What is an effective preventative strategy for protecting students? How to minimise disruption if you have a confirmed positive case? Here are some practical examples from schools showing how they have navigated these questions.
Using EdTech to support our alert and track and trace system
Acklam Grange School, The Legacy Learning Trust, Middlesbrough
Lucy Gowland, Deputy Headteacher
We spent many weeks planning precautionary measures to make sure that school was a COVID-secure environment before we welcomed back all students earlier this month. One particular challenge was establishing procedures for dealing with students showing symptoms in school and also in the case of a positive COVID-19 test. As part of the planning process, we identified key personnel who were then fully trained to ensure consistency in dealing with cases. We implemented strict seating plans, desk-spacing and marked teaching zones to minimise close contact in all classrooms. We also utilised our established Class Charts software system to alert staff to a student showing symptoms in a classroom and, in the case of a positive test, to track exactly where students have been and who they have been in contact with. From this we can quickly identify and notify the group who are required to isolate.
Our procedures have been recently tested when a Year 11 student tested positive for COVID-19. Not only did we avoid sending the entire year group home to self-isolate, the disruption to all students was significantly minimised due to the speed with which we were able to act. From a total of 290 students in Year 11, only 26 were required to self-isolate, all of whom have now returned without any known spread of the virus. We are hopeful that a more recent Year 9 case will follow the same trend. We continue to review and adapt our working practices to ensure that we are able to act quickly and ensure a thorough assessment of each scenario we face.
Making sure the rules are clearly understood
The City of Leicester College, Leicester
Ken Vernon, Headteacher
Like every school, we were excited to have all our students back at the start of September. A lot of work had gone into making sure we were ready and that we had preventative and protective measures in place to reduce the risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We
- implemented year group bubbles with pupils staying in the same classroom for nearly all their lessons
- defined social zones for break and lunch times
- staggered start/finish times for our Post 16 students with clearly defined entrances and entry systems for all students
- introduced compulsory sanitisation points at every entrance and a strict 2m social distancing rule for all staff and pupils
- set up teacher areas and arranged the desks in classrooms to maximise social distancing between teachers and students, with no sharing of equipment.
All students took part in a 2-hour induction when they returned to school to help them understand that these rules are designed to keep the school community safe and that anyone seriously breaking them will face exclusion.
These changes have of course been an adjustment for our pupils, but they have adapted well and are enjoying being back. The preparations we made and the precautions in place meant that when we did have a confirmed positive case of COVID-19, the College secured agreement from PHE that, out of 270 Year 10 pupils, only 45 who had come into close contact with the asymptomatic pupil needed to self-isolate.
Communication is key
Great Baddow High School, Chelmsford
Paul Farmer, Headteacher
On 7 September we were made aware that a pupil was displaying COVID-19 symptoms and a positive test was confirmed on 9 September. Our protective strategies kicked into effect and we took steps to make sure our students were safe and that the disruption to the school was limited. With advice from the Health Protection Team and guided by the academy’s risk assessment plan, we were able to look at a range of factors, such as the lessons the pupil had been in and their travel arrangements, to identify pupils who had potentially been in contact with them. This meant that only twenty pupils needed to self-isolate, not the entire bubble. We know that in these situations, communication is key. We were in touch with the affected staff and parents promptly to keep them informed and assure them that everything was under control. We carried out the necessary cleaning and postponed the assessments that were due to be carried out during that week until all pupils were back in school. The pupils self-isolating received home learning and haven’t had their education disrupted.
Due diligence and detail make all the difference
Eden Boys’ School Bolton, Star Academies Trust
Hamid Patel, CEO
We’re incredibly proud that Star Academies’ robust contact tracing process has allowed our schools to maximise the number of pupils remaining in school following a confirmed COVID-19 case. There have been a number of confirmed cases across the 29 schools in the trust since the start of this academic year, but between the protective measures we’ve implemented and our track and trace system, none of these have resulted in an entire year group being sent home and one case resulted in only one member of staff having to self-isolate.
For example, on the 3 September, Eden Boys’ School in Bolton contacted its local Health Protection Team and LA to inform them a Year 11 pupil had tested positive for COVID-19. As the pupil had been in school for two days before their positive test, the local authority initially requested that the school send all 120 Year 11 students home to self-isolate for two weeks because of concerns about close contact between the year group and their movements around the site. The school was able to show that sending all Year 11s home wasn’t necessary, talking the LA and local HPT through arranged ‘zones’ within the school and classrooms, the detailed seating plans, and the carefully sequenced and monitored corridor movement. The school could also provide a comprehensive list of pupils who had been in close contact with the Yr11 pupil at lunchtimes thanks to the diligence of the on-duty staff.
The school’s contact tracing safeguards meant that out of 120 Year 11 pupils, only 17 were asked to self-isolate for 2 weeks. The rest of the year group remained in school.
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