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Back to school with GEMS Education


Top officials from GEMS Education speak about their “Back to school” preparations.


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Specialised Cleaning
August 31, 2021
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Back to school with GEMS Education

“Back-to-school” is the much awaited time of the year and since COVID-19, students, who were otherwise confined to their homes, are looking forward to returning to school. As exciting as that may sound, the schools have to be on their toes in cleaning and sanitizing the entire facility for the safety of their students and staff. We speak to some of the top officials of GEMS Education to see how they are bracing themselves for this time of the year. 


Russell Foster, Manager of School Operations, GEMS Metropole School – Motor City

School hygiene and cleanliness are very important, especially now due to the pandemic, as it is proven that a clean and sanitised school breaks the chain of infection rates.

Infection control measures taken to ensure that the students' return to school is safe 

Over the summer holidays, the school is being thoroughly deep cleaned and sanitised in preparation for the return to school. Ninety-eight per cent of our staff have received both doses of the vaccine, and we have rolled out a vaccination programme to help students over 16 get vaccinated as well.

Ensure a hygienic environment in the school

Firstly, all our school buses are regularly sanitised, and students cannot board the bus if they are sick or have Covid symptoms such as a high temperature. Secondly, we have three thermal cameras located at the school’s entrances, ensuring all students, staff and visitors are thermally scanned as they enter the school. We have also installed more than 100 hand sanitiser dispensers around campus to help prevent the spread of the virus, and students and staff are encouraged to use sanitisers regularly. We currently have 28 cleaning staff operating in school, which is a 50% increase from pre-pandemic levels; this enables us to clean all toilets on an hourly basis and constantly clean all touch points around school.

How school hygiene has changed in the last 2 years

As a school rated ‘Outstanding’ by KHDA for Health and Safety, we have always made school hygiene a top priority. However, we have had to make changes to our processes in response to the pandemic, and we have increased awareness of and education around good hygiene practice throughout the school, with teachers incorporating this as part of their lessons as well. As a result, our community is more aware of the need to wash hands well, and even our youngest students of four and five years old started a hand washing campaign to raise awareness within the community of how to wash hands correctly.

Additional factors post COVID-19 

All sanitising equipment used is Dubai Municipality-approved, and we work closely and continuously with DHA and KHDA to ensure all necessary precautions are in place, with weekly inspections.

Planning for "back to school"

We are obviously more prepared this year. The precautions and policies we have in place have been approved by KHDA and DHA via their frequent visits, and we will continue to maintain the highest standards of health and safety across all school operations. Feedback from parents and staff has been positive throughout the year, and parents have said they feel safe to send their children to school.

Overcoming challenges 

The main challenge revolves around preventing a positive Covid case from spreading. Although our protocol for containment, whereby families are asked to keep students at home, can be disruptive, it is necessary in order to keep everyone safe and prevent the spread of the virus.

Karim Murcia, Principal/CEO, GEMS Al Barsha National School

Ensuring our students are safe and healthy is our highest priority at GEMS Al Barsha National School. Maintaining the highest standards of cleanliness and hygiene is important in creating a healthy school environment where our students can thrive in their learning. It is also an essential part of our community responsibility to prevent the transmission of illnesses such as COVID-19.

Infection control measures taken to ensure that the students' return to school is safe 

Our school adheres to the strictest levels of cleaning protocols, both before and during term time. In the run up to the start of the school year and then on a termly basis, the school is disinfected with special deep cleaning products approved by Dubai Municipality. Our daily routines include disinfecting all surfaces, frequent hourly cleaning of washrooms, and the use of high-pressure disinfectant fogging.

How has the concept of school hygiene changed in the last 2 years

There is a much sharper focus on handwashing and sanitiser now. There is an increased awareness of the importance of routines such as washing hands before and after eating and using disinfectant products in our wider learning environment. Most importantly, school hygiene is now understood to be a wider community responsibility. Teachers ensure students have access to their own individual resources and ensure any shared resources or furniture is disinfected before other students can use them. Students are also involved in supporting their classmates and teachers to stay safe and well.

How school hygiene has changed in the last 2 years

Regular reminders are provided to students, parents, staff and visitors about the use of hand sanitiser. Our cleaning team pays particular attention to high touchpoint areas such as reception counter tops, handles and door push plates.

Planning for "back to school"

We are excited to welcome back our students again to a safe learning environment where they are able to explore and make progress. We are ready to continue to adhere to all regulatory guidance on social distancing, the correct wearing of masks, staggered movement around the school and enhanced cleaning routines. We also implement the GEMS Education vaccination policy, expecting all members of staff to be vaccinated and assisting our families in contributing to the national vaccination campaign, and providing dedicated opportunities for our older eligible students to complete vaccinations.

Overcoming challenges

Our ongoing commitment to cleanliness and hygiene relies on the participation, cooperation and consistency of our entire staff team and school community. Everyone understands that we are all responsible and accountable. We provide constant reminders to ensure protocols are adhered to consistently.

Encouraging students to maintain cleanliness and hygiene in the school premises

It is important that reminders and guidance are age-appropriate. Our education and clinic teams work tirelessly to help students understand why it is important to follow health and safety guidance through fun and creative educational activities.

Alison Baldwin, Manager School Operations, GEMS Wellington Academy, Silicon Oasis

Cleanliness and hygiene underpin all our daily operations; both prior to COVID and also now with the additional challenges we face. It is key that our students can concentrate on learning without concerns for their safety.

Infection control measures taken to ensure that the students' return to school is safe 

We plan to reopen in the new year with all the same measures in place from last year, so unless any guidelines change, we will see measures including:

  • Temperature checks on entry at school and also before boarding the school bus
  • Eligible students and all staff wear masks
  • All staff and eligible students vaccinated
  • Symptomatic staff/students not allowed to work/study on campus
  • Adherence to all quarantine/isolation guidelines
  • Social distancing enforced across site (common areas, teaching areas and school transport)
  • Reminders to the school community about effective hand hygiene
  • Lesson content ensuring no physical contact is necessary and common resources are managed in a controlled way
  • Cleaning and sanitising in line with Dubai Municipality and Dubai Health Authority guidelines
  • Limited numbers for staff meetings, no planned gatherings unless social distancing isn’t compromised, and visitors limited to planned meetings only
  • No sharing of food/drink items to limit shared touchpoints, no buffets, canteens closed, no external food deliveries, water dispenser machines switched off

How school hygiene has changed in the last 2 years

The process for cleaning and disinfection has increased in frequency and intensity. All common, unavoidable touchpoints are regularly disinfected throughout the day, the sharing of resources has to be very carefully managed and only shared in a controlled manner within small groups, or when controls are impossible to implement, the sharing of resources has stopped completely. We have put up signage aimed at the school community to remind them about effective personal hygiene measures. cough/sneeze etiquette, the duration for hand washing and use of hand sanitisers – these have all changed.

Planning for "back to school"

We are ensuring all staff are vaccinated (or that medical exemptions are in place), ensuring all eligible students are vaccinated, tracking travel declarations for staff and students, ensuring PCRs tests have been taken and quarantine requirements are completed after travel, where applicable, and ensuring all rules and regulations are issued to parents and staff once more. Vaccinations were not available in September 2020, but all other measures were the same in September 2020 as we are planning now. None of these Covid measures was in place in previous academic years, however, when only academic information and relevant parent/student health and safety information was shared prior to term starting.

Overcoming challenges

Monitoring the common touchpoints is challenging; when everything should be sanitised after each person has touched it, our increased cleaning staff needs to be vigilant across site all day, prioritising the high-traffic areas and bathrooms especially. Also, it is challenging for teachers to always be watching what students are doing, especially in classes with younger students, where children are curious about resources around them and are at an age when they want to learn to share.

Clear ways of working have been implemented to ensure we proactively control these aspects as best possible, but on the rare occasion that things have not been disinfected between use, there is a second level of control in the strict hand hygiene practices in place, as well as the mask wearing protocols.

Encouraging students to maintain cleanliness and hygiene in the school premises

A lot of time has been spent, and materials provided, to educate our whole community about cleanliness and hygiene – via student assemblies, parent newsletters, videos, social media posts, posters/signage around school, and positive reinforcement of good practice seen on campus.

As we return to school, we will be tracking travel declarations for staff and students who have left the UAE over the summer. We will ensure PCR testing is in place and that quarantine requirements have been completed after travel, where applicable. We will also be reminding our whole community of the rules and regulations in place. This year we also have the added measure of ensuring all staff and age-eligible students are vaccinated prior to school reopening, which will further reassure our community as they start another academic year in safe hands.


Santosh Hadinaru, Head of Health and Safety, GEMS Education

Infection control measures taken to ensure that the students' return to school is safe 

Across the GEMS network of schools, we have the following measures in place, all of which are designed to keep students, staff and visitors to schools safe.

  • Anyone who feels unwell must stay at home and not come to school
  • Travel declaration forms completed and submitted prior to returning to school
  • All eligible staff and students strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, in accordance with directives from the authorities
  • Thermal screening at school entrances
  • Sanitisation and fogging of school premises
  • Strict compliance with mask-wearing directives
  • Hand hygiene
  • Physical distancing
  • Micro-bubbles and macro-bubbles
  • Circulation map to identify movement of individuals and to support contact tracing
  • Increased fresh air inflow and ventilation
  • One-way traffic along school hallways
  • Use of outdoor spaces whenever possible for instruction, meals and recess/break time
  • Use of physical barriers such as Plexiglas shields and partitions to separate educators and students
  • Students divided up into distinct groups or cohorts that stay together during the school day, reducing interaction between different groups
  • Designated entrances and exits for different student cohorts, sectioned off common areas, and floor markings to direct foot traffic flows and help students and staff maintain distance
  • Portable hand sanitiser dispensers at entrances and in common areas
  • Permanent changes to the physical environment, such as no-touch bathrooms
  • Alternating school days for different groups of students, facilitating physical distancing
  • Pre-boxed lunches and staggered lunch times
  • Enhanced cleaning of surfaces after the school day
  • Training and frequent reminders of Covid protocols for staff, parents, students
  • Updates on important health and sanitation practices for school communities
  • Isolation of suspected positive cases or symptomatic individuals
  • Trained medical team with infection control training.

How school hygiene has changed in the last 2 years

Washing hands and personal-hygiene is now part of the curriculum or built into the daily timetable, so students and staff devote adequate attention to maintaining hygiene protocols. High touchpoints and frequently used equipment around school are sanitised after each use every hour. Our schools use cleaning agents designed to protect from the virus and other pathogens. Our schools are also fully focused on ensuring all eligible staff and students are vaccinated. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, as well as their close contacts, are carefully tracked. Areas that may have been exposed are deep cleaned and disinfected.

Additional factors post COVID-19 

As we mentioned, our measures begin long before arrival on campus. From promoting vaccinations and preventing unwell staff or students from coming into school, to ensuring we have travel declarations and providing clinic assessments and isolation protocols for those flagged via our thermal screening or who display symptoms, to ensuring members of our clinic staff are certified in infection control and take all necessary precautions for contact, droplet or airborne transmissions.

We then isolate suspected positive cases in separate isolation rooms away from other students and staff. We have a close contact tracing system in place, and positive cases and close contacts are required to self-isolate for up to 10 days. There is an immediate closure of classrooms or areas used by a positive case, based on our circulation map, and these areas are immediately sanitised. Our dedicated School Health Safety and Environment Officers monitor positive cases across school to identify potential trends. And all this is augmented by our operations team that is on ground to ensure prompt sanitisation of all surfaces and common areas after every use.


Charlotte Almasri, Head of Service Delivery, Infracare

Cleaning schedule followed at GEMS schools

Infracare has a comprehensive cleaning schedule in place developed for each school, which comprises maintenance cleaning during school hours and deep cleaning during evenings and weekends. Once term time ends, over the school break a dedicated floor-wise cleaning programme is set in motion, also taking into consideration renovation works and facility upgrades, and therefore the associated cleaning works required after their delivery. Disinfection with antiviral products has been in place across GEMS schools since before the pandemic and continues to play an important role in ensuring a safe and hygienic environment for students and staff.

Daily maintenance cleaning regimes are developed specifically for each school and in conjunction with the school management team, taking into consideration class rotations, evening and out-of-hours use of facilities for sports and community clubs, events and special occasions, on top of the day-to-day operations. The school environment is dynamic, and our experienced cleaning teams are adept at adjusting schedules quickly to keep up with the demands of the school, supported through additional resources as and when required.

With GEMS operating across multiple Emirates in the UAE, the cleaning operation and schedules for each school are also developed in consideration of the local governing regulations to ensure full compliance. Beyond self-auditing and school auditing, there are also many external agents such as school education, health bodies and municipalities conducting frequent and thorough inspections.

Cleaning and disinfection technologies used to clean the school premises

With cleaning and disinfection being of critical importance in the school environment, staying at the forefront of new technology in this field is just as important. Cleaning and disinfection technologies, machinery, process and products are continuously reviewed to ensure the most suitable solutions are in place. Care is taken around product selection and activities undertaken given the vulnerable nature of users within the facilities.

Infracare follows the BICSc guidelines and colour coding system within schools, to reduce the risk of cross infection between cleaning areas, and we use municipality-approved disinfectants with proven antiviral properties, adhering to the most relevant contact times after cleaning. Disinfection is carried out using traditional spray application methods, with particular focus on all high-touch surfaces, and these are further reinforced with the use of fogging machines when appropriate.

Ensure a hygienic environment in the school

Infracare’s contribution to ensuring a hygienic environment in the school starts long before the cleaning teams arrive on premises. Our staff accommodation and vehicles are professionally cleaned and disinfected on a continuous basis, with social distancing practices and health monitoring in place. There are ongoing COVID-19 awareness campaigns and training for our teams.

Both out of the workplace and in the workplace, hand hygiene is a focal point for us and we continuously educate through in-person training, professional training videos, visual reminders and through fun practical application and demonstration. Our cleaning teams, for example, really engaged with a hand wash training unit we secured on loan, which reviewed their hand wash movement and sequences to assess for effectiveness in their hand wash procedures.

On arrival in schools, our vaccinated cleaning teams continue to adhere to social distancing protocols and deliver industry-best-practice cleaning regimes, often working in ‘micro-bubbles’. In each ‘micro-bubble’, there is a limited number of cleaning staff who have an area-specific set of equipment and materials, which again helps prevent cross-infection, which aligns with the assigned school bubbles.

High-touch surface cleaning and disinfection is carried out throughout the school day, with increased attention to washrooms and high traffic areas.

Cleaning chemicals and equipment used

Cleaning chemicals used in GEMS schools are approved by the local regulatory bodies (both for cleaning and disinfection) and are also best-in-industry products that are used globally. In a school environment, selection of products also includes reviews to make sure the products do not trigger asthma or allergies in children.

Cleaning equipment used is colour coded and purchased from a preferred supplier network. To maintain school hygiene, we have a rigorous cleaning and disinfection programme not only for the school, but also for our own tools and equipment, so that our cleaning tools are kept clean and sanitised and we can therefore produce the best possible cleaning results and hygiene levels in schools.