Students to stay one metre apart in schools, health advice recommends

Most children will have to stay one metre apart when schools re-open in September. That is accord...
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

21.39 1 Jul 2020

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Students to stay one metre apa...

Students to stay one metre apart in schools, health advice recommends

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

21.39 1 Jul 2020

Share this article

Most children will have to stay one metre apart when schools re-open in September.

That is according to new interim public health advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

In primary school, one metre should be kept between children from 3rd class onwards.


Social distancing will not be essential for the first four years of schooling, as "younger children are unlikely to maintain physical distancing indoors".

At primary level, where possible, work-stations should be given to the same staff and children rather than having shared spaces.

The HPSC also says the risk of spread of infection may be reduced by structuring pupils and their teachers into 'class bubbles'.

This could see a class grouping which stays apart from other classes as much as possible, with discrete groups or 'pods' within those class bubbles.

If a class is divided into pods, it says there should be at least one metre distance between individual pods within the class bubble and between individuals in the pod.

Different class bubbles should also have separate breaks and meal or break times.

Secondary school

Secondary pupils will be asked to keep two metres apart - but if that is not possible, one metre is sufficient.

For post-primary it recommends physical distancing of two metres, where possible, or at least one metre between desks or individual students or staff.

It also says future planning should consider moving to individual desks and chairs for students.

As far as possible students should remain in the classroom and teachers would move between rooms.

Where students have to move to an elective subject they should move quickly into the new class, and would be seated with members of their class cohort with as much physical distancing as possible.

Hand washing and/or sanitising would also be required when moving between classes by both teachers and

On the wearing of masks, the HPSC says non-medical masks "may reduce transmission from individuals who are shedding the virus."

However, it adds that the extent of this benefit is unknown - especially in children - and would only be potentially beneficial if done properly.

It also notes: "It is not practical for many students to wear a mask properly for the duration of a school day."

'Complex institutions'

The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) says it notes the advice from public health officials.

It says its aim is the re-opening of schools and classrooms as soon as possible to the maximum possible extent.

But that this must be achieved in a manner that is safe and enjoys the confidence of all concerned.

It adds: "Second-level schools are complex institutions housing up to 1,600 students as well as their teachers and other staff.

"ASTI will continue to engage constructively with the Department of Education and Skills and all the stakeholders to ensure appropriate guidance covering all aspects is issued to schools and a smooth reopening can take place."

"A large volume of work needs to be done over the coming weeks to ascertain precisely the numbers returning at post-primary level as different logistical considerations and health must be considered."

Education Minister Norma Foley sayus: "This interim advice provides a platform for deep engagement with all of the school stakeholders over the coming weeks: principals, teachers and all school staff, students, parents and education partners.

“I was very pleased to begin meeting a wide range of stakeholders this morning.

"I am struck by the commitment that everyone has towards providing the best possible experience for the whole school community to return to school as safely as possible and as fully as possible in September."

Main image: Teacher Hans-Herbert Larisch stands in front of a blackboard in a classroom at Gymnasium Carolinum in Berlin, Germany in 2018. Picture by: Britta Pedersen/DPA/PA Images

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