15 tests our schools have to pass before they reopen

In order to open to more pupils, Oasis Community Learning says its schools will have to pass these 15 tests

Tes Editorial

Coronavirus: 15 safety tests for reopening our schools

This article was originally published by Steve Chalke on 26 May 2020 on tes.com/news. 

We are planning to reopen our primary schools from next Monday. Our goal: to cater for the priority children and years as identified by central government, wherever it’s safe to do so.

The safety of both our children and staff as we do this is, of course, our highest priority. That’s why we’ve developed a series of our own tests that we’re holding ourselves to account for before any Oasis academy can open (these tests are listed below).

Based around the development of our own in-depth planning tool, we’re working on an academy-by-academy basis to ensure that not only will we be fully compliant with government guidance, but also that on a number key points we will be tougher on ourselves.

We’ve also checked with our insurers to make sure that what we believe is our rigorous risk-assessment and decision-making process meets their standards.

Coronavirus: Plans for reopening schools

In practice, this means that of our 32 primary schools, 29 will be ready for reopening next Monday, with the other three ready to go within a week.

Surveying our parents around the country, around 40 per cent tell us they are considering bringing their children back to us from next week. Our task is clear; to build confidence, create trust and provide choice. It’s to be there for those who are ready to return, at the same time as ensuring that we never pressurise those who are not.

Our hope, of course, is that as word spreads about the robust preparations we’ve put into place, confidence will build and the initial trickle of returning children will steadily become a stream until eventually we are able to welcome all our children and staff back.

Safety tests

So, here is what we’ve planned. Building on the experience gained through keeping many of our schools open over the past nine weeks to serve the children of key workers and some of our most vulnerable families, we will:

1. Check that the R rate (the coronavirus reproduction rate) equals less than 1 in the region where the academy is located.

2. Ensure that each Oasis school can safely run a social distancing model, calculated on the two-metre rule, with adequate numbers of staff. So desks, for instance, will be spaced two metres apart. That means we will cap our class sizes between four and seven children, depending on the classroom size, rather than the 15 maximum of government guidance.

3. Operate a rota system that will give all our children equal access to education at the same time as managing the numbers of children that our survey tells us might come back to school. The government’s guidance is not in favour of using a rotation system, but we believe it is the only practical way for us to make any of our buildings compatible with proper social distancing and provide us with the space to manage returning children in a safe way.

4. Add to the safety of the environment through changing the classroom layout, staggering break times and putting one-way circulation routes in place wherever possible, as well as ensuring that our children spend the whole day in their small groups or "Bubbles".

5. Make certain that no staff or children attend if they have symptoms of coronavirus, or live in a household with anyone who has coronavirus symptoms, or with anyone who is shielding.

6. Ensure that each member of staff and all our children have a temperature check with an infrared thermometer on the school gate to add an additional layer of scrutiny to keeping the whole school community safe.

7. Check that all our staff, as well as our children, attending any of our academies feel happy and safe to do so without pressure or obligation.

8. Guarantee that every academy has adequate supplies of soap, alcohol hand rub or sanitiser, detergent and disinfectant as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) (including adequate supplies of surgical masks with eye protection and disposable aprons) for adults and children who require it.

9. Ensure that if a child becomes unwell with Covid-19 symptoms while at school and needs direct personal care until they can return home, the appropriate PPE is worn by the supervising adult.

10. Advise staff who are pregnant or who are over 70 not to attend – even though government guidance currently states that pregnant staff can be on site.

11. Operate staggered drop-off and collection times for children, with only one parent attending at the school gates to minimise adult contact within the school.

12. Ensure that hands are washed thoroughly for 20 seconds with running water and soap (or alcohol hand rub or sanitiser if soap is not available) and then dried, including on arrival, before and after eating, after coughing or sneezing and after using the toilet.

13. Promote the "Catch it. Bin it. Kill it" approach to good respiratory hygiene.

14. Clean regularly all frequently touched surfaces using detergents and disinfectant.

15. Ensure that each of our academies has a local health and safety committee. We enjoy a very positive relationship with all eight recognised educational unions and will invite their representatives to sit on these.

Beyond all this, we recognise that, as important as each of these practical measures is, the real key to the successful phased reopening of our 32 primary schools – indeed of all primary and secondary schools – lies elsewhere.

Teachers want to teach

In the end, it is the quality of the relationships between a school’s staff and its leaders, and between parents and the school – a relationship that is built on clear communication and trust – that is the game-changer. Only trust will enable staff and families to feel confident in schools taking the first "baby steps" in the staged return to our schools eventually being fully open.

Only the presence and nurture of trust will enable staff, parents and children to voice their legitimate fears. Only trust will create the open culture that allows them to be honest about how they are feeling. Only trust will generate an atmosphere in which the regular review of progress can take place and any problems can be aired and solved together.

Getting the country’s schools safely open as soon as possible is the shared goal of all in education. Not to do so is to disregard our responsibility and to leave many of our children and their families without the support they need. But not to do so safely would equally be neglecting of our duty of care.


Coronavirus: software and support for reopening your school https://www.tes.com/for-schools/coronavirus-support

This article was originally published by Steve Chalke on 26 May 2020 on tes.com/news. 

Steve Chalke is founder and leader of Oasis Global

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