How to Prepare for Schools Re-Opening

Approximately 1.3 billion students around the world have been affected by the school closures enforced in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted every member of the Education community over the past few months.

But now, with Governments across the globe examining their post-lockdown strategies and discussions surrounding re-opening schools in countries including the UK, Denmark, Hong Kong, Japan and more, schools are slowly starting to prepare to welcome back their students and staff members.

From health and wellbeing concerns to getting your administrative and financial management back on track, your school will face many challenges as lockdown regulations are relaxed.

We investigated how many schools around the world are tackling some of these changes and have compiled the following tips:

  1. Monitoring Student Health
  2. Applying Social Distancing
  3. Adjusting Your Timetables
  4. Ensuring Student and Staff Wellbeing
  5. Communicating with Parents
  6. Integrating with Cloud-Based Platforms
  7. Contactless Financial Management
  8. MIS Checklist

Monitoring Student Health

It’s understandable that the focus for many schools will be on retaining the good health of their students and staff members in the wake of this pandemic. To make sure that COVID-19 remains outside the school boundary as the buildings reopen, schools are looking to set up “temperature check stations” and sanitising hands as students enter the school grounds.

In Hong Kong, schools are also looking at providing travel and health insurance declarations which state that you’ve not been in contact with anyone whilst in quarantine.

Recording and keeping track of these could present your school with a bit of a challenge, so it’s worth making sure you’ve got the digital infrastructure in place to reduce some of the administrative workload that will accompany these. Tools such as our HR Manager will support you by automating much of this, including uploading and storing all relevant documentation securely. This will make it easier for you to monitor the health of all your students as well as accessing this information and sharing it with relevant staff members and/or authorities whenever you need to.

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Applying Social Distancing

To further try and ensure the safety of their students, schools are also having to consider how they’re going to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines if they are to reopen. Many are looking to restructure the layouts of their classrooms in response to this, with desks to be kept a minimum of one metre apart.

Mark Steed, Principal and CEO of Kellett School in Hong Kong, has revealed that they’re even thinking of changing the furniture where necessary to support them with this. Instead of their usual desks, they may resort to using their stock of examination desks in classrooms where the current configuration means it’s not possible to keep the recommended distance between students.

Outside the classroom, you’ll also need to consider how you’re going to implement social distancing in the playground and at lunchtime. Assemblies may need to be postponed or separated, so gatherings are limited by student numbers, and more creative measures put in place to ensure students follow guidelines.

Alison Irvine, Head of Moorfoot Primary in Inverclyde, is determined to keep social distancing fun for her students by using code words. Meanwhile, Yangzheng Primary School in Hangzhou, Eastern China, introduced the idea of wearing “one-metre hats” to keep students an appropriate distance apart both in and outside of the classroom.

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Adjusting Your Timetables

Another method schools are considering to make sure their students keep a safe distance apart in classrooms during lessons, the cafeteria at lunch and the playground during break times, is adapting timetables to stagger the number of students on school premises at any one time. This includes reducing class sizes and splitting the school by year groups, having different factions of the school community in school on alternate weeks or days, or in different halves of each day.

In doing so, this will reduce the overall number of students and staff members onsite each day, whilst the measures many schools have put in place for online learning will continue throughout the week. Indeed, a recent TES survey saw 68% of school staff agree that dividing the week up so that certain classes only come into school on certain days is a practical solution.

However, in order to achieve this, you’ll need to ensure your timetabling structure is flexible enough to adapt to these challenging new circumstances and any changes the coming weeks may bring. One such platform is our Timetable Manager, which enables you to create an unlimited number of timetables, each of which can be customised to your own specification and style, and accepts uploads from numerous different programmes.

You can find out more about using different timetabling approaches to support your school reopening in this guest blog from our partner, TimeTabler.

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Ensuring Student and Staff Wellbeing

It’s not just the physical health of your students and staff members that you’ll need to keep an eye on. It’s going to take time for every member of the school community to readjust to working at school and getting back into their usual routines, which is why monitoring their wellbeing is going to be more important than ever.

As most schools have already adjusted to an online environment over the last few weeks or longer, for many this has included digital tools to support them with monitoring and addressing any wellbeing concerns. However, just because your school is reopening, it may not be wise to completely discard the digital processes you have in place if they’re working for you.

As Dave Hopley, Director of Student Services at Stoke on Trent College, found, being forced into an online environment actually increased the accessibility of their wellbeing services to enable them to support over 200 students and their families. Because this has worked so well, they intend to continue complementing their face to face processes with their online platforms in the long term – thereby getting the best of both worlds.

It’ll also be particularly important to focus your wellbeing care on those who have suffered a serious loss during COVID-19. Using a platform that records life events and highlights the most critical concerns, such as in our dedicated Wellbeing Manager will be advantageous. Helpfully, you can share these concerns and any onward actions with relevant members of staff and/or the student’s parents, so everyone is kept notified of any important updates and your students remain protected.

A clinical psychologist, Andrew Fuller, who works with schools across Australia, NZ, Asia and the UK has identified resilience as “the happy knack of being able to bungee jump through the pitfalls of life—to rise above adversity and obstacles”. In times of uncertainty, Andrew advises schools to adopt the Resilient Mindset—Connect, Protect and Respect (CPR). You can view the infographic here.

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Communicating with Parents

Throughout the reopening process, it’s vital that schools retain a clear line of communication with all their students’ parents and/or legal guardians. Understandably, during these uncertain times parents are more wary than ever of their children returning to school; schools in Denmark have even reported some rebelling from parents who aren’t comfortable with the idea.

In this delicate situation, the best you can do is keep parents abreast of key updates and be open and transparent with them surrounding your plans for reopening. Most importantly, this will include the measures you intend to put in place to keep their children safe and healthy.

Moving forwards, Mark Steed of Kellett School in Hong Kong is expecting many parents to be much more invested in their child’s education having assumed the role of teacher over the past few months. To prepare for this, we would recommend establishing some clear communications guidelines across your school to support your staff members with handling all onward parental queries.

There are a variety of platforms you can use to keep in touch with parents, the details of which we’ve collated in our dedicated guide for teacher-parent communications. However, we’d recommend using designated Apps and/or Portals as an ideal way of sharing important updates. Not only to they enable you to upload and share real-time insights in a variety of formats, but they can also be accessed by parents directly, wherever and whenever it’s convenient to them.

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Integrating with Cloud-Based Platforms

As much as we hope circumstances like this will never arise again, many schools are now understanding the value of being prepared in case it does. What this time has demonstrated more than ever is the value of truly web-based platforms, which are able to support students and teachers with schooling online wherever they’re based.

Now you’ve had experience using and integrating with these digital solutions, it makes sense to keep this as an ongoing exercise – particularly as the process of reopening may involve a combination of face-to-face and online learning in the near future. For your Finance, Admissions and Administrative Teams, in particular, this will be hugely valuable as it means they’ll be able to keep the backbone of your school community running as seamlessly as ever; even if they’re in a position where they need to work remotely.

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Contactless Financial Management

Something many schools struggled with when initially moving their school’s core systems online was managing their finances remotely. To try and combat the impact of school closures, some schools invoiced parents for school fees early and are now looking to offer them credits at a later stage to account for this where necessary. Some have also seen members of their Finance teams furloughed during lockdown, as they’re unable to access financial management systems remotely.

To make sure they’re better prepared to work under any circumstance, more and more schools are looking to invest in cloud-based financial platforms which will allow their Finance teams to keep your school’s finances running and up-to-date wherever they’re based. Being exclusively digitised, these systems have the added benefits of reducing paper waste and saving your Finance team time by automating core processes (including PO and workflow approvals). Not only this, but it also means this information can be seamlessly integrated with your school’s other important data. For example, our iFinance system fully integrates with your MIS so parents can view their full invoicing history and make payments directly online through our Parent Portal.

All in all, by moving your school’s finances online you can make sure only the most updated information is available across your school in real-time, improving the accuracy of your financial forecasting and better informing strategic decision-making at SLT level.

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MIS Checklist

We’ve prepared the below Management Information System (MIS) checklist for our schools to use and adapt as they wish, to view this list please click here.

To find out more about our web-based management information system (MIS) and how it can support every member of your school community, both during and outside of school closures, please get in touch and we’d be delighted to help.