How the protective ‘social bubble’ works

From Monday we will have 132 children back at school – nowhere near as many as we would all like even if it will be treble the national average attendance in Primary Schools (9% nationally on Thursday 18th June).

They will be organised in 12 separate, closed, ‘social bubbles’ of 11 children in each, working with as few adults as we can arrange safely and practically for the week.

Where we can it will be the same teacher, the same teaching assistant (where there is one) and the same lunchtime supervisor.  (If there is a job-share arrangement then two teachers, plus an extra for one day for PPA and making phone calls home to children not attending.) So we have constructed a closed group of 14, and we then try to maintain that group’s integrity all day and all week.

The purpose is simple enough; to limit contacts and mixing, one of the four most important steps schools can take to protect children, families and staff from passing an infection. (The others are avoiding contact with anyone who may be infected, using good personal hygiene of hand washing and respiratory hygiene, and enhancing cleaning.)

How we are doing it:

  • Spreading out arrival at school over a fifteen minute period and through both gates,
  • Using the same classroom for only one ‘bubble’ each week,
  • Minimising staff movement between groups,
  • Keeping the children in the same groups from week to week,
  • Not having any rotas for attendance; neither daily or weekly,
  • Sitting for lunch in the ‘bubbles’,
  • Stretching lunchtime a little,
  • Splitting playtimes into two slots morning and afternoon,
  • Splitting the playgrounds in three, one per ‘bubble’,
  • Using Tapton field, the top playground, the lower playground and the area round the Y6 mobiles at lunchtime, one per year group,
  • Holding no assemblies, clubs, before school activities, lunchtime clubs or sports clubs,
  • Timetabling in year groups to spread activities wider than usual (even the Daily Mile is timed apart),
  • Using controlled entrances and cloakrooms,
  • Not allowing visitors to work with two ‘bubbles’ consecutively,
  • Building temporary routes and walkways through ‘bases’ that will hold two ‘bubbles’,
  • Stopping collective activities such as singing assemblies, parent assemblies, parties and discos,
  • Limiting the number of children (and adults) in each and every space on the school site – 4 in a cloakroom, 1 in an office, 14 in a classroom, 40 in the hall, 12 in the servery, 6 in the teaching kitchen, 3 in the toilets and so on,
  • Having just 33 children at most sitting to eat lunch at one time (when we might have 144 normally),
  • Having the doors open and staffed at the start of the day so there is absolutely no queuing to get in,
  • Walking the children out, having got ready in advance, at the end of the day,
  • Using the yellow dots outside the top gate to spread out (to 2m) while waiting
  • Halting almost all pupil monitor roles, so they do not need to cross school and meet children from other groups accidentally,
  • Halt all small group work that would pull children together from more than one class,
  • Not host any peripatetic musical instrument teaching, so rooms aren’t used successively by children from multiple groups,
  • Use pack after pack (after pack) of antibacterial wipes on any shared resource (such as a computer mouse or a telephone handset),
  • Washing tables before and after use,
  • Maintaining the same level of cleaning even though we do have only 27% of the children attending,
  • Keeping other adults off-site unless they really are essential.

If we can ensure that no-one exhibiting symptoms of the virus attends school then it cannot get passed around, going from ‘bubble’ to ‘bubble’. Even if it does come to our school, perhaps through someone who is ‘asymptomatic’, only 14 people might be exposed (and even then not greatly at risk, with social distancing in class, and as much time outside as we can manage, and doors and windows wide open, and good hygiene routines in place, and enhanced cleaning).

Often, when we show round parents of prospective children, they comment how big a school we are. I explain how, through four year groups, in separate accommodation, with separate cloakrooms and so on, it never seems that way except when we try to hold a whole school assembly (maybe twice a year); it is basically a class with a teacher and maybe a TA. And that’s how the ‘bubbles’ are – a small, closed, secure group with their teacher and TA and an MDSA.

Next week, I am really pleased to say, we will have 12 ‘bubbles’, each full of children from each of the four year groups in single-aged groups. They will be led by teachers they know, each from the corresponding year groups. They will each be using one of their year groups’ classrooms. This huge normality is one crucial factor in making it work so well so far, and in ensuring that every child who was anxious at their return rapidly remembered how good it felt to be at school.

So we will be open the full week, for our normal hours, in our normal year groups, with our normal staff, up to fairly normal things. We will deeply miss the children not yet with us and we will, in the background, keep working to support them, at home, and read the next guidance document to see how we can move towards the target of full opening.

It should go on one of those yellow and black chevron bordered signs: ‘Wash your hands; Two metres, please; Stay with your ‘bubble’.

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