Frequently Asked Questions - Education Restart

What about children of key workers?

What is the definition of a key worker?

  • Health and Social Care.  This includes doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, home carers and staff required to maintain our health and social care sector;
  • Education and childcare.  This includes pre-school and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who will remain active during the Covid-19 response including youth workers;
  • Public safety and national security.  This includes civilians and officers in the police (including key contractors), Fire and Rescue Service, prison service and other national security roles;
  • Transport.  This will include those keeping air, water, road and rail transport modes operating during the Covid-19 response;
  • Utilities, and Communication.  This includes staff needed for oil, gas, electricity and water (including sewage) and primary industry supplies to continue during the Covid-19 response, as well as key staff in telecommunications, post and delivery, banking and waste disposal;
  • Financial Services - This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure);
  • Food and other necessary goods.  This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution and sale, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (e.g. hygiene, medical, etc.);
  • Retail. This includes those workers who have been working throughout the pandemic in food retail, for example, and will now extend to those working in other retail businesses permitted to operate by the Executive  from June 2020;
  • Other workers essential to delivering key public services such as the National Crime Agency; and
  • Key national and local government including those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the Covid-19 response.

What is the definition of vulnerable children and young people?

  • The definition of Vulnerable Children as set out in the cross-departmental Vulnerable Children and Young People's Plan 2020 is: (https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/consultations/consultation-cross-departmental-covid-19-vulnerable-children-and-young-peoples-plan(external link opens in a new window / tab) )
  • A child who has an assigned social worker because he or she is a child in need, in need of protection (or on the child protection register) or is a looked after child.
  • A child in need includes young carers, children with disabilities, and children living in families where there is domestic abuse, substance abuse, and / or mental health difficulties.
  • A child who is receiving support from, or has been referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
  • A child who has a statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN), a child who is accessing EOTAS, or a child who normally accesses Education Nurture Units.
  • A child who is ‘on-the-edge’ of receiving support from children’s social services.
  • A child who is in need, including in need of protection, but whose need is not known to statutory services.
  • A child who is not known to statutory or voluntary and community support services but who is vulnerable because their family is under increased pressure due to Covid-19 related circumstances.
  • A young person who was previously a looked after child, whether or not they are receiving support from statutory services.
  • A child who has been placed for adoption.
  • Asylum seeing; refugee children and children whose parents have no recourse to public funds.

What is the scientific evidence basis of the DE guidance on school reopening?

The Department has worked closely with the Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health and the Public Health Agency in developing guidance for the return to school. 

To promote transparency with regard to the scientific, public health and wider policy judgements that have informed the approach set out in the New School Day guidance, the guidance links to published scientific and public health advice.

What will the attendance patterns be when children return to school?

The return to school will be on a full time basis of five days a week for every pupil, including those who attend Special Schools. 

Will every school operate in the same way from the start of term?

On some aspects the Department expects consistency in schools and the guidelines set out these types of issues including start dates, attendance patterns and cleaning practices.

However, the Department has not prescribed a ‘one size fits all approach’ – this is not possible and would not be practical.  School leaders are asked to consider the strategic guidance and put this into practice in their own schools to the best of their ability.

Every school is different, every classroom is different. Therefore, there will be variances in how schools approach the return to school. 

What social distancing will be required in schools?

Strict social distancing requirements between all pupils will be relaxed from a specific distance to the best spacing that can be achieved but will remain in place between adults and, as far as it is practicable between adults and pupils. Schools should continue to implement as much social distancing as is practical and where physical capacity and curriculum delivery permit. On the return to school, the overriding provision will be a full class return with all appropriate and practical protections put in place.

What protective measures will be in place in schools?

To make sure that schools remain safe for our children, young people and staff, a number of measures will be put in place.  These include, but are not limited to;

  • Keeping Covid-19 out of schools.  Anyone displaying any Covid-19 symptoms must not attend school.
  • Enhanced hygiene and cleaning measures will be in place.  All cleaning will be carried out in accordance with PHA Guidance. Regular cleaning of door handles, desk tops etc. will take place throughout the day.
  • Children will wash their hands as soon as they arrive at school and regularly throughout the school day.
  • Public health guidance with respect to social distancing of 2 metres (2m) will remain in place between adults and as far as possible between adults and pupils.
  • Whilst the stringent application of social distancing requirements between pupils will be relaxed, as far as is practicable, social distancing should be maximised for both children and adults who are not from the same household.
  • Protective bubbles will be used as a key mitigating action where possible. The protective bubble arrangements will be used to segment pupils into a consistent group or groups that arrive together, learn together, play together and eat together, reducing contact throughout the school with other children.   
  • Classroom space will be maximised as far as possible with unnecessary items removed and schools will make use of all space including outdoor space.
  • Children will not sit facing each other where possible and seating plans can be used to aid contact tracing in the event of a positive Covid-19 case.
  • PHA guidance under the Test and Trace and Protect programme will be applied for all staff or pupils in contact with someone who tests positive for Covid-19.
  • Lunch and break times may be staggered with more sittings, take away services and / or delivery to classrooms. 
  • Staggered arrival and pick up times may be introduced to limit interactions and avoid gatherings at the school gates.
  • Given the risk mitigations in place in schools to limit and contain the spread of COVID-19, face coverings are not generally recommended for routine use in schools. Staff and pupils may wish to use them during the routine school day and this is acceptable.
  • With the exception of those who are exempt, it is mandatory for all pupils aged 13 and over to wear a face covering on public transport. It is also strongly recommended that all pupils regardless of age, should wear a face covering on all buses, trains or taxis for the journey to school where it is appropriate for them to do so and they are able to handle them as directed.

What is a protective bubble?

Protective bubbles will be used to segment pupils into a consistent group or groups as far as is practicable. The purpose of using consistent groups is to limit the number of different interactions in any single day. This will reduce the risk of transmission and improve the ability to focus the tracking and tracing of the virus in circumstances where there is a positive test.

The approach will vary depending on age group. In pre-schools, primary and special schools, it is envisaged that in most cases a relatively straightforward approach can be adopted. A class will act as a single consistent group or bubble, with minimal prolonged interaction with other classes within the school.

At post-primary, the nature of curricular delivery makes it more difficult to implement a single consistent class group or bubble. It should be possible in some schools for Years 8-10, however, others will require limited mixing into different class groups to adhere to legal requirements for practical subjects. For Years 11-14, it is recognised that a single consistent class group will not be possible, as pupils will be in mixed classes based on their choice of examination courses but schools are encouraged to keep movements and interactions within these year groups to an absolute minimum.

Is there a distinction between a facemask, used as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and face coverings?

There is a clear distinction between PPE and face coverings.

PPE is specialist medical grade equipment that has been and will continue to be used when working with some pupils whose hygiene or care needs involve the possible spread of liquids or aerosol dispersion such as vomiting or spitting.

Public Health Agency guidance makes clear that staff should continue to use PPE in line with current health and safety policies and risk assessments.

For any contact that has been risk assessed as requiring PPE, this will be provided. 

In what circumstances will wearing a facemask, as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), be necessary?

The PHA advises that routine use of PPE within education settings is not required other than for certain tasks deemed to be of higher risk of transmission. 

PPE is only needed in a very small number of cases.

  • working with children, young people and pupils whose care routinely already involves the use of PPE, due to their intimate care needs; and
  • giving children medication.

PHA guidance also makes clear that staff should continue to use PPE in line with current health and safety policies and risk assessment.  

Depending on the working environment, an individual or organisational risk assessment may identify a need for PPE, including facemasks.  Staff should only wear PPE when it is appropriate to the task they are undertaking and in line with the relevant guidance.

For any contact that has been risk assessed as requiring PPE, this will be provided.

Are there circumstances when wearing a face covering might be necessary or encouraged?

Given the risk mitigations in place in schools to limit and contain the spread of COVID-19, face coverings are not generally recommended for routine use in schools.

Public Health guidance recommends that face coverings are used in particular circumstances - short periods in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible. Coronavirus (COVID-19) usually spreads by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. These droplets can also be picked up from surfaces, if you touch a surface and then your face without washing your hands first.

The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others while also providing some protection to the wearer.

Because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from coronavirus (COVID-19) they’re not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing.

Within Education settings:-

  • The wearing of face coverings on all dedicated school buses and public transport is now mandatory for all post-primary pupils.
  • It is also strongly recommended that all pupils, regardless of age, should wear a face covering on all buses, trains or taxis for the journey to school where it is appropriate for them to do so and they are able to handle them as directed.
  • Face coverings must be worn in staff rooms and during adult to adult meetings lasting more than 15 minutes and by adults visiting the school site.
  • Face coverings are strongly encouraged for activities that entail large numbers of staff or pupils within an enclosed space where social distancing is not possible.
  • Schools should also be aware that some persons (including children) are exempt from wearing face coverings.

Face coverings should be worn, in the context of deliveries, regardless of duration unless 2m can be maintained given that these will involve face-to-face conversation.

Please be mindful that the wearing of a face covering may inhibit communication with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound.  Some useful information is available here

Further information on the use of face coverings, including guidance on how to wear a face covering and how to maintain and dispose of face coverings, is available here.

Whilst face coverings are not generally recommended for routine use in schools, can I wear a face covering at work if I choose to do so?

Staff and pupils may wish to use face coverings during the routine school day and this is acceptable.

There is advice about how to make your own face covering available on the UK Government website.

Please be mindful that the wearing of a face covering may inhibit communication with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound.  Some useful information is available here

Further information on the use of face coverings, including guidance on how to wear a face covering and how to maintain and dispose of face coverings, is available here.

Because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from coronavirus (COVID-19) they are not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing.

Will additional funding be available for schools to cover costs associated with Restart?

On 24 August 2020 the Minister outlined a significant package of funding to help support the safe reopening of schools.  The package includes: £17.5million towards the cost of substitute teachers and other school expenditure; £6.4M for PPE; £5M for school wellbeing initiatives; £3.1M for home to school transport and £1.4M to support special educational needs.  The funding is for the first term of the new academic year.

Will a full home to school transport service be operating?

Parents, children and young people are strongly encouraged to consider alternatives to using the home to school transport service for their journey to and from school. They should try to use active travel methods such as walking or cycling. They should only seek to use the home to school transport service where no alternative is available.

Home to school transport will run from 1 September except for those pupils in years 7, 12 and 14 who will have access to a limited home to school transport service from 24 – 28 August based on normal school opening times. Further details will be available on the Education Authority website.

Why is guidance that has been issued not more prescriptive?

It is neither practical, nor indeed would it be helpful, to be overly prescriptive about the arrangements that every school must follow – every school setting has different physical characteristics and flexibility will be key to facilitate planning by schools that best meet local circumstances. 

What will happen if someone starts to display symptoms of Covid-19 onsite?

If anyone becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature/fever or anosmia (a loss or a change in your normal sense of smell, which can also affect your sense of taste) in an educational setting, they must be sent home and advised to follow the PHA guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.

Use of play materials 

All activities should be risk assessed before use.

Staff should follow normal cleaning protocols for play materials and toys. Hard to clean items should be removed and children should be discouraged from bringing their own toys in to the setting.

For further information refer to PHA guidance on Infection prevention and control: visit Best practice advice for nurseries and childcare settings

Can children use sand play?         

Stringent hand-washing procedures and enhanced cleaning reduces risk. Therefore children must wash their hands thoroughly before engaging in sand play and after playing with sand. Sand play has a high play value and therefore it may be used if

  • there are individual trays for children OR
  • the sand is sterilised or changed on a daily basis.

The pit or holder of the sand should also be cleaned between uses. Dry sand should be used rather than wet sand.

Can water play be used?

Water play can be used. The water should have soap added to the water before use to enhance cleaning ability and promote infection control.

Can play dough be used?

Stringent hand-washing procedures and enhanced cleaning reduces risk. Therefore children must wash their hands thoroughly before playing with play dough and afterwards. Children may use play dough although they should have their own individual pots/plastic bags for the play dough, clearly labelled with their name to ensure they use the same dough each time. Alternatively, the dough can be made fresh each day and sharing between children minimised.

Can soft furnishings be used?

Stringent hand-washing procedures and enhanced cleaning reduces risk of COVID19.   It is accepted that soft toys and other soft furnishings can support the needs and development of some children. These items may therefore be used but sharing between children should be minimised as far as possible and there should be no sharing between groups of children. Where used, such items should be sprayed with anti-bacterial spray regularly and washed or steam cleaned every evening.

Can children and staff in pre-school and foundation stage settings sing during COVID-19?

During COVID-19, singing can be carried out in settings in line with risk assessment procedures.

In early years settings the benefits of singing would outweigh any potential risks.

     

     

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