State-of-the-art Track and Trace systems, quarantine provisions and testing - just some of the adaptations schools are making for their Autumn 2020 arrivals. Hear from some of our partner UK Boarding Schools as their students return to school and their plans come to life.
When schools waved goodbye to their students in March, the timeline for their return was completely unknown. After the dust settled, lockdown allowed schools time to calmly plan and direct all their efforts into preparing for the safe return of their pupils. Contingency planning and many risk assessments were undertaken, with how to deal with the impending quarantine requirements being the first and perhaps highest hurdle.
The safe arrival and transportation of students was, of course, another issue faced by all. Guardians worked closely with schools to ensure Covid-safe travel for all students including those entering quarantine at school or within accommodation arranged by guardians.
As students begin to arrive and settle in at school we conducted a survey to see how schools are adapting to welcome back their students to their new Covid-safe environment.
After the UK Government imposed a 14 day quarantine on all new arrivals in June, guardians and schools have played close attention to the ever-changing list of travel corridors and countries who are exempt from quarantine restrictions. Initially, specific guidance for UK boarding schools was not provided within government guidance and so most schools began planning and reconfiguring their dormitories to prepare their own offering within the wider advice for quarantine.
Our survey showed that 90% of UK Boarding Schools have taken the decision to offer quarantine onsite, with 10% relying on accredited guardians like Bright World to offer safe alternatives.
On 2nd September the Department for Education released further guidance which refers specifically to the quarantine of international boarders. This further added to their expectations for schools to provide sufficient isolation facilities for students.
Schools have also been working hard to ensure that the start of the new academic year goes as smoothly as possible and that students feel welcomed and comforted by the additional safety measures put in place to protect students and teachers alike. Most schools we work with have been running their own Covid-safe transport, allowing those parents who cannot fly over with their child to be assured they are safe throughout their journey.
The dropping off of students is an experience that normally has no time limit with parents encouraged to enter the school freely. However, staggered arrivals have been planned and coordinated to limit the number of families in each boarding house at any one given time. Visitor policies have also been amended this year to ensure that only essential visits are made and are done so at a safe distance and with PPE worn and protocol adhered by.
69% of the 55 schools who completed our survey have implemented their very own state-of-the-art track and trace system. Some have created bespoke systems to ensure that they carefully track and isolate suspected cases, whilst other schools have invested in pre-made digital systems such as; Shield for Schools; A track and trace kit developed especially for independent schools. It uses Bluetooth wristbands linked to a desktop control system to allow schools to immediately detect and isolate anyone in school who has been in contact with infected students or staff members.
The Shield for Schools solution allows real time contact tracing of an entire school community for immediate action using an algorithm designed by medical experts to comply with latest Public Health England guidance on social distancing and contagion prevention.
Schools have adopted government guidance by grouping students by year group and by boarding houses to form bubbles. Children within bubbles will be encouraged to keep their distance from others. Classroom furniture has been arranged in a manner that facilitates social distancing whilst movement around classrooms is being limited to respect social distancing, as guided by the teacher.
To help students to keep safely within their bubbles, schools are being asked to operate one-way systems in buildings with confined spaces to reduce the need for students to come into close proximity.
To show their commitment in a safe return for overseas boarders, most Bright World partner schools have adopted the Safe Schools Statement and BSA Covid Charter which asks schools to; "Decide on any regular testing procedures and advise pupils and parents accordingly. Support Covid-19 testing wherever possible."
A number of schools have therefore decided to test students on arrival and in some cases several times within the first few weeks of term, with most also undertaking regular temperature checks. The DfE guidance is clear in that it asks for boarding schools to provide isolation facilities for their boarders should they need to self-isolate due to symptoms or following contact tracing.
Schools are, almost unanimously, allowing pupils and staff to wear masks or face coverings (other than for activities where this is not advised). Sanitisation also features heavily in school policies with schools implementing enhanced daily cleaning procedures in the boarding houses.
Schools have also provided students and staff with hand sanitiser stations at key points in the house and around the campus. Frequent hand-washing is also encouraged throughout all schools.