OPINION: Simple gains that have made school life much easier in 2020

PUBLISHED: 10:06 03 November 2020 | UPDATED: 10:06 03 November 2020

The Secret Teacher says children coming to school in PE kit has been one of the big benefits since schools resumed. Picture: Getty Images

The Secret Teacher says children coming to school in PE kit has been one of the big benefits since schools resumed. Picture: Getty Images

Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

The Secret Teacher says slight changes to school life have really worked

Following the weekend’s lockdown announcement, and with the feeling that our situation is precarious once again, we have returned to school after half term.

As in September, we are having a readjustment period of getting used to school as it is in 2020, but while there are many things that we miss, there have been a surprising number of benefits to this term. These are a few of the aspects that I would be happy to keep in post-Covid school life.

Coming to school in PE kit

This has been wonderful! The hours of changing time saved, freedom from the misery of searching for pupils’ lost kit, and the reduction in worry for children when they realise they’ve left their shorts at home are all huge pluses.

Wearing sports kit on PE days has proved very popular with everyone. It is comfortable and practical to wear in other lessons, with tracksuits providing more cosiness in our well-ventilated classrooms than most uniform does.

(And from a parent’s point of view, this has been a cost-effective change, as children can manage with one pair of trainers to use at home and also wear for PE days.)

School funded pencil cases

To keep items that travel back and forth to a minimum, my school has bought each of the children an identical pencil case. These are made from wipe clean material for hygiene, and stay at school so cannot be accidentally forgotten.

This has many advantages for classroom life. All the children are equipped with what they need, but ONLY with what they need! The vast, tray blocking holdalls, crammed with gel pens and scented rubbers are left at home.

This not only has the benefit that they can open and close trays without screwdriver assistance, but the exotic contents of these pencil cases no longer serve as a distraction.

As with lost PE kit, time and worry have been saved in the search for a favourite birthday gift, or in dealing with the accusation that someone has taken another’s belongings.

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And most importantly, pencil cases can no longer be a source of inequality. In the same way that I believe uniform is a good leveller (sparing children on a tight budget the worry of comparing their clothes to others’) they are also spared the reminder of how many possessions some of their classmates have.

With the rise of Smiggle and designer stationery in recent years, the pencil you write with has become a status symbol. Some children miss having their own belongings with them, but it has had a positive impact on reducing inequalities.

School should be a place where children are spared from thinking about clothes or possessions and are able to focus on learning and friendship.

Greater independence at the beginning and end of school days

Whilst parents of Reception age children have sadly missed out on some new experiences with their child, the effect of leaving families at the school gate has had a marked impact on pupils’ independence.

Being accompanied into school each day with just their teacher has made the children more self-reliant. Even pupils in Reception and Year 1 have shown that they are more than capable of removing coats, hanging up bags and depositing lunch boxes, with a little help from school staff.

Children are often at their “youngest” with their parents and can fall into the pattern of letting their mum or dad organise them, when present in the cloakroom. Without this opportunity, it has been a surprise for them to realise that they are so much more capable than they expected.

Reduced homework tasks

This may be controversial, but I am relieved to have a shift in homework policy at my school.

When completing the extensive risk assessments in late summer, the leadership team thought carefully about reducing the potential spread of the virus from school to home and vice versa. It was decided that some items (such as lunch boxes or reading books) were vital to the running of a school, and simply couldn’t be avoided.

Other items, including homework books, were not deemed urgent enough to use
this term. And to me, this is a benefit. The most productive things that families can do to support their (primary age) children’s education are to read with them, and to help them practise time-consuming tasks, such as learning spellings and multiplication tables.

Parents are fulfilling this vital role in their child’s education, but as soon as other activities are given (such as answering maths problems or grammar questions) these are often prioritised at home. And because family time is finite, this can be at the expense of sharing a book.

The support that children need this year is in rebuilding their key skills. Other homework can be a distraction which they don’t need at the moment.

The Secret Teacher has been a primary school teacher in East Anglia for more than 15 years

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