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Image / Editorial

Back-to-school guidelines include ‘Pods’, no sharing and physical distancing

by Jennifer McShane
01st Jul 2020

The Department of Education has published its health advice for schools – recommending a range of measures including one-metre social distancing for pupils at both primary and post-primary level and ensuring classes stay in Group Bubbles or ‘Pods’

Social distancing 

Primary school pupils from third class up and all secondary school students will be required to maintain a distance of at least one metre between each other when schools return, under new guidance issued by the Department of Education on Wednesday.

The recommendation will not be a pre-requisite for younger children in the earlier years of primary education because they are unlikely to maintain it.

And though a distance of one metre is the minimum for second-level students, the guidance recommends that a two-metre distance rule should be applied where possible.

Individual desks will need to be at least one metre apart and teachers should arrange to move from classroom to classroom to avoid students moving in groups.

Students should be encouraged to walk/cycle to school and have staggered arrival times to avoid congregation at the school gate and should also maintain a two-metre distance while on school grounds.

Last month, the Department of Education warned that physical distancing of one metre would result in many classes attending school for just 2-and-a-half days a week.


In a traditional classroom with standard desks, it would mean a distance of one metre between students, and the alternative is to maintain separate “pods” – small numbers of pupils working within groups.

A “pod” refers to a small group within a class, but it also recommends that classes themselves be regarded as “bubbles”, which stay apart from other classes as much as possible.

Each “pod” would maintain a distance from the other at one-metre though pupils within these “pods” would not have to do the same.

Where possible, work-stations should be allocated consistently to the same staff and children rather than having spaces that are shared, the official guidance said.

These new guidelines will be in place from September.

Interim health advice

The interim public health advice (prepared by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre) around re-opening schools runs to 31 pages and covers everything from school drop-off and pick up to handwashing, staggering break times, and the use of classroom equipment.

Newly-appointed Education Minister Norma Foley reiterated the health advice was interim, and what was current now would not be current in two or three weeks time, but it provided a “significant platform for discussion and engagement as to how we will collectively do that.”

You can read the report in full HERE

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