Education and schools eBulletin: March 2021

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HSE eBulletin

Spring term re-opening of schools

As schools re-open for the Spring term, they should ensure that the mitigating measures put in place to control the risks from COVID-19 are maintained. It is important that control measures continue to be rigorously applied, with arrangements in place to ensure effective supervision, monitoring and review of expected standards.


Relevant government guidelines for the reopening of schools in the Spring term have not substantially changed since we carried out spot checks and inspections on schools in the latter part of 2020. Findings from this work are outlined below which includes examples of the ways some schools implemented good practice. It also provides information on areas for improvement that were found during some inspections.


HSE will continue to investigate concerns and incidents reported to us as schools return, although it should be noted that some of the new measures being introduced eg asymptomatic testing of staff and pupils, and the wider use of face coverings are not matters enforced by HSE.


Questions and concerns about these issues should be directed to the relevant education or public health authority for England, Scotland and Wales.


Findings from HSE’s school spot checks and inspections

HSE conducted spot checks and inspections in primary and secondary schools over a three-month period from September to December 2020.


HSE contacted 5000 schools in England and Wales to check they were following the relevant government guidelines. This followed similar spot checks carried out in August on schools in Scotland.


Checks were carried out across primary and secondary schools in all regions and included a proportionate number of state-maintained, independent and special schools.


Following the initial calls, HSE found that around 80% of schools had a good understanding of the guidance and what it means to be COVID-secure. For those schools where it was less certain they were following the guidance, HSE undertook over 1000 follow up site inspections to check the measures they had in place.


All of the HSE inspections were completed by the beginning of December and these visits have shown that nearly all of the schools had implemented COVID-secure measures in accordance with the relevant government guidelines. This resulted in no further action for more than half of the schools visited, and for most of the remaining inspections only minor issues were found that required verbal advice.


Only a minimal number of inspections (less than 1%) identified contraventions of health and safety requiring formal interventions and improvement.


Our inspectors did find some areas of concern, which were common to a small number of schools, where improvements were needed. These included social distancing in staff rooms and kitchen/canteens, cleaning regimes, and ventilation in school buildings.


For ventilation, most schools were relying on windows and doors being open for long periods of time. Balancing the room temperature for staff and students with the need for adequate ventilation was a common issue, especially in colder months.


HSE has updated its own guidance on ventilation and air conditioning which should help school leaders to strike this balance.


Other issues that we advised on included:

  • Generic risk assessments being used which sometimes lacked specific detail for the school.
  • Lack of effective systems for regular monitoring and review of risk assessments.
  • Fire doors being propped open to aid ventilation.
  • Inappropriate rooms being used for isolating suspected cases.
  • Arrangements for managing external visitors and/or contractors.

Additionally, our inspectors found many examples of innovative ways in which schools were helping to promote good practice. These included:

  • Promoting social distancing by issuing pupils with coloured lanyards to identify their bubble and to help avoid mixing between different groups.
  • Using brightly coloured floor markings in school playgrounds to encourage two metre social distancing between parents and pupils during drop-off and collection times.
  • One school used a year seven science project looking at handwashing and UV light as a means of promoting effective hand hygiene.
  • Producing video walkthroughs explaining COVID-secure arrangements for pupils and parents.
  • Use of classroom seating plans to help with self-isolation measures.
  • A click-and-collect app to purchase food from the canteen to reduce queues and avoid crowding.
  • Using video conferencing for staff meetings and phones in classrooms to speak to other staff to reduce face-to-face contact.

Guidance on being COVID-secure and information on spot checks and inspections is available on our website.

Further guidance

Guidance on the re-opening of schools can be found at:

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