Bubbles, pods, and isolation areas: How primary schools will reopen

New roadmap gives a detailed plan for the return of students to primary schools

A graphic from the Department of Education showing how a primary school classroom of 31 students may function.

A graphic from the Department of Education showing how a primary school classroom of 31 students may function.


Every primary school class is to be seen as a “bubble”, and within that bubble there will be “pods” where possible, according to the detailed new roadmap for the return of primary schools.

The 49-page plan states that each class “bubble” will stay as far apart from other classes as it can, and where a class can be subdivided into “pods” there should be a 1m gap between each pod and between pupils within that pod. The pods will vary in size depending on the number of children in a classroom and its size.

The Department of Education has also provided graphics that illustrate how some pods could involve up to 18 or 19 pupils for a class size of up to 32 students. For a special needs class the pod could be made up of six, eight or 11 students along with a teacher and two special needs assistants, depending on the size of the classroom.

The aim is to limit the sharing of facilities rather than “to avoid all contact between pods”, the roadmap states.

All unnecessary furniture and shelves should be removed from classrooms and desks reconfigured to ensure as much space as possible. The teacher’s desk should be at least 1m away, and where possible 2m away, from pupils’ desks.

Staff should maintain a minimum of a 1m distance, and where possible 2m, from students, according to the plan. “They should also take measures to avoid close contact at face-to-face level, such as remaining standing rather than sitting beside or crouching beside” others, the plan says.

Separate breaks

Class groupings should “mix only with their own class from arrival at school in the morning until departure at the end of the school day”, the roadmap states.

The roadmap calls for either separate breaks and meal times for different class “bubbles” or separate areas at break or meal times to help with this.

Hand sanitisers should be in place at school and classroom entrances and posters showing the correct way to wash hands should be in place.

Hand hygiene by both pupils and staff should be performed on arrival at school; before eating or drinking; after using the toilet; after playing outdoors; when hands are physically dirty, and after coughing or sneezing.

The roadmap states that personal protective equipment (PPE) will not be required to be worn within schools under current health guidance. However, it adds that a limited number of staff might need to wear PPE if they are “assisting with intimate care needs” or where a suspected case of Covid-19 is identified while the school is in operation.

Cloth face masks should not be used for children under 13 or anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove such a mask without help, the plan says.

It notes concerns too that “wearing a face covering will conceal facial expression and make communication difficult”, and says that face coverings should not be required if physical distancing is possible and practised appropriately.

“The use of a visor as an alternative [covering] may be considered where there is a concern regarding prolonged close contact and exposure to fluid/respiratory droplets,” it adds.

Covid-19 symptoms

Teachers or pupils should not attend school if they display any of the symptoms of Covid-19, the plan says. Where there is a suspected case there should be a designated isolation area within schools. For children with symptoms, parents should be contacted immediately. A mask should be provided for the individual involved, and where social distancing is not possible staff caring for the pupil should wear a mask. However, gloves should not be used because the virus does not pass through the skin. Public transport should not be used to get the pupil home. Appropriate cleaning of the areas involved should be carried out. Where a case is positive the HSE will contact all relevant persons.

Choir and music practices with wind instruments “may pose a higher level of risk”, so rooms in which such activities take place should be well ventilated, with social distancing maintained, the roadmap says.

Staggered drop-off at and collection from schools should be considered where possible, and walking or cycling to school is preferred, the plan states.

There should be no congregating at school gates “where physical distancing may not be respected”, and a distance of 2m should be maintained outside the schools. Children should head straight for their classroom on arrival, the roadmap says.