Reopening schools around the world
Schools: A global view
As schools begin to re-open across the globe, we take a look at the varied measures countries are taking to ensure the safeguarding of their staff and pupils.
- In Denmark, primary schools opened their doors in the middle of April, with secondary schools following one month later. The classroom looks remarkably different as desks are stationed six feet apart, and parents are no longer allowed inside school buildings. To ensure pupils adhere to social distancing guidelines, classes are held outside where possible, and communal areas such as playgrounds and school libraries are currently closed. Schools have also installed handwashing stations outside of the buildings and students are encouraged to wash their hands every hour.
- Germany has also begun to reopen schools, prioritising younger pupils and those pupils due to sit exams.
Classrooms have been set up so that desks are two meters apart and display all of the necessary signs and posters that encourage social distancing and hand washing. School leaders state that face masks will be encouraged but is not mandatory.
- Similarly to Germany, pupils in Austria returned to school earlier this month. However, to ensure safe social distancing, schools in Austria are splitting their class sizes in half. This means that pupils will now be attending school 2.5 days a week, to alternate the classroom space.
- In France, the education ministry has issued detailed instructions to schools on how to keep their premises clean and their pupils safe. The document states that; children over the age of 11 need to wear masks, a class cannot exceed 15 children, there are to be no shared toys, and schools are to implement timed arrivals.
However, even with these safety requirements in place, parents are reluctant to send their children back to school. Jean-Michel Blanquer, French Education Minister said:
- Schools have re-opened in Asia, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and parts of Japan. In Japan, Taiwan, and China, staff members are taking students' temperatures before they enter school buildings. Whereas in Beijing, pupils are required to fill out a survey on an app that calculates a person's risk of infection. Some students were also given personal thermometers and are required to take their temperature twice a day while at school.
- In Israel, schools are beginning to open for elementary school pupils. However, like France, significant numbers of parents initially chose to keep their children at home. Second and third graders in Israel wear protective masks while in school, but not in the classroom.
- For New Zealand, the Ministry of Education has said that schools “can start a transition period from Thursday 14 May”, which allows them to bring different year groups back gradually and gives them the option of providing a “transition arrangement” for those children “whose parents are anxious about their return to school”.
- Schools in Sweden have remained open throughout. They have relied on social distancing and hygiene measures to reduce the spread of infection. School leaders in Sweden have followed similar advice to schools around the world, such as:
- Keeping sick staff and students at home
- Raising awareness of hand hygiene
- Extra cleaning
- Social distancing
- Heading outside, where possible
- Continually preparing for changes
- As the United Kingdom prepares to re-open schools over the next few months, with some schools in England preparing to return as early as June, we take a look at some of the guidance education professionals will be following:
1. Reducing the size of classes and keeping children in small groups
Class sizes are also expected to be limited to 15 pupils, which will be particularly difficult for large secondary schools across the UK. To facilitate this, schools are being asked to utilise other spaces that they have available, and in some cases, teachers may be asked to move classrooms, instead of pupils, to help control traffic in communal school areas.
2. Staggered break and lunchtimes, as well as drop-offs and pick-ups
Staggering break times will give schools more control over high-traffic areas, and ensure that social distancing guidelines are adhered to.
3. Increasing the frequency of cleaning
As well as maintaining a high level of cleanliness in the school building with thorough and frequent sanitisation of any shared objects, education professionals will also be tasked with encouraging pupils to increase the number of times a day that they wash their hands.
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Over the past few weeks, education news outlets have been dominated by stories of how schools have managed to safely reopen to all pupils, and how the majority of these pupils have been desperately eager to return to school, excited at the prospect of returning to a normal learning routine.
Whilst classroom learning is a key aspect of this routine, it’s important to take into consideration the effect of a positive lunchtime experience on a student’s ability to learn. As today marks the start of the British Nutrition Foundation's Healthy Eating Week, we’re looking at why nutrition must be a key priority for schools as the start of a new style of learning begins.
Importance of school meals during lockdown
When schools closed in March, this brought a period of unrest and disruption to the routine of many, especially to younger children who were still getting used to the normal school routine and the benefits that it brought. Whilst many have adapted, the issue of providing pupils, especially those eligible for free school meals and whose parents/guardians were made redundant, with a regular supply of nutritious meals was crucial for education professionals and highlighted the amazing work being done within the sector.
One example of this was the tireless effort put in by headteacher Zane Powles to hand-deliver 7,500 free school meals to his students in Grimsby. Another prominent case of the fight to provide children with free school meals was by footballer Marcus Rashford, who successfully called for the government to reverse a decision not to provide free school meal vouchers during the summer.
The admirable effort by those to help struggling families during lockdown only goes to show the importance of school meals, and how schools can provide a vital service in keeping pupils well-fed with delicious and nutritious meals. The crisis of child food poverty is only growing, with up to 1.5 million more children in England eligible for free school meals, according to the National Food Strategy. Therefore, the need to provide pupils with nutritious food during lunchtime is only heightened when many pupils rely on this meal as their main meal of the day, especially after months during which some pupils may have experienced very limited access to healthy food. Whilst many factors that affect a child’s ability to learn, providing them with a healthy lunch after months of uncertainty will be crucial in the effort to make up for time lost in the classroom.
Government regulations state that food served in schools and academies in England must meet standards that require the provision of good-quality meat, poultry or oily fish, fruit and vegetables, bread and other cereals and potatoes. Drinks with added sugar, as well as crisps, chocolate or sweets are banned in school meals and vending machines, as well as a limit of no more than 2 portions of deep-fried, battered, or breaded food a week. These regulations ensure that all the vital food groups are covered, providing pupils with healthy food that will keep their energy levels up and equip them with the tools to learn.
The new school lunchtime experience
Since schools reopened, the lunchtime experience differs by each school, with some schools operating on a ‘packed lunch’ only basis, whether that’s provided by the school or parents, other schools opting for pupils to each their lunch in the classroom, and other schools offering pre-order services from the canteen, ensuring pupils can still safely access hot school meals.
Pre-order software, including AMI’s Transact offering, allows pupils to pre-order their lunches ahead of time, reducing the need for queueing in the dining hall and therefore ensuring social distancing measures are abided by, which is becoming increasingly popular amongst schools across the UK and is looking to be a vital drive in keeping children well-fed at lunchtime during the new age of social distancing rules in schools.
Value of hot school meals
Vital government regulations over the content of school meals mean that every pupil eating a hot school meal, including those eligible for free school meals, has access to at least one nutritionally adequate meal during the day. Packed lunches, on the other hand, aren’t required to abide by these regulations, with research finding that only 2% of packed lunches meet school food standards (Evans et al, 2020).
Some may argue that packed lunches can be as nutritionally balanced as school meals, and whilst this is true in some cases, due to the lack of regulations over the content of lunchboxes, focusing on hot school meals is the easiest and most effective way of ensuring all the necessary dietary requirements are met for all children, as well as being a safer option for pupils suffering from food allergies.
"Serving a hot nutritious daily meal to pupils would mean that parents, schools, and their caterers would have more faith knowing that children are getting the food that they need. For many vulnerable children, their hot school meal is the only meal they have in the day. A simpler (and healthier) food offer would go a long way to ensure pupils are eating food which meets the mandated school meal standards rather than being lured away by the daily temptation of their favourite food. " Jeanette Orrey, co-founder of Food for Life.
Therefore, as we mark the beginning of Healthy Eating Week, ensuring hot school meals are on the menu during school lunchtimes will be a key driver in the fight for ensuring each child, regardless of their circumstances, are provided with consistent, good quality food as they settle back into their new school routine. And judging by the increase in schools switching to cashless payments and a ‘grab and go’ style of lunch service, pre-ordering software will be the future of the Covid-19 friendly school lunchtime experience.
To learn more about how you can get involved in BNF Healthy Eating Week, visit: https://bit.ly/366CYBh