Skip to main content

Roadmap for the gradual expansion of school provision to specific groups

The Isle of Man Government has published its “Stay Safe” response to the current coronavirus pandemic. This details a gradual and phased adjustment in a range of current restrictions. At every review stage there will be analysis of the latest health data and information. Any changes agreed by the Council of Ministers will be based on medical advice and communicated with all those affected.

Similarly, a number of European countries, including nearby jurisdictions are now considering whether to open their schools to more pupils and support the resumption of work in various areas of the economy. Any decisions on the Isle of Man will focus on the educational needs of our pupils and safety of everyone in our schools.

The key priority of the Department of Education, Sport and Culture (‘The Department’) is, and will always be, the safety and wellbeing of our staff and pupils. At present staff members may be self-isolating due to illness or may be unable to come to work because a pre-existing condition makes them vulnerable to coronavirus. Careful workforce planning and modifications to usual school practices will be essential during the process of allowing more pupils to attend the Island’s schools.

The Department would not permit a sudden, uncontrolled wider opening of schools but, instead, would propose an incremental, iterative process in which provision is opened up, in a manageable way, to different groups.

Scientific guidance

It would be important that any decision to expand school provision is endorsed by Public Health and supported by the latest relevant scientific evidence.

Imperial College London published a paper on 30th March [1] that aimed to estimate the effect of non-pharmaceutical (i.e. social) interventions on the spread of coronavirus and Covid-19. They looked at the effects of all interventions that have been used in 11 European countries. The authors concluded that the packages of measures implemented in various countries has reduced the spread (reproduction number) of COVID-19. However, because most countries implemented packages of measures intended to reduce spread either simultaneously or over a short time frame, the authors were unable to estimate the relative impact of different measures robustly.

The authors of a second paper (Viner et al) comment “Currently, the evidence to support national closure of schools to combat COVID-19 is very weak and data from influenza outbreaks suggest that school closures could have relatively small effects on a virus with COVID-19's high transmissibility and apparent low clinical effect on school children. At the same time, these data also show that school closures can have profound economic and social consequences.” The paper made passing reference to the effects of the pandemic on teachers and other staff but concentrated more on the lack of evidence that schools add to the community infection rate.

Modelling based on the growth rate on the Island, drawn from a paper produced for DHSC, concludes that ‘growth in positive cases since 3/4/20 has been averaging 9% per day. If schools were to open on Monday 27th April (for example), best estimates indicate that this growth may be increased to 10.3%.... This would have a minimal effect on the peak of the predicted bed and ITU occupancy (shifting the peak back a day or two, but not significantly raising it)’. Of course, since this paper was written the growth in positive cases has reduced markedly.

It is also apparent that the rate of re-infection (‘the R rate’) has slowed significantly on Island, as a result of the significant measures taken to control the spread of the virus and is currently less than 0.5.

Educational requirements

Consideration needs to be given to the requirements of the education community. Young children who are due to start school this September, for example, have in many cases yet to see their new school or teacher. Similarly, for those currently in year 6 and year 11 only limited preparation has been possible to prepare pupils for imminent transitions respectively to secondary school or perhaps University College, Isle of Man.

In addition, those students who have embarked upon programmes of study for examinations due in summer 2021 (years 10 and 12) have had significant parts of their learning interrupted at a critical point in their education. At GCSE, for example, should schools remain closed into the final part of summer term, this would equate to between 30 and 40 guided learning hours (out of the recommended 140 per subject over the two years). At A-level this would equate to between 70 and 80 hours (out of the recommended 360 over a two-year course). These students will need all the time and support possible to support them in their preparation for GCSEs and A-levels.

Further there are well-documented concerns, from the media in the UK and elsewhere, that as schools remain closed to many, the gap between those who are vulnerable or socially disadvantaged and others increases. Estimates indicate that as few as just 5% of pupils identified as vulnerable were attending schools in England. On Island data seem to reflect a more positive position though we remain concerned that we are not seeing a substantial number of these children. Schools have been able to maintain contact with the vast majority of families but have drawn a small number to the attention of colleagues in Children and Families (DHSC) where families have been difficult to contact. It is obviously more preferable to see these children on regular basis.

It is proposed that schools are opened to pupils in key transition year groups and that some discretion is afforded to headteachers to approach those they consider most vulnerable with a view to offering school provision.

Economic impact

Clearly, sustained closure of the Island’s schools has a significant impact on the Government’s finances and the wider economy.


While the immediate and ongoing impact of the virus on the economy and Government revenues is uncertain, the working assumption is a 70% reduction. This translates to up to £70m per month reduction. Additionally, financial support packages could cost up to £30 million per month. Therefore, the faster the economy can be restarted the better it is for Government’s financial situation and the longer support measures, where required, can be maintained.

Expanding key workers

Currently, schools are open to vulnerable children and those of key workers. The definition of key workers includes those in health and social care positions, teaching staff, Government roles, those in food production and distribution, anyone employed in public safety or national security and those supporting transport, utilities, communication and financial services.

Work in a number of industries has been re-initiated for those sectors in which social distancing requirements can be met. These sectors could be supported if schools offered places for the children of these workers. Many of these are also critical to the Island’s infrastructure and economy. It is proposed that the definition of key workers be widened to include:

Trade workers, e.g. plumbing, electrical, joinery and decorating
Horticulture workers, e.g. grass cutting, gardening, landscaping
Construction, e.g. building sites, civil engineering, servicing/waste

As the impact of the above is monitored and confidence grows that the transmission rate of the infection is containable, further consideration should be given to opening schools to allow the children of people in the following sectors to re-commence work:

Retail, e.g. white goods, electrical goods 
Hospitality (restaurants, cafés, pubs)
Lifestyle, e.g. beauty, health
Tourism, e.g. hotels, accommodation
Hospitality (pubs, nightclubs, leisure)

The Island’s working population is currently approximately 43,000 people. The school-age population is approximately 12,000 pupils. A very approximate calculation, therefore, assumes every 3.5 workers would require a single school place. The needs for school places could therefore be assumed to be:

Trade

Construction

Horticulture

Retail

Hospitality

Lifestyle

Tourism

1,285

XXX

1,142

571

XXX

228

 

Capacity

At present, all secondary schools and nine primary schools are open to pupils. Vulnerable children and those of key workers who are secondary school age are attending their local secondary school. Those who are primary school age are attending one of the nearby primary hubs.

Were DESC to just sustain the current model (i.e. not open any more schools), then school capacity would be as in the middle column below. However, the above does not allow for the requirement for pupils to physically distance. In such circumstances, it would be reasonable to halve the capacity (final column)

 

Capacity

Capacity ÷ 2

Ballacottier

350

175

Bunscoill Rhumsaa

680

340

Cronk Y Berry

350

175

Henry Bloom Noble

375

187.5

Onchan

425

212.5

Peel Clothworker’s

400

200

Scoill Phurt le Moirrey

175

87.5

Rushen

300

150

St John’s

175

87.5

TOTAl (pri)

3,230

1,615

 

 

 

Ballakermeen High School

1370

685

Castle Rushen High School

1040

520

Queen Elizabeth II High School

985

492.5

Ramsey Grammar School

1005

502.5

St Ninian’s High School

1600

800

TOTAL (sec)

6,000

3,000

 

 

 

TOTAL (pri & sec)

9,230

4,615

Were all primary schools to open, DESC’s total capacity would be nearer 7,000 (14,000÷2).

It is proposed that the hub system is retained for the present as long as the numbers of pupils is manageable. When the decision is agreed to introduce year groups, however, all schools could re-open if properly prepared and adequately staffed.

Free school meals

Currently, a system is in place to provide meals/vouchers for children who are eligible for Free School Meals and packed lunches for those in hubs. DESC is absorbing the additional cost of the vouchers and the packed lunches.

It is proposed that, once the definition of ‘key workers’ is widened to include Construction, Horticulture and Trades workers, the usual arrangements (i.e. paying for school meals unless eligible) are re-adopted.

Challenges

Given the level of anxiety within the community, some parents/carers may choose not to send children to school, even if they are eligible to. It is proposed that parents/carers be allowed to exercise this right, without fear of any sanction. It is further proposed that a letter be sent to all parents from DESC indicating why some provision is now being made available.

Demands on caretaking and cleaning have increased as higher levels of cleanliness are required. At the same time, the capacity of the caretaking and cleaning staff has been reduced as staff have become ill, self-isolated or been re-deployed. This is currently manageable because only parts of buildings are being used but, with increased capacity, schools would need to open more of their accommodation and it would, therefore, increase demand. It is proposed that Caretaking and Cleaning Service is given advance notice of dates of re-opening and steps taken to increase the capacity to clean schools.

Similarly, schools are functioning well at the moment given the very much reduced demand on staffing. An increase in numbers however, linked to reduced capacity, could result in staffing challenges. On the first day of the school closures, for example, only approximately half of school staff were available to work. It is proposed that priority testing be offered to staff in schools and that clear guidance is also provided on who should and should not stay away from school. Despite all of this planning, however, some dynamic, ‘on-the-ground’ management will inevitably be required by school leaders to make best use of resources available to them. It is further proposed that parents whose children are eligible are advised to inform schools in advance if they intend to make use of an available place (or places) for their child(ren).

There may be concerns amongst school colleagues about opening schools more widely whilst social distancing is still in force. In particular, areas of the economy such as cafés and restaurants remain closed while schools (which cater for larger numbers of people in sometimes more constrained environments) open. This could be exacerbated if the Island adopted a different position from other jurisdictions. It is proposed that very clear, scientific guidance is offered to all staff explaining the Government’s understanding of the Island’s current position and clarifying why it is endorsed by Public Health.

As school provision increases, some pupils will, of course still be remote learning at home. This could increase demands on school staff who may be expected to deliver ‘front-facing’ lessons, whilst also supporting remote learning. It is proposed that schools consider the feasibility of asking staff who are working from home because of underlying health conditions or who are shielding vulnerable family members, to take more responsibility for the management of remote learning.

As outlined below, reinforcing physical distancing in schools may be problematic.

Physical distancing

Physical distancing would be a particular challenge in schools. While in public places, adults can be relied upon to understand the necessity to socially distance, children and young people may not. Particularly young children very naturally gravitate towards each other and have very limited understanding of each other’s personal space. Teachers are currently reinforcing such expectations but may not be able to do so as effectively in circumstances where larger numbers of pupils are gathered in small spaces. However, taking supplementary measures such as this are important in that they could further reduce any risk of re-infection.

Whilst opening during a period where physical distancing is still being advised, schools will need to be advised of measures that could be implemented on site to ensure appropriate physical space between everyone using the building. Restriction placed on one context, however, may not be appropriate in another (e.g. primary/secondary; large open-plan building/old, Victorian one) and it would be useful for schools to consider the measures and adopt those senior leaders consider practicable. More flexible arrangements for physical distancing may be possible within a classroom compared to a more public space as the environment can be monitored better, the groups of people using the space kept more consistent and hand-washing on entry and exit maintained.

Nonetheless, amongst other things, schools would need to consider the adoption of;-

  • Reinforcing strict policies to ensure students and staff stay at home, if unwell
  • Reviewing how children arrive at the school to reduce any unnecessary travel on coaches, buses or public transport
  • Staggering arrival and dismissal times
  • Staggering lunch and break times
  • Altering the school day to accommodate staggering
  • Keeping groups as small and consistent as possible
  • Maintaining a ban on field trips, educational visits, inter-school sports etc
  • Maintaining a ban on after-school activities
  • Restricting visitors
  • Cancelling lessons which include large gatherings (eg choir or drama activities)
  • Rotation of teachers, rather than pupils, for specialist teaching
  • Increasing space among students during face-to-face lessons
  • Reducing free movement within lessons
  • Reducing the amount of people in corridors and shared spaces
  • Use of alternative spaces (e.g., classrooms) for eating
  • Use of outside space for lessons
  • Increasing air flow and ventilation;
  • Re-arranging classroom furniture to accommodate physical distancing
  • Using visual aids (stickers, masking tape etc) to reinforce traffic flow, physical distancing etc
  • Reinforcing with pupils the need to physically distance and maintain good hygiene routines
  • Maintaining the use of remote learning methods even for those in school
  • Restrictions on the use of playground or field space
  • Monitoring queues to ensure appropriate physical distancing
  • Monitoring toilet breaks to ensure pupils attend one at a time
  • Cancelling staff meetings or holding them somewhere which allows for physical space between colleagues
  • Encouraging non-essential school planning and preparatory activities to be conducted outside of the school environment
  • Being flexible with staff who cannot attend school because they or the people with whom they live have underlying health conditions
  • Maintaining a ban on parents’ meetings
  • Being flexible with parents/carers who choose to keep children at home
  • Discouraging gatherings of parents at school gates or in playgrounds.

Above all, schools should enforce regular hand washing with warm water and soap. Guidance and support is available from DHSC and Public Health.

Proposed phasing

Primary

Secondary

Key Workers

Key Year Groups

Key Workers

Key Year Groups

Trade / Horticulture / Construction

 

Trade / Horticulture / Construction

 

*

Years 2 and 6

 

Years 10 and 12

 

Retail

 

Retail

 

 

Year R

 

Year 9

Hospitality (1)

 

Hospitality (1)

 

 

Years 1 and 4

 

Year 8

Lifestyle, Tourism and Hospitality (2)

 

Lifestyle, Tourism and Hospitality (2)

 

 

Years 3 and 5

 

Year 7

 

 

 

Years 11 and 13**


*All schools re-open
**Invited in for transition activity and/or goodbyes.

Each phase of this proposed programme will need careful consideration and be planned with the cooperation of all stakeholders including support services such as cleaning, transport etc. The Third Sector may also be involved to support schools and attention also needs to be placed on the mental health and wellbeing of staff and pupils as they return to schools after a prolonged period.

Activities at UCM will also need to be aligned with any expansion at our schools and full consideration given to some of the practical skill assessments necessary for some students. The role of nurseries, playgroups and child-minders poses particular issues which will be dealt with separately.

It is accepted that for the near future there will be a minority of pupils who will not, or cannot return to a school environment even with safety modifications. It is also clear that there will be some staff that need to shield and continue to work from home. The Department will support an expansion and development of the already comprehensive on-line learning provision and values the time and effort already put in to support pupils who need to remain in their homes during this health emergency.

 


References
Report 13 - Estimating the number of infections and the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in 11 European countries Imperial College London, Flaxman et al, 30/3/20 Online here: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/mrc-global-infectious-disease-analysis/covid-19/report-13-europe-npi-impact/

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30095-X/fulltext

https://www.tes.com/news/science-cannot-tell-us-when-schools-should-reopen

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-52412171

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/using-clusters-and-hubs-to-maintain-educational-provision/cluster-and-hub-provision-coronavirus-covid-19

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/apr/26/schools-in-england-warned-over-blind-spot-as-vulnerable-children-stay-home

https://www.tes.com/news/coronanvirus-reopened-schools-show-new-normal

https://www.tes.com/news/five-ways-help-children-heal-after-pandemic