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Reopening Schools and Colleges: Updates and tips for making the return safer

by Hayley Dunn, ASCL Business Leadership Specialist

As schools and colleges plan to return for the start of the new academic year and are implementing the Department for Education (DfE) Guidance for full opening: schools (which applies from the start of the autumn term), there will be many changes to the daily school timetable, such as minimal mixing and contact, fewer extra-curricular activities, challenges with school travel and transport, and restricting the movement around sites. 

There are also the impacts we can’t always see, such as, fear, anxiety, and worry. This means school and college leaders will need to overcome the anxieties around fear assessment vs risk assessment to ensure that staff, parents and carers feel reassured sufficiently to allow a return to school. 

It is the employer’s duty to do everything reasonably practicable. But how do you demonstrate you have done this?

I would recommend you document that, for example, you are:
  • following government guidance
  • following statutory requirements
  • consulting with staff, listening, being transparent and giving clear rationale
  • updating or creating temporary policies and clear guidance
  • ensuring your practices are inclusive and accommodate specific needs 
ASCL has produced a checklist for schools and one for colleges that you may find useful as you finalise and refine your plans. You will need to complete a health and safety risk assessment and revise individual and specific risk assessments. Consider the impact on staff and pupils who have protected characteristics. Document all the steps you are reasonably and practicably taking.

Cleaning will be a vital part of your risk management measures, the COVID-19: cleaning of non-healthcare settings outside the home guidance from Public Health England describes the principles of cleaning and disinfection during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. It includes information on cleaning and disinfection, laundry, kitchens and communal areas, bathrooms, and waste. If you need to order consumables, the DfE-recommended School Deals has recently been updated to include four new deals covering the supply of Personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning.

New transport guidance was published by the DfE on 11 August. For schools and colleges with pupils aged 11 and over it is advised they should wear a face covering when travelling on dedicated home to school transport from the start of the autumn term. It also advises to have a process in place for removing the face covering when they arrive at school and providing facilities for them to wash their hands.

Positive and inclusive 
The school business leader is very often the facilitator of safety, the knowledgeable go-to person for information and our guide to what is right and what is safe. It is often ingrained in them how to think and act safely, this positive risk management mindset needs to filter through the school and college community, assisting everyone to develop these same character and behaviour traits. 

A school or college’s safety culture encapsulates the working practices, safety controls and measures, policies and procedures, risk appetite, mitigation of hazards, and responses to breaches. It is an accepted way of working, behaving, and communicating.

Your school or college could consider the following practices in preparing for September:
  • Regular, clear communication, ensuring that everyone understands the importance of safety starts with them and is everyone’s responsibility, not just the school or college leaders.
  • Do a walk-through of your plans and test them out. Some schools and colleges have filmed videos to show what school will look like and the procedures and measures that children and adults will need to follow.
  • Discuss health and safety in a positive way.
  • Provide training where possible and appropriate. For example, one sixth form college has planned an induction day for students to walk through the safety measures, such as, how to move around the site and the location of hand hygiene stations
  • Communicate processes and procedures clearly to all staff. For example, one trust has written a ‘protocol guide’ for all staff that clearly lists the expectations, supplemented by a colour-coded ‘bubble’ timetable and site plan.
  • Empower staff to be confident to challenge unacceptable, unsafe behaviour of others.
  • Facilitate an inclusive and collaborative approach that involves all staff, pupils and visitors to understand safe practices. Provide adapted options where needed, such as, visual instructions.
  • Carry out simple and regular checks: observations ensure that procedures and measures are working as expected. 
Creating a positive culture of safety in your school or college will ensure you have an environment that is safer, a happier workforce who are hopefully less anxious, and ultimately provide as positive an experience as possible for the children and young people returning to school or college in these most difficult and challenging of times. 

Hayley Dunn is ASCL Business Leadership Specialist. 
Posted: 20/08/2020 15:08:36