Headteachers eye 'normal school year' as Covid rules axed
- Credit: Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust
Norfolk headteachers are hoping for a "normal school year" from September after the prime minister announced social distancing rules would be axed.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said in a press conference on Monday mainstays of coronavirus guidance in England such as wearing face masks and practicing social distancing would become personal choice rather than the rules from July 19.
While little was said about schools in Mr Johnson's announcement, education secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to say this week support bubbles and isolation periods for whole year groups will be scrapped.
Thetford Grammar School headteacher Michael Brewer said: "We're waiting for more details in terms of what exactly happens in terms of bubbles and isolation.
"I think the big thing is, very cautiously, we have the potential for a normal school year from September, which is exciting.
"Nobody knows what's around the corner, but what we do know is the current situation is bad for children – if it goes into a third year it will have a real detrimental effect."
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General secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders Geoff Barton said his organisation was pleased the bubble system would be removed because it would reduce disruption to students' education by stopping large groups being sent home at the same time.
However, joint general secretary of the National Education Union Dr Mary Bousted said: "We must seriously question the wisdom of the government's decision to take away so many safety measures.
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"Gavin Williamson has asked school and college leaders to be patient in their wait for guidance, but it is simply not good enough to leave so much unresolved when so little of the summer term remains.
"The education secretary promised head teachers full clarity the moment Step Four of the road map was reached, so there will be considerable anger and concern if he does not make good on his word."
She added the government should support schools by organising regular testing, improving classroom ventilation, and recognising long Covid as a disability ahead of the start of the academic year in September.
Back in Norfolk, Shannon O'Sullivan, headteacher at Thomas Bullock CofE Primary Academy in Shipdham, said she felt "encouraged" by the removal of restrictions.
She said: "From the guidance given, not only as school and local community but as communities nationally we can now assume that the evidence consistently supported by medical experts shows that we are gaining some necessary momentum to control the pandemic.
"Our school will continue to be guided by the factors that are presented to us and furthermore we will continue to follow implementations by the Department for Education and local authority.
"In our school we will continue to keep proactive at ensuring the safety and sanctity of our school community by wearing masks, distancing and adhering to the rules.
"However, we feel encouraged that many restrictions will hopefully be removed for our pupils and families returning in September."
Sarah Godbold, executive headteacher of Mundford and Gooderstone CofE Primary Academies, said she would need to wait for further information before knowing what the new situation would mean.
She said: "Although the government shared their roadmap on restrictions lifting for the general public, for schools there is still uncertainty around what life will look like in September for our children.
"We are waiting for further information from the government about what ‘Living with Covid’ means for our pupils and staff."
Meanwhile, Mr Brewer raised the possibility of a role for schools to play if it is deemed children under the age of 16 need to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
He said: "The question remains – will we be vaccinating children? We obviously have some experience in this such, as the HPV vaccine where pupils can get it on-site.
"The success rate for uptake of vaccines is much higher for other vaccines in schools rather than in other centres – it's more convenient and efficient, so it will be interesting to see if that comes into place."