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GOING BACK post Lockdown
what does science + common sense tell us?

this version: 05/19/2020 9:35

heppell smiling

see also:
outdoor learning - advice
online learning - 30 years of insights - website - research project
follow @stephenheppell on Twitter

These pages are produced as a talking point for SEK schools, in Spain and around the world. However anyone else is welcome to use them too. Apologies that there is a lot here. Much more got edited out!

These notes are for parents and schools who have decided, sooner or later, to return children to school. That is by no means a clear decision and many will hold back, which is understandable.

However, if you have taken that decision, or if returning to schools, at whatever date, is suggested by local or national guidance, then hopefully this is helpfully objective. There is much variation, and some politics, in recommendations around the world.

These are just notes, not instructions. They start with student and teacher safety, but also seek to remember that learning in school should be enjoyable and effective. Everything below is based on some reasonably clear science, although discoveries almost daily might modify that. Some countries have very comprehensive safety in place. Others less so. See this first day back report from a teacher in China, this a report after 4 weeks back in Denmark, or this (feels rather propagandist) video of Chinese children returning is remarkable but does at least offer a menu of possible precautions...

There is no "perfect way" to do any of this. Most decisions involve a degree of choice. Below are just suggestions, but well considered.

Parents and teachers will want to know and see that:


Guidance on masks for school children varies: in Korea, all children, in England, no children, in the USA Disney has donated 1 million masks to children. In France teachers have masks and shields. The science is unequivocal: masks help reduce the possibility that a classmate might infect others and help to protect the wearer too.

The science is quite complex in enclosed spaces. It isn't as straightforward as simply maintaining social distancing (which is difficult enough especially with smaller children). This graphic (below) of adults in a restaurant shows how infection passes over quite large distances simply from breath exhaled during conversation, but without masks. The infection started at the yellow graphic. Aircon is blowing from right to left.

coVID meal

The disadvantage of masks is that until they becomes "normal" (as we see in Japan for example) seeing everyone masked can be quite daunting for the youngest children.

However, there are fun and alternative masks. There are also many sewing patterns for very good masks - here is one for example - and even a way to make masks from socks! And of course full face masks allow the whole face to be seen and many schools are printing these with their 3D printers for their teachers.

disney face masks jonty horn

Another mask problem results from not seeing each others' lips; communication, perhaps especially in learning, often depends on facial cues and clues. For children with hearing challenges for whom lipreading is an essential addional aid. The full face masks 3D printed (above right) solve that problem, or transarent panels might also be incorporated into home sewing patterns. One final reason put forward to question the adoption of masks has been the suggestion that children will touch their faces more if wearing a mask, but hopefully mask wearing at school helps to normalise them and children then "fiddle with" their masks less in other contexts as a result.

Beyond safety though, one major advantage is that masks remind everyone, constantly, that these are "special times". That should be helpful. Sticky label name badges for staff and children may help the loss of face details?

Conclusion: Do ask parents to provide masks if they can; give them this information (above), have school-provided masks for those who cannot provide anything. Children must be asked to be responsible for their own masks, including washing them. They can't be a school resource unless you have vast quantities of disposable masks.

The science is clear, so senior staff modelling what is "normal" will create an expectation and help normalise mask wearing.


Quite concerningly, research suggests that a flushed toilet fills the surrounding air with very many droplet particles. If the previous toilet user is carrying the virus, then the next person will face a danger comparable to being coughed at directly into their face. Philip Tierno, a microbiologist at New York University, says that aerosol plumes can reach as far as 4.5 metres.

The remedy is twofold: importantly, having a lid on the toilet and ensuring that children flush with the lid closed is key. Many school toilets do not have lids, so that needs to be addressed.

lavatory lid

Secondly, airflow is critical. The danger is always a function of number of people, volume of room, and source. Clearly, work on window openings and anything else that improves ventillation through the toilets is helpful.

A long queue outside toilets is embarrassing for children and it is simply impractical if they need to wait too long to use the toilet. Typically that means instead of waiting until a lesson ends, when many would want to use the toilet, childen will need to be allowed to go when they need to, reducing the number problem.

Children need to be aware of the need to touch door locks, dispensers, taps etc with a piece of tissue. Bins need to be lidded and emptied on a tight schedule, cleaning staff will need something to pick up paper from the floor with.

Conclusion: add lids to all school toilets. Almost certainly this means new seats too. Lidded pedal bins too. Toilet breaks whenever needed, queuing, and limit the number of children in toilet areas at any time. Set window opening as part of the morning "open-up" regime.


There is much to say about outdoor learning - it holds the key within schools to the problem of returning all the childrento school without a dangerous concentration of bodies. There are detailed thoughts about outdoor learning here. Please read it.

elodie with clipboard

Outdoor furniture provision needs planning. Items need to be weatherproof, but also not made from (virus long-life) plastic. Your "between sessions deep-clean team" do not need to be playing "hunt the seats" before then can effectively clean seating surfaces.

The maths is simple: If you can only get 1/3 of your children safely distanced into a class that previously held a full class, then they will need to be somewhere else for 2 hours out of 3. That somewhere else might include "at home", but if they are in school then you will need the outdoor spaces, the hall, the library (if you have one)... everywhere!

The provision of outdoor furniture and working resources needs to address:

Conclusion: This realy does need some planning, but links directly into Pedagogy, below. This is a key item - so please do read the linked page.

visualising distancing

Although the distance recommended for social distancing varies - 2 metres in UK, whilst initially the WHO recomended 1 metre - in practice children (and all of us) are very poor at judging what that looks like.

distancing markers on car park

So schools need visual reminders - painted on the playspace, laid out as traffic cones, anything that is visual and obvious, ideally at the pinch points where people would tend to pass by too close to each other (eg stairs).

Adult hula-hoops are slightly more than 1 metre, so 2 of those is "close enough" distance. That sounds all but impossible in school without one way systems in corridors (if you still have them), or separate up and down stairs. How to distance if a little one has had a fall?, for example. Another reason for masks.

(see also groupings and layout below)

Conclusion: before children return, an audit of the schools "widths" and pinch points is a good exercise to carry out, with any students attending (for example key workers' children). It needs to be their solutions, not imposed rules. If you are adopting any one way signage the children will be very helpful at judging what is effective.

Spray paint "blobs" for parents to line up on for collecting. Parents will need to keep back from the school premises, of course.


Despite all these problems and rules, the experience of coming to school still needs to be joyful. This matters for mental health and wellbeing, but it also matters for learning. Happiness has a direct impact on your brain, and specifically neuroplasticity, your brain's ability to grow, expand, and improve. When you are happy, your brain simply works better (that's the short version!).

There is always a place for little moments of fun, for joyful interactions with teachers and peers. As we have seen in lockdowns children are ingenious at discovering ways to make the worse situations playful and fun. Seeing all the school staff together in an assembly will not be happening for a long time, but ...

may the 4th be with you

...this May 4th Star Wars themed hand-over from teacher to headteacher, dressed in makeshift costumes, in their Zoom conference windows delighted and intrigued children and teachers (at the wonderfiul Atlantic Academy) alike. Note the cleverly aligned virtual backgrounds.

Conclusion: simply don't forget joy!


For some time - certainly for months - schools will have children at home learning online, plus children at school learning co-located. Children living with vulnerable adults may be out for a very long time.

Remember that the co-located classes are split into smaller groups - so you have more of these than before.

If teachers are not to collapse from exhaustion, and children not be stressed about which "is best", the two learning locations need to be merged where possible. Trying to replicate lessons synchronously, but online, is rarely successful once the novelty wears off (day two...?).

There is much detail about online learning here. Please do read it.

Perhaps importantly for a school where children are distributed around the campus, the same strategies for plenary sessions face to face, or online, often apply in both cases. It might seem strange to Zoom (other platforms are available) to a learning group who are in school with you, but if they are distributed around the school and you only want to make a brief contribution, then online is preferable to them all walking back to be (too) near you.

Conclusion: most likely you will end up say something along these lines, to parents:

"please be aware that the learning activities in school, for the time being, will be the very similar to the learning activities distributed for home learning. In school they will be overseen, but this will not necessarily be with their normal teacher." or words to that effect.


School learning spaces are often confined. A simple "square metres per distancing student" equation will not reveal the maximum number of children that can be safely located in that space. You will need markings on the floor to get the best out of your space.

Consider these details too:

The image below illustrates some of the complexity. This classroom has been arranged with 2m distancing between students. But the access to leave (eg for a toilet visit) down the centre would be far too close to the seated students if the desks remained as shown below. Moving the desks towards the walls helped that "gangway" but because that then blocked the sink and taps, another desk had to be removed. Also note the lack of traditional classroom details - toys, measuring things, etc. This is a Reception class but, for now, their play equipment has been largely put away because deep cleaning would otherwise be impossible.

2 metrs distancing

For certain your national guidelines will insist, but common sense confirms that you will need a proper isolation room for students who report CoVD-19 symptoms during the day. This is not an alcove in the school office! You will also need very clear records of which group they have been in, with which teacher, because that entire group will need to be isolated if tests confirm infection.

Conclusion: you need your facilities team, or someone (!), armed with a clear set of guidelines, to mark out the floor with tape. A much more fixed layout than you were probably adopting before will be needed for now to maximise use of space. Set window opening as part of the morning "open-up" regime.

Take your doors off where you can. Certainly take them off classrooms. Do not remove firedoors!.

Create a proper isolation room.

If you have high ceilings, or large openplan spaces, count your blessings - lucky you!


In brief, the smaller the group the lower the chance of cross-infection. The limiting number is of course 1. But working alone is no joy. In some nations/regions small "bubble groups" are identified and, for example, two, or perhaps four children share a table with reduced distancing and always work together, never with others. This is a mathematical reduction of risk from a half class, but higher risk than individual distancing.

A real challenge with the "bubble group" solution is transport to and from school. If the children travel with others not in their bubble - on a school bus or in a parent car - then the relative isolation of the bubble group is ruined and pointless.

school bus

Thus with children travelling any kind of distance, bubble groups should be assembled with an eye to where they live, as well as friendships, stage, etc. And parents need to know who is in which group. Some schools are opting for displosable (event style) writbands as a good reminder to children to stay with their Bubble. They are very cheap in bulk.

wrist band

From a report on the first month of returning to school in Denmark:

"The children are not with all their friends, only those in their immediate class. They play outside in restricted areas, class by class, often without any equipment. This, however, has led to the children being more creative in their play."

Please note that with a system of smaller classes it is essential to keep the same teacher with each class. If a class is shared between two teachers - say one on Tuesday and the other on Thursday, then when a child tests positive for CoVI-19 and the whole class goes into quarantined isolation, you will lost 2 teachers, not one.

In Denmark the part time teachers have mostly moved to full time to help cover the increased number of small groups - but the Danish government is funding that.

Because the lockdown started so soon after Christmas, changing teachers again in September (in the Northern hemisphere) would seem perverse. With so much time lost already, spending time with a new teacher learning about a new class would seem foolish. Thus "looping" is a solution - where the teacher moves up with the class into 2020/21 (NB looping can be controversial (eg in the US) because teachers may not want to move into a new curriculum stage without additional PD).

Conclusion: Grouping is a BIG logistics challenge and will need considerable time. Spaces, fairness, teachers, synchronising cleaning, avoiding bottlenecks in moving, meshing with multiple times for drop off and collection needs someone who can understand both spreadsheets and children well!

Each school will face unique challenges here because their architecture is so varied.

Badges or wristbands will help children to identify their group, bubble, pair.. or whatever.

scanning on arrival

For parents to feel confident, a strong policy of caution at the point of arrival is important. In most countries a child entering the school but then later testing positive for CoVID-19 will lead to the whole sub-class being quarantined in isolation (at homes) for normally two weeks.

A minimum scanning regime might just be a temperature scan. This can be passive, does not slow passage into the school too much (which would cause inappropriate queueing). Other countries adopt some spraying too.

Conclusion: an obvious and visual check, on entering, for all children and adults will be important to parent confidence. Arrival and leaving times will need to be considerably staggered anyway to avoid huddles of children and parents, so this is a viable strategy.

cleaning and hygiene

Any shared equipment must be washed and disinfected before / after use. Deep cleaning of critical areas like toilets, furniture, door handles and equipment should take place twice a day or after each small group of children are circulated and another group enter. This is not a job for the classroom teacher (or the children!).

You will need hand sterilizer sprays everywhere. Schools that have already returned are reporting that the habit of using them to clean hands, and to "soap & water wash" hands hourly, comes quickly to feel normal. That may require more washbasins - install them outside where you can. If hand drying is by paper towels, you need lidded pedalbins everywhere.

Staff dress code will need to be reexamined. Basically they will need to wear clothes than can be taken off as soon as they get home and transfered directly into the washing machine. That typically will eliminate more formal attire.

Likewise, the children's school uniform will need to be washed as soon as they get home - which rules out some uniform items (eg blazers). Many schools seem to be opting for the school PE kit all day to retain a uniform appearance.

Conclusion: Soap and water cleans hands better than anything, but quite a long wash is needed. So do the maths about number of children, time taken, time available, number of washbasins; then add plumbing where necssary. Lidded pedalbins are a must for paper towels.

An overall audit of cleaning and hygiene facilities is needed - with an eye to mimimising queueing and making hygiene unobtrusively normal is need. Then urgent action.

All day PE kit for children, smart washable for staff - maybe adult PE kit too?

making content - sharing videos

There are some things you simply can't do any more - well, for a while anyway:

On the other hand schools have been doing virtual assemblies for many years - like this YouTube channel of assemblies from Castle Manor School (see still image below). This edition was from 2006 and obviously now the format, with distancing, would be very different. Encouragingly, children were happy to commit to watching the virtual assembly on the day it is posted and that is a good protocol. Getting clear messaging out to parents and children is more important now than ever:


Often there are excellent media to stand in place of face to face direct instruction. "Watch this (externally sourced video) before reading this (internally generated task sheet) and then start your task". Use these external resources where they are good - very often they are excellent!

Also, to make the creation of a school's own video (for example a whole group introduction to a piece of project based work) as safe, simple and fast as possible for very busy teachers, needs a planned and permanent workstation:

Something like this:

green screen

A teacher simply arrives in the room, sits down at the desk, attaches their laptop to the HDMI cable and presses the red button. At that point whatever is on the laptop screen and the teacher are mixed together using the green screen. The teacher talks about their slide, video, website, photographs.. whatever. When the teacher is finished they press the red button again and the whole mixed video, with the teacher in the corner of it, is saved to YouTube or <wherever> and the teacher is given a url for the new video. Very simple, cheap and very quick to use singlehandedly.

Conclusion: have a clear schedule for messaging assemblies, perhaps having a "Heroes Assembly" too, at week end to celebrate exceptional contributions. When most of the school is back you will still need these online events.

You need someone to collate and curate external resources ("This set of PE lessons is excellent"). A librarian perhaps.

You need a content creation station. Cheap to do with whatever technology the school uses day to day.

personal items

Children will need to learn to be self-sufficient. They can't share anything and therefore need to bring their own water bottles, pencils, pens, scissors, and other school materials to get through their school day. Sharing is just not possible. Ideally each child will have a woven material (ie not plastic) belongings bag - an oversized pencil case - which holds everything they need.

Because teachers can't collect exercise books either the work needs to be dominatly online or protocols need to be developed. For example when children go out to play they leave their writing work open on their desks (or wherever) and the teacher can then offer feedback.

Because the teacher can't come over to the children, the children will need their own small individual whiteboard and marker pen. This allows them to hold up and show their working to both the class and the teacher. This could be as simple as an A4 white card sheet, laminated. Or a clipboard.

Schools will want to move as quickly as possible to one device per student, and will have their own strategy for this, but will need to think about hygiene and cleaning - even simple wipes may damage a laptop screen for example.


summer holiday activity

With so much term time lost, identifying a good summer holiday activity / project is a great idea. Working to optimise the learning space at home helps children to reflect on their new challenges in making their learning spaces at school effective too.

There is detailed support for this at: or in Spanish

Asking children to design poster reminders of some key actions (closing toilet lid before flushing, distancing...) helps reinforce those key actions and places "our" reminders around the school.

Conclusion: some kind of summer project is needed. Finding out what other schools have done / are doing in other countries is a good focus: some of it is amusing, some horrifying! I'm sure we can find better than this (below) - but even there no doubt the children can invent some clever square synchronised swapping games!

french playground

French nursery school children in their individual playground chalk squares (Picture: BFM/Twitter)

Perhaps sharing images from that research online before school returns (an "excellent" wall and a "not so sure" wall would help build student reflection and student voice too.

That's all for now. Everything above is simply best endeavour at informing the debate.

To repeat: there is no right or perfect way to do this. Your choices are your choices. This page is all a work in progress and will be under fairly regular revision. Positive feedback and suggestions to Professor Heppell via Twitter will be always welcome.


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this page last updated by Professor Stephen Heppell: 05/19/2020 9:35