'Knee-deep' teachers deliver wi-fi boxes to keep pupils learning at home

Melodie Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth, said that whichever soc

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 - Credit: Archant

Headteachers have revealed they are "knee-deep but coping" as many are out hand-delivering Wi-Fi boxes and laptops to prevent classrooms filling up with vulnerable children during lockdown.

Norfolk County Council yesterday warned schools were facing increasing demand for places amid serious staff shortages, and that heads may have to say no unless both of a child's parents are critical or NHS workers.

For many school leaders across the county, however, the situation hasn't quite reached that level of desperation.

According to Melodie Fearns, head at St George's Primary in Great Yarmouth, that's largely because schools predicted another lockdown would happen and were able to gear up for a rapid transition to remote learning when the time came.

"I think the only people that weren't expecting schools to shut in the New Year was the government," she said.

Schoolchildren make their way to primary school.

Schoolchildren make their way to primary school - Credit: PA

"We knew it was coming, so prepared for it. We're in a much better position now. The children will be using Google Classrooms, and pupils will see their teachers every day.

"We're knee-deep, but coping. The frustrating thing is that we only got the Wi-Fi boxes from the government on Monday, and we've got an IT technician who works one day a week because he covers five or six other schools.

"For the moment, we're inviting all children that don't have internet into school as a priority until we can get them set up at home.

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"I've been out today delivering Wi-Fi boxes and laptops loaned by the government, and my secretary and I have had to become IT experts almost overnight to help parents who before this were computer illiterate.

"We're working 24/7, and we're being extremely strict about those who can come in.

"Last lockdown I felt bullied, but this time I don't. Unless both the pupils' parents are key workers, the child has to stay at home.

"My staff are putting their life on the line coming into work, and when the remote provision is just as good as the real thing, I don't see any reason for that child to have to come into school."

Fenland reported an increase in the number of positive Covid-19 cases reported in its education sett

Norfolk County Council warned parents there'd be pressure on places for their children at school during lockdown - Credit: Archant

James Wright, vice-chair of governors at Great Yarmouth's St Nicholas Priory, recounted a similar state of affairs.

"We've done a lot of pre-planning for this and haven't had to turn any parents asking for a school place away," he said.

"We've been distributing devices to children who need internet access at home, and things are running like a well-oiled machine."

Matthew Try, head at Hillcrest Primary in Downham Market, said that while the school was on the verge of having to increase staffing numbers, it wasn't quite there yet.

"The number of children attending school in this lockdown is definitely much larger than the last, but parents are being sensible," he said.

"I've had maybe one email from a parent asking for a place that didn't qualify. When I explained it wasn't possible, they were reasonable.

"I've heard on the radio that in some parts of the country school attendance is at 60pc of capacity. That would certainly be a struggle, but we're way off that at the moment. For us it's about 10pc."

Work has begun on the £4.5m expansion at Hillcrest Primary School in Downham Market. Pictured is Hea

Matthew Try at Hillcrest Primary School in Downham Market - Credit: Archant

Alison Mobbs, meanwhile, at Lynn Grove Academy, in Gorleston, said lockdown arrangements for staff and students was working well - and that numbers of students in attendance this lockdown was roughly the same as the last.

"We gave out Chromebooks to children without internet access for remote learning, and for any child unable to work at home on Teams, we will support them here 100pc," she said.

"There's no real issue for secondary schools. Parents can leave teenagers at home while they work and trust they'll make themselves a bit of lunch without burning the house down."

Lynn Grove Academy principal Alison Mobbs said the parts of the school affected had been "deep clean

Lynn Grove Academy principal Alison Mobbs said the remote learning situation at her school went very well on the first day of reopening - Credit: Archant

Meanwhile, Jim Adams, chief executive of the Clarion Academy Trust, based in Norwich, Loddon and Pakefield, said many schools had far higher numbers now than they did in March and April, and that this was causing "conflict" between families and teachers.

But he said there "must be a limit" - and that teachers are best placed to use their professional judgement and knowledge of their school community to prioritise, even if with a heavy heart. 

Hobart High School headteacher Jim Adams.
PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Chief executive of the Clarion Academy Trust Jim Adams. - Credit: Nick Butcher

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