Welcome to the TeachEasy blog written by Joe White. Please feel free to visit frequently - new content is being written and presented all the time.
Mission: To Bend the Space / Time Continuum and Open UK Primary Schools
A blog in three parts:
1. Coronavirus 19. An overview and the Trek to find Space for social distancing children.
2. The risks to children and staff upon return. An analysis based on the currently understood science.
3. A new dawn in Education. What schools might look like in the “new normal.”
The blog in its entirety is hoped to be helpful to Senior Staff and Governors in completing a well-rounded risk assessment based upon the latest scientific observations of this awful virus.
Senior School Staff are keenly aware, that after several weeks of online teaching and 3am internet liaison with Edenred to ensure appropriate Free School Meals supplies, schools will at some point be facing the uncertainty of re-opening and will have serious concerns over safety and risk.
This blog, in three parts, takes a look at Coronavirus and the impact on schools as we try to return to a new normality. What is the risk to pupils and school staff? How might the practise of schools be revolutionised after the virus is consigned to history? All will be revealed.
It’s school, Boris, but not as we know it!
The Governments of England, Scotland and Wales are making various noises about the return of children to school classrooms, some suggesting that a phased return will begin on June 1st. This date isn’t an absolute – though it is being touted as the earliest point at which this might be possible.
In a new twist of warped reality, they have determined that the “Space-Time” continuum be bent so that youngsters from The United Kingdom should simultaneously fit into standard sized classrooms and meet artificially created social distancing rules which Ministers have determined will be 2 metres.
Gavin Williamson: Secretary of State for Education
To break the laws of physics, humanity and cultural norms, it would appear, we must call upon our great leader Boris Johnson to interfere with all that we have known as true to create “a working environment” for the youngsters - who will subsequently make rapid and sustainable progress in key subjects and catch up with all time lost to learning from Coronavirus, whilst never coming within two metres of each other, the teacher or the toilet!
Will it be possible to create these “Tardis like,” idyllic learning environments? Read on..
Can the laws of physics be magically and mysteriously changed to provide room for all the children? If they are, they will need to be as successful as the hastily altered Rules of Mathematics, which I suspect we all know will be evident when the provisional KS2 Sats grades, GCSEs and A Levels results are published by August 2020.
What is clear is that at some point in time, headteachers, governors and school staff will have the thankless task of carrying out risk assessments and finding a way back. This blog examines the issue of space in Primary Classrooms and attempts to help by providing current information on CV19 in the context of how it may impact upon schools and the people associated with them.
Schools have a responsibility to provide a working environment for its employees and pupils. The Health and Safety at Work Act requires that:
Employers must protect the 'health, safety and welfare' at work of all their employees, as well as others on their premises.
Well, yes and no. How serious is the risk from CV19? We all previously had to go to work at risk of, colds, flu, allergies and being run over by a reversing visiting theatre company van in the school car park – so, for the moment, let’s continue with caution.
The current major (and most unknown) risk is the now well-known Coronavirus 19. What do we know about it in May 2020 and how much of a risk is it to the school communities?
It is spread by virus shedding into the air via, it is thought, water droplets of saliva (spit) accidentally dispersed whilst talking, coughing and sneezing. The distance of spread by coughing, singing and sneezing (important for schools) is significantly greater than just talking. A teacher speaking with a projected voice will, by definition, project inherent, yet almost invisible saliva over a greater distance than just talking in the staff room.
It’s thought to be caught by live virus particles, which have been dispersed in this manner landing on surfaces where they can live for a period of time. A person catches it by touching that surface and then inadvertently touching an area around their nose, mouth or eyes (note - not ears) where the body has naturally occurring mucus. The virus would appear to get into the mucus system through this route and then cause infection, most notoriously into the lungs.
The following sets out expectations of the life span of virus particles on different surfaces:
• Metal: 5 days
• Wood 4 days
• Plastics: 2 -3 days
• Stainless steel: 2 - 3 days
• Cardboard: 24 hours
• Copper: 4 hours
• Aluminium: 2 - 8 hours
• Glass: Up to 5 days
• Paper: (Varies) from a few minutes to 5 days
• Food: Not thought to spread through exposure to food.
• Water: Hasn't been found in drinking water
You will know all this by now, no doubt. But best to summarise the understanding as currently exists.
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I come from a science background. I have a degree in Physics, but I am not a medical professional. The information I provide comes with the bona fide medical source listed. (In other words - it's not my "opinion" - it is a presentation of data from other sources.) Those who know me will be aware that my daughter is a doctor for the NHS but I haven’t sought her opinion for this article.
As a result of my Physics background, I am capable of reading data and applying Mathematical analysis and derivation.
For absolute, full disclosure, I have been a teacher for over thirty years and a headteacher for over twenty years (now retired.) These are my professional views on the situation in schools based upon that experience. They reflect the process I would follow if I was risk assessing a return to school in order to try to be helpful to colleagues.
In terms of consideration of risk for schools, there are a number of patterns emerging from the study of the virus that need to be put into context and understood.
A Deadly Virus:
This is undoubtedly a highly dangerous virus. it appears to have a good capacity to spread in the manner described above. There are some truly awful outcomes for very real people occurring right now and I do not remotely wish to do anything other than project my thoughts and prayers for each of them and those who have previously suffered and their families. Although I will go on to talk about risk and about reducing deaths, each person suffering badly and tragically dying of this awful illness represent a unique person who has gone through something truly awful. I have no wish to even remotely be seen as trivialising that. I most certainly don’t! I do, however, feel it’s helpful to place the data into a meaningful context, devoid of Tabloid sensationalism.
The virus is made up of cells which are contained in a lipid material - fatty in nature. The outer cover of the virus is, in viral terms, not considered to be terribly strong and can easily be removed / destroyed by a simple process of washing hands with soap. This is extremely well known in UK society now. The significance of soap is that it breaks down fatty material - and therefore destroys the outer wall of the microscopic virus cell. Hand gel containing an alcohol content greater than 60% has a similar impact on the lipid material and therefore is similarly catastrophic for the virus (which is a good thing.)
For surfaces only (ie “outside of the body use” Donald Trump) - we can also destroy surface lying viral material by using disinfectants such as bleach, which can be used in a diluted form on surfaces along with common disinfectant products such as Dettox / Dettol anti-bacterial cleaners. Note - not all antibacterial products get rid of virus material.
Dettox / Dettol haven’t yet had the opportunity to publish the outcome of any tests specifically on the Coronavirus, but their previous testing on flu and cold viruses (which are similar in construction to the CV19 have shown them to be effective on these viruses which are made up of similar material, so an assumption exists that it will also be effective on CV19 - though not yet proven.
Dish Washing soap (eg Fairy Liquid - but any soap designed for washing kitchen dishes, is designed to break down fat and grease - so therefore is likely to have a strong, positive impact on cleaning and removing virus material.
Staff responsible for school cleaning will need to ensure that the materials used have similar properties. Heads will need to ensure that this is the case and ideally seek and follow LA / MAT guidance and ensure that cleaners are trained accordingly, as frequent disinfection with appropriate agents will be a vital part of the whole process of staying as safe as possible.
In addition to the obvious task of cleaning, the following suggestions seem sensible / logical.
Any pupil or adult associated with the school community displaying key symptoms of the virus should be removed from the school environment (sent home) as quickly as possible and in any case should be isolated as soon as symptoms exist.
The current symptoms identified by the UK government are:
• A new ongoing (dry) cough.
The World Health Organisation identifies further possible symptoms:
• Aches and pains
• Nasal congestion
• Sore throat
• Loss of taste and / or smell
• Discolouration of fingers / toes.
“These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually”
Materials used by children should only be used by the same person every day unless the specific material is disinfected between use. (The virus has the ability to live on surfaces - thought to be somewhere between several hours and several days – see above.) The latter part of that assumption means that one child using a laptop on Monday could shed virus onto the keyboard and a child using that laptop on Tuesday could come into contact with live virus material and therefore contaminate themselves, by touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
The significance of the nose, eyes and mouth is that these are the locations of mucus cells in the human body, which is thought to be the route by which the virus enters the body.
Heads and Senior Staff will need to think through arrangements for key moments in school daily life. The following is a list of most moments. Solutions to these periods of time will depend upon individual school arrangements.
Key Moments in School:
• Arrival and departure - mostly outdoors where the risk of infection is thought to be less problematic - but distancing is still an issue
• Movement into classes
• Sitting / being in class
• Break time children
• Break time staff,
• Lunch time - seating
• Lunch time feeding
• Lunch time cleaning
• Dealing with misbehaviour (mild)
• Dealing with misbehaviour (serious)
o PE mats etc.
o Touching the floor
o Safety of movement
o Contact sports
o Non contact sports - few players -waiting areas for non-participants
• Teaching materials eg photocopies
• End of day procedures
• Managing a poorly child - no Coronavirus symptoms
• Managing a poorly child - with Coronavirus symptoms.
• Managing a poorly child – with Coronavirus symptoms, whilst being unable to contact parents. (You can’t get hold of grandparents this time!)
• Deciding whether the (similar) symptoms are hay fever, asthma, common cold or Coronavirus.
Social Distancing in Schools:
The governments of the UK have established “social distancing” guidelines. They are currently set at 2 metres, though I would expect to see the government guidelines relax that distance based on 2 reasons, which will become obvious in this blog.
(The creation of the 2m distance was a relatively arbitrary identification. America used a separation factor of 6 feet (which is 1.8 metres) and the World Health Organisation have suggested a distance of 1 metre.) Meanwhile saliva is known to project different distances according to rate of voice projection (teaching!)
By creating a social distance of 2m as a mandatory requirement for school, the government don’t take account of the following. These are clearly going to be problematic when real children return to real classrooms.
• Children’s natural tendency to become close to each other. (They make natural innocent contact with each other.)
• Some children make unnecessary contact with other children
• Some children (whom we may call - the “bullying” type) might wish to scare more timid classmates by deliberately coughing or sneezing (or pretending to) with the timid peers, causing distress.
• The timid class members are quite likely to be understandably upset.
• The important issue of how caring adults comfort a deeply distressed child from 2 metres?
• The question of how professional educators teach (particularly young children) from a distance of 2 metres.
Real UK Primary School Classrooms:
Here we start with a huge issue. I haven’t seen many models for this, so I have created one. As I will demonstrate, Primary Classroom will only safely fit about 6 children whilst maintaining social distancing set to 2 metres.
In accounts of “how to get children back” I have seen suggestions of 12 to 15 children being secure in each classroom. However, I fear that these dimensions don’t take account of real classrooms with people and furniture. I have shown why I think these ideas are being suggested (but are fundamentally wrong.)
It seems likely that too many assumptions about distancing in classrooms have been based on empty rooms with perfect furniture and taking no account of the necessity to teach.
The Primary Classroom Model:
The Department for Education (Education Funding Agency) document: “Area guidelines for mainstream schools” (2014) describes the minimum sizes required for teaching areas in standard UK schools.
It gives some details about anticipated new build key stage 2 classrooms on page 14:
“Junior classroom: For a range of FF&E layout options and activities for Key Stage 2 pupils” - Size = 55 metres square.
The following diagram is a classroom which is drawn to scale to 55 square metres. Each circle is a child in an empty classroom with a “social distance” applied of 2 metres each. At even this level of observation, it’s possible, just about, to fit in 12 pupils.
Where are the Staff?
Please note however, that there is no teacher, or interactive whiteboard.
In this similar scale drawing, the classroom is adapted to be a little more in keeping with the realities of actual classrooms. For example, there is a small amount of perimeter furniture, a whiteboard and another feature of classrooms which I guess we’ll have to “take or leave” these days…. A teacher!
Realistic Sizes: Government Sized Classrooms
At this realistic level modelling (and to be fair only vaguely realistic - classrooms need to fit much more in) - we suddenly find our classrooms limited to 6 pupils.
I accept that many older classrooms will be larger than 55 metres squared - but I don’t expect there will be many current classrooms that would accommodate 30 children (let alone the 34 in Key Stage 2 that I recently saw before retiring.)
The Space-Time Continuum?
We have got the space – but not for all children to fit at the same time.
We have got the time – but not for all children to fit in the same space!
Expect to see a DfE directive sometime soon suggesting staggered days for children. Which year group will have the midnight to 5am option? Answers on a postcard please….
Neither Boris Johnson nor any other politician can manage the combination of a complete return to school and social distancing – so expect to see rapid dissipation of the social distancing requirements for children sometime soon!
Space Trek Blog: Part 2. “A Risky Business” will be published on Tuesday 12th May
Who will be allowed into the "new era" schools? How will Headteachers cope with the stress of making life changing decisions (for children and parents) about who is welcome in the school and who isn't.
Space Trek Blog: Part 3 "Admissions of Guilt" will be published on Saturday 16th May
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