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Back to School: Be Prepared For The Unexpected…

4 months ago

Are you ready for the gates to reopen? The current plan is for all schools in England to reopen in September, while schools in Scotland are set for a “soft start” on 12 August. However, there are concerns that it’s too soon for lockdown to be over, as relaxing restrictions could trigger a “second wave” of the coronavirus.

After studying the effects with contacts carrying the virus, including the impact of the government’s “phased return” strategy for schools in England, researchers at University College London (UCL) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have determined that the Test-Trace-Isolate (TTI) programme needs to be scaled up for it be an effective way of preventing a second wave from actually happening.

According to UCL: “The results of the modelling suggest a second wave in the UK might be avoided with increased levels of testing (between 59% and 87% of symptomatic people tested during their active COVID-19 infection) and effective contact tracing and isolation.”

A recent news report from BBC News revealed that: “the [TTI] study showed the combined effect on pupils and parents would be enough to cause a second wave without an effective test and trace programme. This would happen around December 2020 and would be twice as big as the first peak, unless the government took other actions such as re-imposing lockdown.”

Meanwhile, preventing the spread of the virus has also been linked to school closures, as stated by Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia: “The evidence is clear that schools are important in the spread of Covid-19,” he said. “Our studies show that, across Europe, closing schools was the single factor most strongly associated with drops in infection rates.”

With this in mind, schools should be prepared for anything – including lockdown extensions and local restrictions.

New local restrictions in the North of England

Due to a rise in COVID-19 cases that have been reported across Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and West Yorkshire, the government has imposed new local restrictions to help control the spread of the virus.

The new local restrictions have limited social contact to people in their household or “support bubbles” only. Meeting anybody at indoor public venues, such as pubs, restaurants, cafes or shops, are against the government guidelines, unless visiting people outside your household in exceptional circumstances, like family members in nursing homes. Businesses like gyms and sports facilities, including swimming pools, will remain closed, while learning institutions, like early years and childcare settings, may continue to provide education and childcare. This extends to holiday clubs, tuition or other activity providers, in accordance to the national safety guidance.

The pandemic pattern in the North of England is put into a clearer perspective by Dr Luke Munford from the University of Manchester: “the trends in the north are decreasing much slower than the rest of the country. In May, the three worst hit regions were all Northern, whereas the three regions with the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates were all southern. All-cause mortality is also much higher in the North. We need to understand why this is; what is different in the North compared to the South?”

Echoing Munford’s points, Professor Clare Bambra from Newcastle University advised: “The pandemic is evolving differently across the north and the South of England. This needs to be taken into account when developing the next stages of our response. We cannot have centralised, one size fits all policies when different regions are at different stages of the pandemic.”

How to be prepared for an extended lockdown

Keeping children focused on their learning at home can’t be easy for parents, especially when there is no definitive back-to-school date, with extended lockdowns and local restrictions taking place. With little preparation time for the transition to remote learning in March, this also means that parents, guardians and carers will need ongoing support from schools to help them prevent significant learning gaps.

For schools

Here’s a checklist for schools to prepare for extended periods of remote teaching – for full school closures, blended learning or phased returns:

1. Check that students have non-tech resources they need, such as exercise books, revision guides, etc.
2. Ensure teachers and students have access to the relevant channels/ platform, including the right URLs and login details.
3. Keep staff aware and up-to-date with best practice for remote learning, including online safety.
4. Utilise your school’s existing website and/ or parent-teacher apps to post important information about COVID-19 safety precautions, remote learning advice, updates on schools reopening via blogs, virtual bulletin boards, digital newsletters and text messages.
5. Make sure teachers are ready and confident to record video lessons and teach live streaming lessons via Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts.
6. Set up, assign and mark homework using platforms like Google Classroom.
7. Monitor remote learning engagement through homework and video lessons.
8. Show support to help maintain the positive wellbeing of your students and co-teachers.
9. Carry out regular catch-ups with students and parents, while adhering to best practices.

For parents

Take a look at this home learning guide that schools can share with parents:

Routines and regimens → It’s important to set up a routine for children. They’re used to a scheduled school day to keep them focused, so it’s best to stick to a regimen at home too. This will help them to concentrate and adapt to a new setting.

Visual timetables → Create timetables for each day so children know what to expect. This will clearly set out activities and objectives, which is ideal for keeping track of childrens’ learning and keeping teachers up-to-date on progress.

Collaborate with schools → Communicate with teachers on a regular basis via email or school engagement apps for school updates, learning advice and resources.

Use educational tools → Consider education apps, games and resources, which can be recommended by teachers or researched online. These are perfect ways to engage and motivate young learners who respond better to interactive stimuli.

Encourage discussion → Keep the conversation going. Whether it’s teachers and parents, teachers and children or parents and children. Any questions or concerns should be discussed openly – keeping everyone in the loop.

Nurture a community → To improve mental health and wellbeing, it’s important to stay in touch with family and friends so children don’t feel alone or isolated. This can be achieved via text messages, video calls and social apps, while staying safe online too.

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From all of us at Empiribox, we hope this helps teachers, students and parents to stay safe and engaged during these unique times.