The major source of our data comes from the expert elicitation of a number of volunteers from primary schools in England who responded to a call to participate as experts able to characterize contact rates between children, teachers and other staff in schools from their extensive professional experience. The volunteers were drawn from the Royal Society Schools Network, consisting of 900 schools across the four nations of the UK; the network includes 1300 teachers. The network is open to all schools, with 86% of schools being state-funded and the rest independents. However, all but one of the 34 volunteer schools were state schools. The focus of the network is STEM education and so the majority of our recruited teachers had STEM backgrounds through a science degree. However, a few were teachers with arts-based degrees, but with many years of experience teaching STEM subjects. While there is a slight tendency for our volunteer schools to be in regions where students have greater rates of access to higher education, there is no compelling evidence that they represent only high performing institutions.

The STEM background of the volunteers was an advantage for eliciting numerical data framed by basic statistical concepts with which the teachers were already familiar. While 34 volunteers contributed responses to the first questionnaire, seven did not complete the calibration questions fully. Thus, we had 27 persons who both completed the calibration questions and whose judgements fulfilled the requirements for performance-weighted pooling in the first round.

The primary schools ranged in size from 65 pupils to 910 with an average of 376 children (cf. the national average of 282 pupils). The schools are geographically well distributed: Eastern England (4); Southwest (8); London (5); Northwest (5); Midlands (5); South and Southeast (6); Northeast (1) and were a mixture of urban and rural settings. An indicator of socioeconomic setting is provided by the POLAR4 classification based on the likelihood of children participating in higher education. Schools are divided into quintiles from quintile 1 (least likely) to quintile 5 (most likely). Our study schools are fairly evenly distributed across the quantiles but with a slight bias towards higher-achieving catchments: quintile 1 (4), quintile 2 (4), quintile 3 (7), quintile 4 (7) and quintile 5 (9).

Teaching staff ranged from 53 to 5 teachers (average 18) and support staff ranged from 66 to 4 (average 24). The national average number of teachers and support staff per primary school are 13 and 18, respectively. The average school size is based on pupils not teachers and they are 30% greater than the national average. They have almost identical average pupil/teacher ratios (20.2) to the national average ratio of 21.8. All the recruited experts were in positions of senior management or authority with descriptions including: head or deputy head teachers (21); head of department or subject coordinator (8); regional or area mentor (5). With the exception of the mentors, all the experts had hands-on classroom experience and roles.

We divided the people in the schools into four cohorts based on the children's year groups and staff roles. While a simplification, the cohorts are expected to have different contact characteristics, e.g. with respect to interactions between children, between children and adults and between adults. The cohorts are as follows: Cohort 1 are Nursery, Reception and Year 1 children; Cohort 2 are Year 2–6 children, noting that Year 2–5 children are those of key workers and from vulnerable environments; Cohort 3 are classroom teachers and teaching assistants; Cohort 4 are non-teaching staff such as administrators, cooks, etc., some of whom are expected to have more limited contact with children.

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