Primary schools set out their plans for June 1 re-opening

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Small “social bubbles” of four children, deep clean days, reduced timetables, social distancing signage, staggered play times and allocated zones – primary schools have outlined some of their plans ahead of possible re-opening on June 1.

The government is set to go ahead with plans to re-open primary schools for Reception, year 1 and year 6 children should the coronavirus infection rate – the R number – remain below 1 and the number of infections continue to fall.

It is due to make a final decision at the end of May – most likely on May 28 – but has asked schools to make plans now so that they are ready to open on June 1.

This is despite the concerns of many school leaders and the fact that the Department for Education (DfE) is still in talks with teaching and leadership unions in a bid to convince them that it is safe to send some pupils back into the classroom.

Headteacher Update this week asked a number of school leaders about the social distancing and health and safety measures they are considering.

Julie Norman, executive headteacher of the Crowcombe and Stogumber CE Federation in Somerset is planning to operate classes of 15 pupils with dedicated staff staying with each group – following the Department for Education’s (DfE) re-opening guidance published on May 11. There will be smaller groups for playtimes.

She told us: “The older children will have the two-metre rule but the younger ones will not. They will play in smaller groups of four, creating a little bubble of their own who they can be with all day.

“We will wash hands five times per day and put the toys in the dishwasher at the end of the day. Any more than that will be emotionally damaging to the children and I’m not prepared to do that. The parents have been told what measures are in place and on that basis they can choose whether to send their children in.”

On Merseyside, Phil Hallman, headteacher of St Martin’s Catholic Primary School in Halton, has bought in additional hand-cleansing equipment and signage to promote social distancing and hygiene. Alongside smaller class sizes, the school will be running reduced hours for year 1 and Reception, but normal times for year 6. There will be a “rolling break time” as well as staggered start and finish times, as per the government guidance.

The DfE’s guidance, published on May 11, recommends adjusted timetables, one-way systems and outdoor lessons to keep pupils apart. There should also be a focus on “changing habits” to encourage good hand hygiene, while schools are being advised to “split classes in half” with no more than 15 per group.

It adds that where possible students and staff should only mix in “a small, consistent group and that small group stays away from other people and groups”. As such, pupils and where possible teachers should remain in the same groups, using the same classrooms spaces from day-to-day.

The guidance adds: “Ensure that the same teacher(s) and other staff are assigned to each group and, as far as possible, these stay the same during the day and on subsequent days.”

The use of shared facilities such as dining halls and staffrooms should be staggered between groups with cleaning in-between, while the use of shared resources should also be limited. There should be a limit, too, on the number of pupils allowed to enter the toilets.

One-way systems around the school or segregated corridors with a divider down the middle could be used, while staggered break times, lunch times, assembly groups, drop-off and collection times are advised.

Parents should also be given protocols to minimise adult-to-adult contact, while schools are being asked to ensure that the use of public transport for travel to and from school is minimised.

Schools should also consider adjusting their timetable to decrease the movement of pupils around the school and consider how outdoor space can be used as much as possible for lessons and exercise. Soft furnishings and equipment with intricate parts should be removed as they are hard to clean.

Cleaning is a key issue for Anthony David, executive headteacher, Monken Hadley and St Paul’s Primary Schools in north London, who is considering dedicated days for different groups of pupils, with time in-between for deep cleaning.

He explained: “We have not yet decided what timetable we will run, but it will be limited and most likely will reflect two days with group one of 15, one-day deep clean, and two days with group two. If we have more than one year group in school we will have to have staggered start and finish times.

“We have a clear communications strategy that reflects government and local authority advice; I am keen for parents to understand that any limits are not just a whim of the school leadership. That said, parents have been very supportive.”

Sabah Malik, a deputy headteacher at Yeading Infant School in west London, said they were planning phased starts to the day, clear markers to aid social distancing, and allocated personal resources for each child. A one-way system is being planned too, and the use of the outdoor learning environment will be prioritised over being indoors. Playtimes will see allocated zones, while lunchtimes will be staggered.

To protect staff, the school is planning the use of thermometers on entry to work, increased sanitisation facilities, social distancing measures for staffroom use, and the option to have face coverings in enclosed spaces.

Jeremy Bingham faces challenges because of his Victorian school building, located in rural Nottinghamshire. He is considering a one-way system for drop-off, one door for each group’s entry and exit, and the hiring of extra portable toilets.

However, he is “very concerned” that social distancing will be hard to implement in a building that has such tight corridors and spaces.

Space is also an issue for Rachel Jones, headteacher at Kingsley St Johns Primary School in Cheshire. In an article for Headteacher Update this week detailing her planning and thoughts ahead of June 1, Ms Jones writes: “The main corridors to classrooms are barely three-feet wide, so not wide enough for single file with adequate distancing. Nor can there be one-way systems, as the Department for Education’s guidance advises, as two classrooms at the end lead to an impasse. A one-way system is possible for year 1 and in the early years. However, the size of the room for nursery and Reception allows for a maximum of just 11 children.”

Another headteacher in outer London, who asked to remain anonymous, is also planning to open for two blocks of two days, with Wednesday being used for deep cleaning the school. There will also be the option of mornings only on certain days with the children going home at 1pm.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire, Jo Dobbs, headteacher of Dacre Braithwaite CE Primary School in Harrogate, is implementing schedules for the use of the staffroom and is permanently propping open some doors to reduce the risk of transmission.

She is planning a normal timetable but with staggered lunch, break and arrival times. Playtimes will also be “zoned” to prevent pupils from mixing more than is necessary.

Back in Somerset, Julie Norman summed up how many school leaders are probably feeling: “I want some normality given to the children, some routine at least, but I’m concerned that bringing children in to an environment where there is constant handwashing, separation from friends, two-metre distancing and the constant fear of ‘passing the germ’ to others will instil OCD behaviours. I feel under those measures, they are better off at home learning online.”

  • DfE: Actions for educational and childcare settings to prepare for wider opening from June 1, May 11, 2020:
  • DfE: Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings, May 11, 2020:

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