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Protecting staff and students as schools reopen

Written by MS
07/09/2020 12:00:31

Education has become one of the most hotly contested topics over the last six months -- and rightly so. Whether it has been discussion of the switch to remote learning (e-learning) or criticism of the algorithm that decided the exam results of GCSE and A Level students up and down the country, schools have spent a lot of time in the headlines throughout lockdown. 

Since early on during the pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised that schools would reopen in September for the new academic year and we have finally made it to this point. As educational centres begin to welcome back students, staff and parents onto their grounds, we wanted to discuss what it takes to protect these members of our society and keep a schools COVID-secure. 

Now, here at The Plastic People, we are by no means experts on education. Nonetheless, we are parents, uncles and aunts, and we have learnt a thing or two about keeping people safe and stoping virus transmission over the last few months as we shifted production focus toward protective screens, sneeze guards, and social distancing screens! 

In this blog, we are going to highlight some of the key measures that should be in place to (hopefully) stop any potential spread of the coronavirus and prevent outbreaks. As Beck Francis, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation recently said in the New York Times, ‘It’s a very, very, difficult situation where you are genuinely trying to balance the needs of a younger generation with the health needs of society’. 

You don’t need us to spell out to you the benefits of schools reopening. Whether it’s the social aspect, the educational facilities or the access to support and school lunches, each kid benefits from being in the school system for a range of individual reasons. For us in the West, it is hard to imagine a world where young people do not have access to these facilities for at least the formative years of their life. 

However, there have been hiccups in the reopening process. As Scotland’s term times are different from those in England, their schools were the first to grapple with the difficulties of promoting a safe, learning environment amid a global pandemic. As a result, two schools have so far been forced to close after confirmed coronavirus cases have arisen. 

So, as we highlighted with the earlier quote from Becky Francis, the reopening of schools is indeed a balancing act -- one fraught with challenges and one we ought to get right. Now, we understand how difficult it will be for any institution to get it ‘right’ and we are not in the business of offering tips in this blog which are seemingly impossible to implement. Nonetheless, if you play a role in protecting staff and students alike from the coronavirus, hopefully, you can garner at least one new tip from this blog post. 

1. The obvious cleaning measures:

We wanted to start by just highlighting the obvious precautions and measures you can put in place to help stop transmission. Think of this as the baseline or, a gentle reminder to make sure we are all on the same page. 

It’s been repeated throughout the last six months of quarantine, but one cannot undermine the importance of hand-washing and sanitisation. Whether you are using hand soap and warm water and singing ‘Happy Birthday’ or simply pumping hand-gel into your palms, the most basic thing we can all do to protect ourselves and others is extensive and continual sanitisation. Nonetheless, this still poses challenges for schools. How do you go about making sure hundreds (possibly thousands) of kids wash their hands throughout the day? Designated times and washing stations are the easy answer and, hopefully, getting into a routine over time will only make things easier!

A similar method can be carried over to the cleaning of workstations. We are sure that literally every school already has their schedules in place to make sure desks, chairs and classroom equipment is properly cleaned before students change rooms and begin their lessons so we won’t dwell on this for any longer. 

2. Social bubbles: 

Perhaps this section too could come under the title of ‘the obvious’, but social bubbles are slowly becoming the norm. This concept has been used throughout the pandemic in a range of different environments. Everyone from office workers to stay-at-home parents have become part of some form of social bubble, agreeing to spend time with only a certain group of people to limit any chance of transmission. 

Now a similar concept should - and is - being deployed in schools. We’re not here to tell you how to separate your students and staff into social bubbles, but the obvious ways would be by year group, tutor group or subject (this final example makes more sense at universities or colleges though).

By adopting this method of grouping certain students/staff, you avoid closing the entire school if coronavirus cases arise. If social bubbles are employed, when one student gets the virus, you only have to send home that group and so you can continue to support as many young people on your site as possible. 

When it comes to moving around the school site, we know some institutions are enforcing the use of masks in corridors while others are keeping students in one classroom and only allowing teachers to change rooms. Again, we don’t know the answer here and only time will tell which of these methods are most effective for keeping a site COVID-secure. With that said, face coverings are naturally going to help limit transmission in areas where maintaining the two-metre rule may prove difficult. 

One-way traffic is also a great idea to help prevent any build-up of students in one place. If everyone is continually moving in one set direction, you should be able to keep space uncrowded. 

3. Social Distancing Screens:

Putting up a physical barrier between students and staff sounds quite isolating - but it doesn’t have to be. Equipment such as protective screens is a surefire way to limit transmission. They have been employed in all environments from supermarkets to office blocks and barbers due to how affordable, transportable and effective they can be. These plastic screens also have a role to play in schools. 

Available for purchase in a range of thicknesses and sizes, these screens can be manufactured to fit any situation. For example, we here at The Plastic People offer transparent and lightweight screens that can sit easily atop a desk, separating work stations but still allow for collaboration between students. On the other end of the scale, we offer translucent full desk enclosures which offer 360-degree protection and are perfect for environments like libraries or other quiet working spaces. 

Our screens can be left free-standing, mounted to desks or attached to wheels for ease of access and mobility. Take a look at these photos from a recent happy customer who has readied their school for the return of students (you can see just how clear our transparent screens are!):

These social distancing screens - also known as sneeze guards - are also incredibly easy and quick to clean so you won’t need any extra time to sanitise classroom space. With a sponge and some warm, soapy water, they can simply be wiped down and then left to air-dry, ready for the next class. It couldn’t be easier. They are also incredibly durable (polycarbonate, the material our translucent range is made from, is 200 times stronger than glass) and so should not need replacing any time soon! 

We also offer bespoke services which may be of particular use if you are making a large order for a school site. Feel free to contact our sales team at service@theplasticpeople.co.uk or take a look at the full range available on our website, here. Deliveries can be made in as little as 2-3 days. 

4. Staggering the schedule: 

This is one of those pieces of advice that is easier said than done. In order to prevent overcrowding and build-ups of students in one area, staggering your timetable is essential. You should look to stagger everything from the class end and start times and lunch/break times. This means that at any one time you won’t have too many students/staff wandering the corridors trying to head to the canteen for lunch. 

We know this can be impossible to implement, after all, there are only so many hours in the day, but if you were able to offset lesson times by just five minutes, you could dramatically limit the number of interactions between staff and students that are not in the safe social bubbles. This will, of course, be easier if you were able to make sure of more entrances and exits than usual so movement between buildings can be more free-flowing. 


These are only four key areas of advice that we believe will be most beneficial for schools when it comes to keeping a COVID-secure site. Other ideas for consideration might be creating pack-lunches for kids so they do not need to use trays and other utensils that come with hot options, or, making sure on sports days, your students come into school in their kit so they do not need to change clothes at any point. 

Here at The Plastic People, we want to continue to support schools and other institutions and businesses around the UK in any way we can - whether that be through our products or blogs and advice like this. If you have any topics you would like us to cover, please get in touch! We can be reached at the e-mail address mentioned earlier or through Twitter and Instagram (@barkstonplastic). 

We hope this guide has helped people feel a little bit more ready for the reopening of schools. If you have decided to make use of our services and products, please stay in touch and send us photos of your screens in use and we will make sure to share them across our platform! 
 
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