• On 2 July 2020 the Government announced that all pupils in all year groups will be returning to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term.

    At our most recent Education Matters Forum on 1 July 2020, we were joined by a range of education professionals to discuss the latest issues affecting the sector. Two key areas discussed were how to group children on returning to school, and health and safety requirements.

    This article outlines our guidance on both issues in further detail and reflects Government guidance as it was on 2 July 2020.

    Returning to school, issue one: ‘Bubbles’

    The latest Government guidance (published on 2 July 2020) puts an emphasis on requirements by schools to keep classes or whole year groups apart in separate ‘bubbles’.

    Unsurprisingly, there has been questions raised from the Government opposition, teaching unions and school leaders about the feasibility of this, with Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union, commenting: “The logistics of keeping apart many different ‘bubbles’ of children is a full school is mind-boggling.”

    The use of bubbles has already been put into practice by many primary schools on the return of key worker children, years R, 1 and 6 (and in many cases other year groups), following the guidance at the time, which was bubbles of up to 15 pupils. The Government has now recognised that the use of such small groups restricts the normal operation of schools and presents both educational and logistical challenges.

    Comment was made at the Education Matters Forum that this has been particularly difficult in the use of specialist teachers and around the internal management of behavioural issues. We recommend that schools review and ensure that any behaviour policies reflect the current issues that are arising and provide for appropriate action to be taken. This may include an increased use of exclusions where behavioural issues cannot be managed internally.

    At present, the current guidance states that:

    • In secondary schools and older age groups at key stage 4 and key stage 5, the groups are likely to need to be the size of a year group to enable schools to deliver the full curriculum and students to receive specialist teaching. If this can be achieved with small groups, they are recommended.
    • In primary schools, and in the younger years at secondary (key stage 3), schools may be able to implement smaller groups the size of a full class. If this can be achieved, it is recommended, as this will help to reduce the number of people who could be asked to isolate should someone in a group become ill with COVID-19 (coronavirus).

    School leaders are being asked to put in place protective measures for children and staff which follow the guidance but considers the school’s own circumstances. For example, if a class size group is incompatible with offering a full range of subjects or managing practicable logistics within the school, you can look to year group bubbles.

    The Government’s guidance includes minimising the number of contacts that a pupil has during a school day, but also ensuring pupils “receive high quality education that enables them to thrive and progress.”

    It was previously recommended that a teacher should not be involved in more than one bubble. This was due to the increased risk of transmission and complications should a child or teacher become unwell and would also mean that both groups would have to isolate instead of just one.

    Interestingly, the latest guidance confirms that all teachers and other staff can operate across different classes and year groups in order to facilitate the delivery of the school timetable. It is recommended that staff try to keep their distance from pupil, but recognised that this is not always possible with younger children. From discussions across the education sector we understand that this new approach is a necessity to allow a full return to school, but even then, it is questionable whether schools will have enough space to allow all pupils to return safely.

    Returning to school, issue two: Increased school health and safety requirements

    Health and safety legislation states that schools must take steps to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of staff and to protect pupils and others from harm.

    The pandemic has added and increased the burden of steps that need to be taken to ensure compliance with Government guidance and legal obligations.

    These additional requirements are an issue that all schools are facing right now and is something we understand many schools and businesses are struggling to keep up to date with. Many schools will already have carried out risk assessments and implemented proportionate control measures to limit the transmission of coronavirus for a limited number of pupils.

    Health and safety obligations – our recommendations

    Schools should ensure that when planning a full return to school in the autumn, you revisit and update your risk assessments to consider the additional risks and control measures arising from the pandemic. It is also important to remember that you should have active arrangements to monitor and update risk assessments.

    Once updated, the Government has recommended that where possible your risk assessment should be available on your website.

    We believe that you don’t necessarily need to publish this in full, however publishing a clear summary of steps and actions you are taking and the areas you have addressed in the assessment would be advisable.

    Whilst risk assessment templates are available, for example from HSE, we advise that if you plan to use a template, this should only be as a starting point. We recommend that you try and tailor where possible your assessment to your specific school and matter being assessed.

    Further information and support

    If you need further legal guidance and advice on how to put together an effective risk assessment, please get in touch today.

    At the time of our last Education Matters Forum, further government guidance was awaited on these areas which was published shortly after our forum. More guidance is expected over the coming weeks and another forum will take place before September to discuss this.

    If you are interested in attending the next Education Matters Forum, please email info@brachers.co.uk to opt in to our education database, where we send emails with updates of events for this sector.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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