Contact patterns in schools

About the study

Close contacts between individuals are thought to be the main driver of transmission of Covid-19. The risk of transmission increases with the number and duration of close contacts. We would like to understand more about how contact patterns of children in school settings have changed with social distancing measures.

Pin and string network photo by Omar Flores on Unsplash

Photo by Omar Flores on Unsplash

In this substudy volunteer teachers were used as experts to estimate contacts of children during school. Several schools were involved, to find out how contact patterns vary between groups of children and with age, class size, and how learning is organised.

The teacher volunteers estimated children’s contact patterns in different circumstances:

  • pre-Covid with full school attendance
  • during Covid with full attendance and social distancing measures in place (as in the autumn 2020 term)
  • with reduced pupil attendance as during January and February

The results of this study told us about how children’s contact patterns vary, and this has helped us to work out how efficient social distancing measures (and other risk mitigation measures in schools) may have been in managing infection risk. The substudy focused on secondary schools to follow up a completed study of contact patterns in primary schools.


We developed a mathematical model for SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission rates among pupils in a class or school. Results indicated that testing, with isolation of positive cases, is a better strategy for reducing total pupil absences than bubble quarantining or sending whole classes home.

Contact the researchers


About the research team

Professor Emeritus Willy Aspinall has expertise in data analysis and risk assessment and management.

Professor Stephen Sparks is former chair of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME). He has expertise in environmental hazard and risk assessment.