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Leading the way on the road to recovery

09 September 2020

Alastair Scott examines the best ways for educational facilities to navigate these challenging times, and how working with a local special educational needs (SEN) school helped on its journey to reopening.

COVID-19 HAS dramatically changed the way schools operate day-to-day. With educational facilities once bustling, the lockdown meant many schools had to close completely, while some facilities remained open for the children of key workers. Now, as we start on the road to recovery, educational facilities are reopening and beginning to welcome back an increasing number of people. 

This new landscape sees students and teachers adapting to the new normal of heightened health and safety measures in line with government guidance. However, each school comes with its own set of unique challenges that must be considered to protect the health and safety of staff, students and their families. 

Bright Futures school was founded in 2010 by Zoe Thompson and her late husband Dixon Milburn, as an independent school dedicated to helping children with autism from ages five up to 16. After facing permanent closure due to its rented premises being put on the market in 2018, Robert Scott funded the build of a new school on its Greenfield site, which opened in 2020. 

The new school comprises 15 classrooms for one-to-one education, sensory and medical rooms, kitchen and dining areas, a reception area and school office, staff room, outdoor space and on-site parking. As a result of moving into the new build, the school, with its staff team of 22 and 15 students.

After just a few short weeks in their new school, in March, the managers took the decision to temporarily close the school with staff working from home and pupils being supported to learn remotely. Now, as schools across the country begin to welcome back students, Bright Futures is planning its reopening with the help of Robert Scott. 

Head of learning at Bright Futures, Alison Hughes, explained the process the school carried out to ensure that all staff and pupils were safe to return to school once again.  

Risk assessment 

Every organisation needs to introduce robust measures to control risks. Therefore, before reopening a school or educational facility, it is vital to conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment, in line with the latest government guidelines. 

During the risk assessment, it’s important to consult with staff members to gain an understanding of their own challenges and share the results with everyone who it affects, including teachers, pupils, parents and any other support staff, such as cleaners. 

Alison explained: “When carrying out the risk assessment for Bright Futures, we had so many things to consider. Not only does each child have their own needs, but we needed to make sure we were also considering the health and safety of staff, parents and students. 

“In addition to this, all staff now need to take on everyday disinfecting and cleaning duties, such as taking responsibility for keeping key touchpoints and equipment clean throughout the day.”

After carrying out a thorough and considered risk assessment, proprietor Zoe, Alison and their team implemented new guidelines designed to keep everyone safe. This included new rules on the use of public transport, how to enter the building, hand washing, social distancing, cleaning routines and more. 

She added: “We’ve made sure the new school guidelines, as well as the steps we’re taking to provide a clean, safe environment, were clearly communicated to all staff, parents and students. We also have staff briefings every morning to discuss health and safety measures that we will be following that day and to follow up on any issues that have arisen the previous day.” 

When approaching a risk assessment, the following steps should be considered. 

  • Identify the hazards - such as group activities, PPE requirements, etc
  • Understand who may be harmed and how - who is most vulnerable and what can be done to minimise their risk?
  • Input a strategy to minimise and control the risk - measures such as social distancing and frequent cleaning should be considered
  • Keep a record - providing reassurance for staff, parents and pupils
  • Evaluate and adapt where necessary - keep in line with government guidance and change your strategy where needed
  • Implementing a new cleaning routine and preventing cross-contamination 

With an increase in the frequency of cleaning, and staff now taking on additional cleaning duties, staff should be mindful of cross-contamination. To help combat this, Bright Futures has implemented a colour coded microfibre cloth system. That way, staff can be sure all clothes are cleaned at the end of each day and new cloths are introduced for the next day. 

Alison continued: “In each room, we’ve introduced a box of cleaning products that staff can use to clean and disinfect as they go. It includes a Toucan Eco disinfectant spray, colour-coded microfibre cloths and gloves. Personal protective equipment, including masks and face shields are available should they be needed.

“At the end of each day, we remove the cloths from each classroom so they can be washed and then we introduce a new set of colour-coded clothes the following day. This has given our staff and students peace of mind that they have clean equipment each day.”

The government gives the following advice for cleaning and disinfecting cloths and other laundry: “Wash items in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Use the warmest water setting and dry items completely. Do not shake dirty laundry, this minimises the possibility of dispersing virus through the air.”

Gill Ireson, head of sales at Robert Scott, gave her recommendations for avoiding cross-contamination: “As a rule, always clean from top to bottom – so high level to work surfaces to floors. Always clean starting from the cleanest to dirtiest so as not to contaminate clean areas. And always clean from the back of the room to the front of the room when cleaning floors.

“Folding cloths before use is also a good way to avoid cross-contamination. This will provide users with eight clean sections to use on each cloth, so the risk of moving any bacteria from area to area is greatly reduced. After use, the cloths can be deposited directly into a laundry bag and should be washed above 60°c.”

Gaining confidence to combat bacteria and viruses

Alison said a major part of the school’s new cleaning regime is adopting the bio-cleaning system, Toucan Eco, to disinfect surfaces, equipment, key touchpoints and more. 

Toucan Eco offers a combative solution for killing bacteria and viruses. The technology lets users make their own multipurpose disinfectant cleaner from water, salt and electricity. The solution kills up to 99.999% of microorganisms, including harder-to-kill microorganisms than the coronavirus. 

Tests have been undertaken by an independent accredited laboratory for the solution against norovirus and poliovirus – both standard methodologies for testing biocides for viruses – showed log reductions of 5 (99.999%) and log 6 (99.9999%) respectively. What’s more, because of its simple ingredients, Toucan Eco is also eco-friendly, effective and safe. 

Alison explained: “Without Toucan Eco, I think a lot of our staff and students would have had reservations about their safety at the school, but it has given everyone the confidence that our environment is as safe as possible. 

“We can make our own solution on-site and divide it into bottles for each classroom where everything gets sprayed, from tables to doors and whiteboards. We even use it to disinfect our hands as it’s only made from salt and water, so it’s much less harsh than an alcohol-based anti-bacterial gel.” 

For information on products and cleaning methods to help combat the coronavirus, please contact our expert team by calling 01457 819400, or email info@robert-scott.co.uk. 

Alastair Scott is sales director at Robert Scott. To find out more about Bright Futures school visit www.brightfuturesschool.co.uk.