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‘I’m absolutely terrified’ - Headteachers reveal reluctant plans to re-open schools

PUBLISHED: 06:00 24 May 2020 | UPDATED: 16:36 24 May 2020

Melodie Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth, said that whichever social distancing precautions or PPE requirements applied in the rest of society

Melodie Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth, said that whichever social distancing precautions or PPE requirements applied in the rest of society "didn't seem to apply to schools". Picture: Victoria Pertusa

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“It seems like whatever applies to the rest of society doesn’t apply in schools.”

Pupils at St George's Primary and Nursery School celebrate its Ofsted report. Picture: St George's Primary and Nursery SchoolPupils at St George's Primary and Nursery School celebrate its Ofsted report. Picture: St George's Primary and Nursery School

This is the sentiment expressed by the headteacher of St George’s Primary in Great Yarmouth, who said she is “absoutely terrified” for the phased re-opening of classrooms to non-keyworker and vulnerable children.

Melodie Fearns, headteacher at St George’s Primary on St Peter’s Road, said she and her staff have had “sleepless nights” since the government said schools must reopen to reception, year one and year six from June 1.

Mrs Fearns said: “The level of responsibility being put on headteachers’ shoulders is debilitating. We absolutely cannot guarantee safety and it would be madness to say we could.”

Given that a third of Mrs Fearns’ staff are shielding, year six students will only return two days a week from June 1, followed by younger year groups over the coming weeks so that every child has a chance to return before the summer holidays.

But she added that even that had been “immensely stressful” to organise, and that it seemed the government’s approach was one of “every school for themselves”.

Headteacher Elaine Glendinning with some of the children at Southtown Primary School. Picture: James BassHeadteacher Elaine Glendinning with some of the children at Southtown Primary School. Picture: James Bass

She said: “Honestly, I do find it refreshing that they’re now letting us make our own decisions as we as head teachers know what our schools need.

“For example, my staff will be wearing face masks and visors, but that isn’t what the government are recommending. They say it will scare the kids but we’ve got no choice.

“Luckily, Norfolk councils are collating face masks and selling them to us for a reasonable price, but I’ve been trying to get a distance thermometer to no avail all summer.”

For Homefield CoE Primary in Bradwell the situation is similar - school will not be re-opening to non-keyworker children until June 8 so that “all necessary operations” can be put in place.

At St Nicholas Priory, year six children will return on June 1 and year one and reception children on June 8 - but parents have been briefed that staff will be wearing safety equipment and pupils will have a time slot in which they can return.

St Nicholas Priory CE VA Primary School in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Joe NortonSt Nicholas Priory CE VA Primary School in Great Yarmouth. Picture: Joe Norton

Reception, year one and year six children will also be returning to North Denes Primary on June 8, but headteacher Debbie Whiting warned this would “not be normal school” in a letter to parents that went viral.

Elsewhere in Great Yarmouth, schools are putting in place slightly different arrangements.

At St Mary and St Peter Catholic Primary School, year six children will be returning on June 1 with nursery and early years children to follow.

The school said that parents have been informed of the plans, and that “every safety measure which is humanely possible” will be put in place.

North Denes head teacher Debbie Whiting wrote an North Denes head teacher Debbie Whiting wrote an "honest and open" letter to her parents stressing the inability of her staff to guarantee a completely risk-free environment in which children could return to school. Picture: James Bass

Likewise, Southtown Primary School’s headteacher, Elaine Glendinning, said that her school is planning to open on June 1 for children in reception, year one and year six, with staff being given appropriate PPE to help minimise risk.

She said: “Our school has been open every day since March 23 for children of key workers and others who met certain criteria.

“My staff have been amazing throughout this period and are working with our governors and following national and local authority guidance at all times.

“Hopefully by putting all the suggested measures in place and by maintaining social distancing as far as possible we will ensure the safety of parents, staff and children - but obviously our plans depend on the final decision made by the government later next week.”

Meanwhile, a letter to parents at Northgate Primary stressed that while “staff cannot guarantee there will be no transmission of the virus to your child and family”, rigorous social distancing measures would attempt to keep young children apart when they return on June 3.

The letter said that “school will be completely different for the youngest children” who will remain exclusively in small ‘bubbles’ of 10 and possibly without teachers they are familiar with.


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