Social distancing

The following article was written at the start of May, shortly before the government announced plans to re-open schools on 1 June, and before the DfE published its new guidelines on social distancing in education and childcare settings. This article should therefore be read in conjunction with the latest official guidelines:
Covid19: implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings

There is considerable speculation about the possibility of schools and childcare settings re-opening for the last half-term of this academic year, even if only for certain year groups. Whether this will actually happen remains to be seen, but you should get your plans for how you will maintain social distancing in place now, so that you have thought through all the issues before you commit to re-opening. Remember that you have a duty of care towards your staff, as well as to the children attending your club.

Some issues to consider when planning your social distancing measures:

  • If staff are displaying symptoms of Coronavirus, they should be sent home immediately and should follow the current guidelines on isolation.
  • Consider whether you need to employ additional staff in order to help maintain social distancing procedures.
  • When collecting children from school, try to arrange the collection point for the children so that it is outside of the school building.
  • When children arrive at your club, the first thing they should do is wash their hands with soap, for a minimum of 20 seconds. Send the children one by one, to help maintain social distancing – if possible keep the children outside until it is their turn to go and wash their hands. Alternatively, you could have a number of hand wash stations (either bowls with soap and water, or failing that bottles of hand-gel) set up at the door to your setting, so that several children at the same time can wash their hands before they go inside.
  • If a child arrives at your club displaying symptoms of Coronavirus, they should be separated from the rest of the children and their parents asked to collect them immediately.
  • Arrange sessions to take place outdoors as much as possible.
  • If children have to be indoors, keep windows and doors open as much as possible to keep the space well ventilated.
  • Discourage children from touching each other and avoid activities that would bring children into close proximity for extended periods (eg playing inside dens, working together on the same Lego model, reading a book together, etc). However as a play setting it would be unrealistic to insist that children maintain a rigid 2m distance apart at all times.
  • Encourage children to wash their hands regularly during the session, especially after going to the toilet, before and after eating, and after coughing or sneezing.
  • Have tissues readily available for use, when coughing or sneezing, and dispose of these in a bin immediately after use.
  • If tissues aren’t available, children should be encouraged to cough or sneeze into the crook of their arm.
  • Children should be encouraged to avoid touching their faces.
  • Snacks should be taken in rotation, to prevent children from sitting too close together.
  • If the children usually prepare their own snacks, consider having a member of staff serve food to individual children instead, to reduce the risk of the food from becoming contaminated.
  • Ensure that frequently-touched surfaces, such as handles, door plates, light switches, table tops and toys are regularly cleaned with anti-bacterial spray or wipes, before, during and after each session.
  • Remove toys that are difficult to clean.
  • Think about the layout of your premises, and the usual flow of children. Are there some common pinch points, such as them all rushing to dump their coats and bags on pegs at the start of the session, or queuing to wash their hands before eating? Think about how you could rearrange how you use your setting (for example, have the children leave their coats and bags in different areas so that there is less of a crush), or change your timings (such as staggering snack times) so that not all the children are in the same place at once.
  • Change your collection procedure, so parents stand outside and you send the children out to them. Update your collection policy to reflect this.
  • Don’t allow anyone other than staff and children to enter the premises (eg delivery drivers should leave items at the door).
  • For children who live with someone in one of the vulnerable categories, they should only attend a childcare setting if stringent social distancing can be maintained. This may not be possible for very young children or older children who lack the capacity to follow the instructions.
  • There is currently no government guidance about the use of face-masks in childcare settings, but if staff or children feel more comfortable wearing them then you should allow them to do so.

When you undertake your planning for social distancing at your setting, you should consider the suggestions above, but bear in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of measures. The unique nature of each setting means that it is impossible to produce a single template to cover all eventualities. You will need to assess the usual practice in your own setting, taking into account the layout and floor space of your premises, access routes to and within your setting, availability of external space, the number of children to be accommodated, and the latest government guidance (especially in regards to the use of masks, recommended separation distance, etc).

Latest guidance from DfE

The DfE has just updated its guidance (12 May) on social distancing in education and childcare settings. The above article should be read in conjunction with the official guidelines:
Covid19: implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings