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Mixed reaction as primary schools not required to bring back all pupils

PUBLISHED: 18:01 09 June 2020 | UPDATED: 18:01 09 June 2020

Pupils in class at Queen's Hill Primary School, Costessey, after returning to school in June. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Pupils in class at Queen's Hill Primary School, Costessey, after returning to school in June. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Archant

Headteachers in Norfolk have welcomed the dropping of plans for all primary school pupils to return to the classroom before the summer break.

Parents drop off children at Queen's Hill Primary School, Costessey, as some pupils begin to return. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA WireParents drop off children at Queen's Hill Primary School, Costessey, as some pupils begin to return. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

However the prospect of many pupils not returning to school until September has drawn a mixed reaction from parents.

And Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said dropping the plan for all pupils to return was “a huge disappointment” that could have a long-term impact on children’s education.

Children began returning to primary schools in a phased process last week, with reception, year one and year six pupils heading back first.

The government had set out an aim for all primary pupils to spend four weeks in school before the summer break.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that the ambition had now been dropped, though the government would still like to see schools who “have the capacity” bring back more pupils where possible.

Headteacher Sarah Shirras at St William's Primary School in Thorpe St Andrew. 
Picture: ArchantHeadteacher Sarah Shirras at St William's Primary School in Thorpe St Andrew. Picture: Archant

MORE: 7 ways reopened schools have changed for children

Sarah Shirras, headteacher of St William’s Primary School in Thorpe St Andrew and co-chair of Educate Norfolk, said: “I’m pleased that the pressure is off us to try to accommodate children when we wouldn’t have felt it was safe to have that many on site.

“It was always a hope rather than a definite and whilst we were told not to use rotas and to only have 15 in a class, none of us in the profession could really see how that was going to happen.

We have been trying to limit the expectation of parents and children around that. However it leaves families with quite a lot of other issues.”

She said increasing demand from key workers as well as more parents going back to work and unable to rely on grandparents or other family for child care had added to the pressures schools were facing.

Two thirds of primary schools in Norfolk had welcomed back more children by the end of last week with most expected to have reopened to some or all of the priority years by the start of next week.

Year six pupils back in the classroom at St Williams Primary in Thorpe St Andrew. Picture: Sarah ShirrasYear six pupils back in the classroom at St Williams Primary in Thorpe St Andrew. Picture: Sarah Shirras

But some schools said they did not have enough space on site to admit all pupils in the eligible year groups

Adhering to guidance to limit class sizes to 15 and encouraging fewer interactions had seen headteachers express concerns that they did not have enough space on site for the remaining years two, three and four year pupils to return.

MORE: ‘A lot of smiley faces’ - how schools welcomed children to first lessons since March

Sarah Godbold, executive headteacher at Gooderstone Primary and Mundford Primary, said: “What it would look like if more children came back, or if all the school was due to come back in some way, has been my biggest reservation. If social distancing was still being asked of schools that would make it incredibly difficult.

“We have 176 children and our school site would not support that, so it would have to be a rota system and we’d have to look at which children came back at which point.

“At the moment we can do it with 29 pupils that is not too difficult in our building, but if that grew by more than 100 that would be a very different story.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: ArchantGeoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: Archant

Geoff Barton, a former Bury St Edmunds headteacher and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was not surprised the plan had been dropped.

He said: “The ‘ambition’ to bring back all primary year groups for a month before the end of the summer term was a case of the government over-promising something that wasn’t deliverable.

“It isn’t possible to do that while maintaining small class sizes and social bubbles, so we aren’t surprised that the policy has been jettisoned.”

Parents’ views on no return for all pupils until September

Hillcrest Primary School in Downham Market has put in place floor markings in its corridors in light of social distancing guidelines. Picture: Matthew TryHillcrest Primary School in Downham Market has put in place floor markings in its corridors in light of social distancing guidelines. Picture: Matthew Try

Emma Parks - “My year four son won’t be back until September probably and in his words ‘he feels like some days he’s going insane’. They need some normalcy back in their lives. I’ll be back at work soon just don’t know who can have my son while I work,”

Stacey Woodward - “It’s a step too far. I’m all for their safety but I’m more concerned about their mental health. I’m definitely going out of my mind. I will stop home learning if they do this because it’s too stressful.”

Amanda Rayner - “A relief for us, hubby is in the shielding category and is classed as extremely vulnerable due to blood cancer. The home schooling is working well at the moment and I feel happier knowing we can all keep safe, that includes the teachers and other staff.”

Victoria Currie - “I am really worried and so depressed at this news. As full time working parents we just don’t have the time to give our children the same level of education that part time or non working parents can give them.”

Concerns have been raised about the impact on children who might not return to school until September. Picture: Getty ImagesConcerns have been raised about the impact on children who might not return to school until September. Picture: Getty Images

How will it impact pupils?

Ms Longfield also said she was “incredibly concerned” about the long-term impact on children’s education and wellbeing.

“We know that there’s a real variation in learning. We’ve got some children, more affluent children, especially those going to private schools, who are literally attending Zoom schools from nine till three in the afternoon with lessons as normal.

“And we know that 90pc of disadvantaged children aren’t going online for more than two hours, if that.

“We also know there’s about a million children who just don’t have the tech or the broadband to be able to learn in this way.”

Binks Neate-Evans, executive principal at primary schools in Norwich. Picture: Archant LibraryBinks Neate-Evans, executive principal at primary schools in Norwich. Picture: Archant Library

She added: “Children are isolated, missing their friends, real mental health concerns, and also concerns about safeguarding when they’re at home.”

MORE: Pupils will not visit their new secondary schools before September

Binks Neate-Evans, executive principal at Bignold Primary and Nursery, Angel Road Junior and Angel Road Infant and Nursery schools in Norwich, said: “Now that schools are clear that there has been a shift in government approach I hope it will enable leaders to be strategic in how they identify the children that they are most worried about.

“Children will be disappointed. They will have been hoping that they might get back into school to continue their learning, see their teachers and their friends.

“A lot of people knew that it was going to be very difficult to widen it to blanket year groups, so what we have been trying to do in our communications to parents is to manage expectations and to give them ways of talking to their children about it.

“What we don’t want is for children to feel forgotten or rejected or unwelcome.”

Ms Shirras said: “By the time we get to September this will have been five months that some children will not have been attending school.

“We as a school, like others, have tried ways around that, for example our teachers go online every morning and give a welcome to the children so they see their teachers and get some sense of school normality.

“We use social media and we celebrate every class birthday online. But the reality is with the size of our school we could not accommodate everyone.”


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