‘A lot of smiley faces’: how schools welcomed children to first lessons since March
PUBLISHED: 17:01 02 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:01 02 June 2020
Headteachers across Norfolk have spent half term redesigning classrooms, measuring walkways on corridors and reconfiguring timetables in anticipation of more of their pupils returning to school.
This week many began implementing the results of all that planning reception as they opened their doors to reception, year one and six children.
Many have held reservations especially around whether young children would be returning to classrooms that would recognise and feel comfortable in.
Sarah Godbold, executive headteacher at Gooderstone Primary and Mundford Primary, said: “My biggest reservation, aside from keeping four and five-year-olds apart, was that we’ve spent a lot of time making our learning environment creative and hands-on, and I was thinking the children were going to come back to school and it was going to be very alien to them.
“We have had to re-think and make it really fun. But actually we’ve had a lot of smiley faces and children saying they are so glad to be back.
“Things like in the hallways we now have 2m distancing banana and broccoli stickers and it is like a game, they enjoy it and they stay 2m apart.
“With staggering lunchtime and playtimes, the school looks completely different but it has gone very well.”
Just seven pupils returned to Gooderstone and 29 at Mundford when they reopened on Tuesday, the only two primary schools run by the Diocese of Norwich Academies and Education Trust to so far welcome back more priority year pupils.
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In total less than half of Norfolk’s primary schools reopened for more pupils on June 1.
The practicalities of the social distancing measures that have to be put in place mean some will not reopen until next week or later.
At St Williams Primary in Thorpe St Andrew 41 year one and 41 year six children returned, and 38 in reception classes.
Headteacher Sarah Shirras said the school hall had been used as a drop-in library by pupils during their nine weeks of homeschooling to keep them connected with the school, while she emailed photographs of reconfigured classrooms.
She said: “Our classrooms look less different than some, but they are still different because there is less furniture because we’ve moved some into classrooms that we have made storerooms, but we have bought some beautiful new rugs so that there are nice things that fill the space.
“One of the parents said on Monday that her child can be quite anxious about school anyway, but he has been coming to the book swap and a few key worker sessions, but they had printed out the classroom photograph and he had been looking at it all weekend. It made him feel more confident.”
She said while effort had gone into making youngsters feel at comfortable in very different looking classrooms, parents had also needed reassuring about the impact of the message on social distancing.
“Some parents were concerned that we might be too hard on them and it might not feel nice, so it is about trying to get the balance,” she said.
“It has so far been a lovely atmosphere. For the year six children it was actually lovely to be back and they have already been learning an awful lot.
“They have had full-on lessons and after nine weeks at home they were really on it with the learning.”
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Elaine Glendinning, headteacher at Southtown Primary School in Great Yarmouth, said 30pc in reception and year one and only about 20pc of year six pupils had returned: “Not great numbers. I think the parents have simply decided not to send them.”
But the planning has paid off for those back in classes. “All the children who attended on Monday said they had a brilliant day and have returned so that is good,” she said.
“I think it is very different for them but as long as it is also fun it is fine.”
At Fakenham Junior School an influx of new applications for children of key workers due to many second parents going back to work saw pupils numbers rise from 10 before half-term to 47 this week.
As a consequence the school has delayed its wider opening to year six children until June 8 to test out new procedures and protocols.
Headteacher Adam Mason said: “Yesterday went very smoothly with the children responding well and staying safe. The school seems strange but it is great to have more pupils and staff in the building.
“We have about 30pc of teachers still working from home due to shielding measures. This does restrict what we can offer ‘in’ school however these staff are able to offer a dedicated ‘home-support’ service to the remaining children and families who still cannot, or don’t want to, attend school.”
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