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Headteachers warn schools can only fully reopen in September if social distancing is dropped

PUBLISHED: 16:09 24 June 2020 | UPDATED: 07:35 25 June 2020

Penny Sheppard, headteacher of Queen's Hill Primary School and Nursery. Picture: SOPHIE WYLLIE

Penny Sheppard, headteacher of Queen's Hill Primary School and Nursery. Picture: SOPHIE WYLLIE

SOPHIE WYLLIE

School leaders have warned all pupils will only be able to return to classrooms in September if social distancing is abandoned.

Headteacher Bob Holderness outside The Parkside School in Norwich. Picture: Lauren De Boise.Headteacher Bob Holderness outside The Parkside School in Norwich. Picture: Lauren De Boise.

The concerns have been raised after Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “There has been a lot of conjecture that relaxing the two-metre social distancing rule to one metre will allow all children to return to school in September. This is pure fantasy. There just isn’t enough space in many classrooms to do this. It isn’t a magic bullet.”

Former Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton, now general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: Danny HewittFormer Suffolk headteacher Geoff Barton, now general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: Danny Hewitt

Dr Roger Harris, executive headteacher of North Walsham High School, said: “If the government said they wanted all children back in September and they have to adhere to a one metre plus distance that won’t work. I don’t know any school in the country where that would work. If they said they want schools to open as normal with measures including hand sanitisation, we can work with that.”

He stressed that schools, and parents, staff and children needed to know in detail from the government how the proposed September opening would work.

“The teachers want to come back to work in the classroom. The unions are looking out for people who genuinely cannot work. Teachers are not sitting at home doing DIY, they are on their computers responding to work they set on Google Classroom.”

MORE: ‘I’m confident they’re doing everything right’: parents drop children off at school

Penny Sheppard, headteacher of Queen’s Hill Primary and Nursery School in Costessey, said: “I think a September full opening could be possible if social distancing within individual classes is not needed. Schools are very unlikely to look like they did at the start of this academic year. We are going to have to be prepared for change at any moment depending on local and national circumstances. Staff want to be back in the classrooms teaching and we know that many children in non-priority year groups are desperate to be back with a non-virtual teacher. We will all work as hard as we can and be as creative as possible.”

Bob Holderness, headteacher of The Parkside School in Norwich, which teaches children with complex needs, said: “We need a proper strategy to bring back pupils in September, but each school’s unique circumstances must be considered. Any strategy must also include the particular issues faced by children with the full range of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.”

Tim Lambillion-Jameson, county secretary of NASUWT Norfolk Association teaching union, said: “I cannot see how we could have all the pupils in at the same time while being socially distant.”

He added issues would arise for rural schools in terms of school transport, if people were still being advised to remain more than one metre apart in September.

John Fisher, cabinet member for Children’s Services at Norfolk County Council, said: “There is growing concern that the loss in children’s learning will start to pose a greater risk than the impact of the virus, particularly for the most disadvantaged children and we really want to see all children back to school in September with their friends and teachers.

“We are continuing to work closely with schools and academies to help them plan for the here and now, as well as for the new academic year. We are in regular discussion with the Department for Education and are awaiting more detailed guidance on how things will work so that we can support schools and parents to get ready for September.

“Schools will also be making plans around how they will help children to catch-up, making use of the government funding announced last week. There is much to do between now and the new school year, but Norfolk’s early years settings, schools and colleges have risen to the challenge so far and I am confident they will do again. Once again, I would like to thank them for their ongoing work.”

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