the dining hall / sports hall etc for lunch
- Identify where people can enter the building by one door and exit through a different door
Implement your system:
- Once the routes have been mapped, the staff member responsible should walk the routes to confirm that they can work as designed
- Communicate the routes to staff and pupils through instructions and signage
- Appoint staff to manage the routes during peak times (e.g. at the start and end of the day)
If you can't adopt a one-way system:
Take measures to reduce contact. For example you could:
- Have each class access their classroom at different times
- Increase awareness of individuals to stand back and allow somebody to come down or up the stairs before they use the staircase
- Use external doors to access ground floor classrooms and supervise access at peak times
- Remove items of furniture in corridors
- Operate a 'walk on the left' procedure
Use outside space more frequently
If you have outside space, use this for supervised exercise (e.g. non-contact running games), breaks and learning outdoors where possible.
If you don't have outdoor space, you can:
- Use sports/assembly halls
- Use a nearby park if it's safe to do so
When using this space make sure:
- You only have one class group using the space at a time
- You only let children from different groups use equipment if it can be cleaned between different groups using it
- If playing games or sports, that they're non-contact
Make arrangements for hand washing and the use of toilets
You'll need to make sure that staff and children:
- Wash their hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds and dry them thoroughly
- Wash their hands when they arrive in school, before and after eating, and after sneezing or coughing
- Are encouraged not to touch their mouth, eyes and nose
- Use a tissue or elbow to cough or sneeze and use a bin for tissue waste
Teachers should also wash their hands and surfaces before and after handling pupils’ books.
To do this:
- Add time for hand washing in class groups into your timetable – ideally, before and after every break and lunchtime
- Put up posters to encourage good hygiene practices
- In primary schools, staff should support and supervise pupils' hand washing. Staff will need to explicitly teach pupils health and hygiene arrangements such as proper hand washing, tissue disposal and toilet flushing
- Put in place safe routines for toilet use to avoid overcrowding – if possible, have each group of pupils use different toilets
- Provide hand sanitiser in classrooms and other areas, if there aren't any sinks nearby (this'll also give you more options if you'd otherwise struggle to keep groups separate when using hand washing facilities)
Take measures to limit contact at your reception desk
Take the following measures to reduce contact at your reception/office:
- Limit the number of external visitors entering the school during school hours
- Set rules on parents coming into school, for example:
- Only allow parents to enter school buildings when strictly necessary and by appointment
- Ideally only one parent should enter (unless for example, an interpreter or other support is required)
- Meetings should be held with everyone at a safe distance (small offices should be avoided)
- Re-design office spaces for admin staff – if you can, move desks to be a safer distance from the window/hatch
Adapt your regular cleaning schedule
During the day, your cleaning staff should:
- Clean frequently touched objects more regularly than normal (e.g. desks, chairs, sinks, toilets, light switches, banisters, reception desks)
- Clean shared spaces after use by each class group, e.g. dining halls, sports halls - you will need to allocate time in between each lunch slot for cleaning
- Regularly empty bins that are used for tissues
- Keep spaces well-ventilated (e.g. by opening windows, or propping doors open where it's safe to do so)
Get more help with how to adapt your approach to cleaning during this time in another of our articles.
- DfE guidance on:
- Actions for education and childcare settings to prepare for wider opening
- Implementing protective measures
- Planning for primary schools - note, this guidance is aimed at primary schools, but lots of the information still applies to secondary schools
- World Health Organization guidance on COVID-19 prevention in schools
- James Crump, head teacher at Heron Way Primary School
- Justin Smith, managing director and senior consultant at SafetyMARK. SafetyMARK supports safety excellence in schools. It carries out audits and provides specialist advice to help schools control safety risks. It also administers a certification scheme to help schools manage and support safety standards, and recognise those schools that have gone the extra mile.
More from The Key
Evidence-led training courses that make it easy to upskill staff, anytime, anywhere.
CPD Toolkit is the most effective way to virtually deliver evidence-led training and support the professional development of your staff. Downloadable courses and online 5-minute summaries provide flexibility for training, whether staff are participating as skeleton staff in-school, via video call or individually at their own pace.
The Key has taken great care in publishing this article. However, some of the article's content and information may come from or link to third party sources whose quality, relevance, accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability we do not guarantee. Accordingly, we will not be held liable for any use of or reliance placed on this article's content or the links or downloads it provides. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.