Article Text

Original research
Reducing COVID-19 risk in schools: a qualitative examination of secondary school staff and family views and concerns in the South West of England
  1. Ava Lorenc1,2,
  2. Joanna May Kesten1,2,3,
  3. Judi Kidger1,
  4. Rebecca Langford1,
  5. Jeremy Horwood1,2,3
  1. 1Population Health Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, Bristol, UK
  2. 2NIHR Applied Research Collaboration West, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, Bristol, Bristol, UK
  3. 3NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Behavioural Science and Evaluation, University of Bristol, Bristol, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jeremy Horwood; j.horwood{at}


Objective To investigate student, parent/carer and secondary school staff attitudes towards school COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Methods Recruitment used school communication, community organisations and snowball sampling in South West England. Audio recorded online or phone individual/group semi-structured interviews were conducted in July–Septtember 2020 and lasted 30–60 min. Interviews focused on views towards social distancing, hand hygiene and testing. Framework analysis was performed on interview notes/transcripts.

Results Participants were 15 staff, 20 parents and 17 students (11–16 years) from 14 diverse schools. Concerns about COVID-19 risk at school, especially to vulnerable individuals, were outweighed by perceived risks of missed learning. Some staff felt guilt around being a potential ‘spreader’ by teaching multiple classes. Findings highlighted a wide variety of school COVID-19 mitigation measures being deployed due to ambiguous government guidance. Participants generally saw mitigation measures as an acceptable and pragmatic solution to the perceived impossibility of social distancing in crowded schools, although anticipated challenges changing habitual behaviour. Participants supported school COVID-19 testing but identified the need to consider data security and stigma around COVID-19 diagnosis. Staff were concerned about unintended consequences of risk-reduction strategies on student behaviour, learning and pastoral care, particularly for those with Special Educational Needs or mental health issues who may find the measures especially challenging, and resultant widening inequalities.

Conclusion Families and staff supported COVID-19 mitigation measures in schools and would welcome the roll out school COVID-19 testing. Clear messaging and engendering collective responsibility are important for compliance and success of COVID-19 mitigation measures. However, schools and policy-makers should consider unintended consequences of measures, providing extra support for vulnerable students and those with additional needs, and consider ways to avoid widening educational and health inequalities. Findings demonstrate the acceptability of school COVID-19 infection control measures is likely to be influenced by the balance of risks and benefits to students.

  • COVID-19

Data availability statement

Anonymised interview transcripts are available on reasonable request from University of Bristol Research Data Storage Facility. DOI for the data is 10.5523/bris.v5fc53z84q2q2wqd2omc8mdml

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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Data availability statement

Anonymised interview transcripts are available on reasonable request from University of Bristol Research Data Storage Facility. DOI for the data is 10.5523/bris.v5fc53z84q2q2wqd2omc8mdml

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  • Twitter @avalorenc, @JoannaKesten

  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was first published. The data availability statement has been corrected.

  • Contributors All authors have been involved in drafting the paper, read and approved the final version. AL recruited participants, collected and analysed data and led the writing of this manuscript. JK and JMK assisted with data collection. All authors collaborated on analysis.

  • Funding This work was supported by National Institute for Health Research, Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West) and NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation (NIHR HPRU BSE). AL, JMK and JH’s time was supported by NIHR ARC West and NIHR HPRU BSE. JK’s time was supported by NIHR School for Public Health Research.

  • Disclaimer The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR, the Department of Health and Social Care.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement statement We received feedback on study materials from NIHR ARC West's Young Person’s Advisory Group (YPAG).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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