Physical distancing - because ‘socially’ we need to stay close!
We’re not calling it ‘social distancing’ because one thing we really need at the moment is to maintain the strong social cohesion that schools provide, while keeping some physical distance from each other. Exactly how far apart we need to be is under discussion, with some countries (notably Germany where the virus has been better controlled) suggesting less than the 2m in UK social distancing guidance.
How many people in a classroom?
The official guidance on this is somewhat contradictory. To implement effective physical distancing in a standard 56m2 classroom you can have 12 pupils sitting 2m apart or 15 pupils sitting 1.8m apart. In some countries they are suggesting that 1m is sufficient, so it seems that some degree of interpretation is required here.
Government guidance says:
“For primary schools, classes should normally be split in half, with no more than 15 pupils per small group and one teacher (and, if needed, a teaching assistant).”
15 students plus two members of staff in a classroom means it’s not possible to maintain a 2m distance, so the government seems to be saying that this smaller distance is acceptable.
Government guidance says:
“Where settings can keep children and young people in those small groups 2 metres away from each other, they should do so.”
They also acknowledge that younger pupils probably won’t be able to maintain a consistent distance from each other but they are ‘taking this into account’ in the decision to bring these younger children back to school.
The science is pretty clear on this
While the guidance seems to offer some flexibility on exact distances and recognises that it’s not feasible for very young children, some measure of physical distancing in classrooms is necessary. Fewer people in the room means less vapour being exhaled which reduces the chance of contracting the virus, as long as these spaces are well ventilated, people are not sitting close together and you don’t stay in them for extended periods of time. The science is pretty clear on this; enclosed, densely populated spaces facilitate virus transmission, so that’s what you need to avoid. Walking past someone isn’t too much of an issue, provided they don’t cough or sneeze on you, but sitting next to them for a long time is. Being outside reduces the risk of transmission because there is a larger volume of air into which the virus can dissipate, which is why certain outdoor activities are now permitted while indoor leisure facilities remain closed, so ventilating indoor classrooms is important
It’s also worth pointing out that putting plastic screens between desks is not going to help, despite what some unscrupulous furniture manufacturers may tell you, so you can abandon that idea, you need to reduce the number of people in the room.