Safe in The Knowledge - Safety Rules for Classrooms This Autumn
Throughout the UK, our schools are now up and running for the Autumn term as per the standard curriculum. This year, however, there’s a big difference - as well as the usual colds and coughs, schools have a much more serious issue to deal with.
Swimming against the tide
On the 18th of September, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, advised that the UK was experiencing a second wave of the COVID-19 virus; an announcement which was followed by country-wide restrictions to try to slow the new spread of the virus. In the same week, it was revealed by the DfE that 4% of schools weren’t fully open due to outbreaks of the virus with around 20 closed completely. It goes without saying that further school closures would be devastating for students and parents and, so, making sure that our classrooms are safe has never been more vital. I’m sure you won’t disagree that the government guidance for schools has, at times, been a little unclear! So, the following is our guide to implementing safety measures for classrooms this Autumn in terms of general safety as well as the ever-present threat of COVID-19.
In terms of safety
At the start of each term, schools should be drawing up a risk assessment to identify any health and safety weak spots for students and teachers. The following is a checklist for the main classroom areas that the risk assessment should be addressing:
Fire Safety - Classrooms should be equipped with a fire extinguisher and blanket as well as a working smoke alarm - these should always be tested regularly as per the manufacturer’s guidance. Teachers and other staff must be kept aware of the school’s fire safety procedures with at least one fire marshal per floor as well as knowing where to assemble in the event of a fire.
Flooring - Classroom floors should be checked regularly to make sure that there is no risk of tripping or slipping. This is also means reminding your kids that their bags and coats should be stashed neatly under their desks rather than strewn across the classroom floor in some attempt at a homemade obstacle course!
Access - Within the classroom, adequate space should be left between desks and furniture to allow for safe movement around the room.
Electrical equipment - All electrical equipment should be tested regularly and, all cables need to be secured away from access areas to avoid tripping. Additionally, plugs and sockets should be tested twice a year to ensure that they don’t pose a risk to safety
Furniture - All desks and other classroom furniture should be securely fixed to ensure that they cannot be tipped or pulled down on top of students.
Exits - Every classroom should have access to an exit in case of fire or emergency. Windows should be easily opened, and, in the case of high window fastenings, an appropriate tool should be kept within the classroom. During class time, fire exits should always be left open and unobstructed.
Ventilation - Your classrooms needs to have access to ventilation whether through a window or an air conditioning unit. As with any other safety equipment, this should be checked regularly.
First aid - Each and every classroom in the school should have a basic first aid kit to hand and, staff should be regularly briefed on the procedures in place in the event of accident or illness.
Vulnerable students - Teachers should always be aware of any students who may have special needs or requirements and should liaise with school administrators or head teachers where necessary to ensure that these needs are met.
New rules for schools
We know that you already have lots to think about when it comes everyday health and safety in your school, and it’s now necessary to add new layers to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Whilst guidance differs from region to region and from age group to age group, the following measures can help to keep staff and students safe during school time:
Arrival and exit - Where possible, schools should use separate doors for entering and exiting the school premises. Don’t go smashing down any walls in a hurry if this isn’t going to work for your premises, but where possible this can help with your one way system! It’s also a really good idea to implement ‘lanes’ at the entrance of the school to keep students within ‘bubbles’ when entering the building. Similarly, teachers should dismiss students from the classroom in small groups in order to promote distancing measures. Although not always practical, staggered start and finish times can also go a long way towards reducing risk.
Washing and sanitising - Students and teachers should be encouraged to wash and sanitise hands before entering a classroom. With younger children, it can help to have a chart in the classroom on which students can confirm that they have done so. Part of each day’s teaching should also include reminders on the importance of hand washing.
Distancing - While this may be tricky in smaller classrooms, leaving empty desks between occupied ones or, moving desks further apart is a sensible idea.
Cleaning - Extra classroom cleaning regimes should be put in place; particularly in cases where the classroom is used by different teachers and students throughout the day. If possible, all desks and surfaces should be cleaned and sanitised between classes.
Classroom equipment - Students should only be using their own pens, pencils, pads and other equipment and, lending or swapping should be strictly prohibited. In terms of class handouts, these should be distributed in Ziplock bags to be collected by students in order to minimise hand to hand contact.
Visitors - During this time, schools should refrain from inviting visitors into classrooms such as guest speakers, parents or other members of staff unless absolutely necessary. Events such as guest speakers can still, however, be arranged via video.
Identifying symptoms - All teachers should be briefed weekly on how to recognise symptoms of COVID-19 in students and colleagues such as persistent coughing and a flushed complexion. Should symptoms be spotted, schools should have a procedure in place in order to take appropriate action without causing panic.
Communicating Covid - All teachers should be briefed on how to talk to students about the risk of COVID-19 in a sensitive and practical manner in order to address any concerns that students may have during this worrying time. This is something new for everyone, including young children! They may be very anxious and find it difficult to comprehend what’s currently going on, or they may not be bothered at all! Make sure you keep an eye out so you know how they’re feeling and can offer support to those struggling.
PPE - In the UK, children above the age of 12 are required to wear face coverings within corridors and other areas of schools, as are school employees. Within a classroom, teachers should be checking that all students understand the rules and that they have a covering. It should be noted that there may be students whose parents are unable to afford masks or face coverings. In these cases, it’s a good idea for a school to keep a store of spare coverings and to deal with these situations in a sensitive manner.
All staff and students deserve to feel safe and secure within the school premises and, therefore, as well as briefing staff on all the safety measures in place (bearing in mind that these may change in line with Government guidance), staff should be given daily checklists which must be strictly adhered to.
Any building which houses a large number of occupants for several hours every day presents a significant amount of risks to health and safety. When parents send their children to school, they do so in the belief that their child will be protected and kept safe whilst in the school’s care. During this worrying time, some parents are understandably nervous about their children returning to school and, we know that a lot of schools are receiving requests from worried parents for a report of the measures which have been put in place to deal with ‘the new normal’.
We know how difficult it can be when you have a school full of worried parents to answer to as well as trying to implement all your new measures on top of the old ones. Having a scalable safety management tool can really help you streamline all of this. If you haven’t yet got a safety management tool, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at iAM Compliant and learn how we can help you manage in these unprecedented times!