Preliminary results of the survey on school reopening.
Returning students and response strategies
- Groups commonly reported to return were primary school children and secondary children taking national milestone exams (leavers’ qualifications; transition to higher education)
- Class size reduction, social distancing and hygiene measures were most commonly included in descriptions of guidance, but many other risk-reducing strategies were incorporated
- Education about the pandemic was not always officially included in guidance, but many respondents described ways in which national public learning hubs and materials could be used in schools
Communication of the guidance, and missing resources
- Communication to different audiences about school reopening may follow a pathway from national Government to schools (mediated through states/regions/cantons for some countries), and from schools to parents, but pandemic briefings to the general population might also include updates on schools
- All types of media were used in communication – online, TV, radio, posters, debates
- With regard to resources and guidance still needed, a wide range of responses included concrete resources (masks/PPE, better online connectivity, more teachers and household workers, education resources about the pandemic and health literacy), underpinning evidence statements and broader economic recovery policies for families and school workers
- There was a need to monitor the reopening process to see if further resources would be needed
Successes and challenges of the reopening process
Successes seen during the reopening of schools included:
- A sign of the country getting back to normal
- No increase in infections nationally
- Good teamwork in schools, with teachers learning fast and being adaptable
- Good partnerships and communication between different actors – e.g. schools, families, local authorities and/or unions
- Good preparation and successful adoption of recommended measures
Perceptions of the levers for success (asked specifically of French language respondents) included:
- Good teamwork and communication between relevant actors – school principals, local authorities, staff teams, families
- Clear, consistent guidance and good adoption of recommended measures
- Provision of the resources and equipment needed
- Goodwill, dedication, commitment and trust
Difficulties reported during the return included:
- Safety concerns and resistance to reopening – of parents, teachers and unions
- Lack of time to prepare / lack of resources / lack of equipment
- Logistical issues, including problems in school premises and implementation difficulties
- Concerns that education will suffer during this period (students often not full-time)
- Contradictory information and Communication challenges
- Mental health problems and staff fatigue
- Lack of consultation / local empowerment and Lack of trust
Absenteeism and final reflections / suggestions
- Significant but varying levels of absenteeism was reported among students and – to a lesser extent – among teachers. The perceived reasons for this were fear of infection, unacceptable risk for people with chronic disease, difficulties for families in organising part-time school schedules with parental work and childcare.
- Attendance was not being mandated and this made it all too easy for students and families to continue home schooling rather than return.
- There was concern about absence among vulnerable students, and the education gaps that would follow.
- Final reflections and suggestions from survey respondents underlined the interlinkage between the return to school and other aspects of population recovery from the pandemic.
- The hybrid school system caused challenges for parents who needed to return to full-time work or arrange childcare.
- The experience from this process could improve the next transition by trusting local staff, recognising their efforts so far, giving clear and consistent decisions, and supporting staff and students with equipment, information and training.
- Looking ahead to build mental and physical health resilience for the population, and to reorganise preventive and public health systems, might improve the response to future crises.
Countries waiting for guidance
- Contributors from 20 countries did not yet have published guidance, but shared some insights or hopes/concerns about what the guidance might contain.
- Respondents anticipated: class size reduction to achieve social distancing; increased cleaning; infection screening and tracing systems, and the use of personal protective equipment.
- Many respondents were keen to start re-opening schools to halt the inequalities in access to the remote learning alternatives (lack of equipment in homes, unreliable internet connections). Some urged caution so that the situation was safe before re-opening occurred.
- There were concerns that the guidance would come out just before the planned reopening dates, and that there would not be time to implement the measures satisfactorily. They wanted clear guidance, adapted to the local context, and sharing of good practice.