The effects of the COVID pandemic on nurseries and primary schools alike have been staggering for staff, pupils and parents alike to come to terms with.
As the virus looks set to continue to impact early education for some time yet before we can return to some form of familiarity, the most important things that nursery and primary school staff can do is to ensure that their facilities are as COVID-safe and compliant as can be with guidelines before welcoming youngsters once lockdown restrictions begin to lift again.
This can be an understandably worrying and confusing time, especially for young children, so let’s take a look into some of the best ways for you to ensure that your nursery or primary school is as safe as can be for the return of youngsters:
Understanding Government Guidelines
Because of how little is known about Coronavirus, guidelines issued by the government on how best to limit the spread of the virus are liable to change from time to time. This means that it’s certainly worth checking out how you should act in an educational setting from time to time.
Much of the guidelines for educational staff reiterate the importance of staying away from individuals who are unwell and washing hands more thoroughly and frequently. As a preventative measure, it’s important to try to avoid your staff touching their eyes, nose or mouth, and to encourage them to cover their mouth with disposable tissues whenever they cough or sneeze.
Surfaces that are regularly touched by staff or children, such as tablet screens, toys and handrails must be washed frequently and PPE should be worn whenever necessary.
It’s also vital to minimise the amount of contact that children have with one another. This particular guideline can be hard for nursery staff or primary school teachers because of how physically difficult it can be to keep children apart and the emotional ramifications of splitting friends up in different classrooms, but there’s plenty of advice on offer to ensure the safety of pupils. Firstly, classroom layouts should be adapted to ensure all students are at a safe distance from each other, and break times should be staggered to allow children to play in smaller groups to limit the spread of the virus from classroom to classroom.
Will Face Coverings Become Compulsory?
In accordance with WHO guidelines, it’s advised that “children aged 12 and over should wear face coverings under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.”
This means that nursery and primary school staff and students aren’t required to wear a mask, however, headteachers will have the discretion to ask staff or visitors to wear face coverings where social distancing isn’t possible or is difficult to maintain.
Approaches to Protect Children, Parents and Staff
There are plenty of actions nurseries and schools can take to ensure that they’re as protected as possible in protecting against COVID.
The most significant advice revolves around ensuring that a low number of people occupy the same space at any one time. This means that it’s important to create staggered pick-up and drop off times for your nursery or primary school to prevent crowds from gathering at school gates. To help combat this further, it’s worth asking only one parent to pick-up and drop off their children at one time.
Split groups of children into smaller classes or groups and ensure that one member of staff cares for them where possible. By avoiding the prospect of mixing staff across groups of children, you can create protective bubbles from infection. Introducing staggered break times and lunchtimes, it’s possible to keep kids from mixing with other groups and risking further spread of COVID.
To keep your children safe, look more to outdoor environments for lessons to take place when the weather is pleasant. This can help to remove youngsters from stuffy rooms and surfaces that may be infected.
To ensure that your facilities are as safe as can be, be sure to conduct a sweep of classrooms and nursery areas before welcoming children back. Look to remove communal play equipment or split it between classes for kids to use exclusively within their bubbles. Also, look to remove unnecessary items or objects that are difficult to clean from rooms to help keep the virus from manifesting somewhere hard to reach.
Educating children for maintaining hygiene is an important facet of keeping your nursery and school safe. This includes teaching pupils to regularly wash their hands, keep social distancing, coughing and sneezing into the elbow and avoid touching their faces.
Tackling The Psychological Impact of COVID
Finally, remember to dedicate some time towards helping young children come to terms with COVID, and ask fellow staff to keep on the lookout for concerning psychological behaviour.
The graph below shows the share of persons concerned about their mental health due to coronavirus.
There will be many children who have suffered from the adverse psychological effects of isolation and may have encountered the virus within their family. Keep on the lookout for children who look like they may be struggling, and communicate clearly with them the importance of the safety measures that you’re implementing. In reassuring them that this is a short-term change, it could go a long way in helping them come to terms with their new environment.
It may be worth setting up some form of points scoring system to reward children who have behaved the best in following the new rules.