From no assemblies to classroom lunches - how one school will look in September
- Credit: Simon Parkin
Schools are still facing doubts from anxious parents a week before children are expected back in lessons, a headteacher has warned.
But they said extensive preparations are under way at Norfolk’s 422 schools in readiness for pupils returning to new classrooms and routines when the autumn term starts on September 7.
Headteachers have been issued with lengthy detailed guidelines covering everything from what to do if a child falls ill to whether singing is allowed in class.
MORE: ‘Back to school’ campaign launched to encourage children into classroomsSarah Shirras, co-chair of Educate Norfolk and headteacher of St William’s Primary School in Thorpe St Andrew, said schools were doing all they could to reassure parents still unsure about whether to send their children back.
She said: “We still have families that are anxious who are asking lots of questions. Very little of their criticism is about the school but about whether it is a safe process yet or not.
“I think one thing people forget is that we wouldn’t be doing something that we wouldn’t be confident with. The last thing parents want is for their children to come to school and not be greeted with happy, smiling confident adults.”
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Norfolk County Council launched a new campaign this week offering support and advice in a bid to encourage parents to support their children’s return.
Ms Shirras said: “The biggest thing for me is that school still feels like school. That it still feels happy, positive and the children feel cared about and that within a classroom setting that the adults get to know their new children.
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“There is a lot of talk about catch-up, but the first priority is to get them back into routine, making sure they are heard if there is something they want to tell us.”
MORE: ‘No rush’ to fine parents not sending children to school in SeptemberPost-Covid school life will be different, with assemblies a thing of the past, sanitising stations at every door, break times staggered or shortened and classrooms doubling as canteens to keep year groups separate.
Every school is different, but Ms Shirras gave an insight into the extensive changes headteachers had worked to introduce:
Parents dropped off and picked up children whilst social distancing poses a challenge and guidance suggests staggering start times.
Ms Shirras said: “That is a very secondary school suggestion, and very urban because if you’re a rural secondary school you cannot really stagger start and finish times because they are coming on buses together.
“For us it was a no go. We are very fortunate that we have a large site with four access points, so we can spread people out without staggering times. The biggest worry was parents would have to wait at the gates because most of our families have more than one child in different years.”
No parents in schools
The government advises schools to “minimise potential for contamination so far as is reasonably practicable” – meaning many schools won’t allow parents inside school.
Ms Shirras said her school planned a one way system for some parents but most will not be allowed further than the school gates.
“Parents won’t be coming into the building without prior arrangement, which we are going to find hard because we are used to having a lot of parents coming in and out,” she said.
Classes will be grouped together in ‘bubbles’ but the practical difficulty means many schools are choosing to group years together rather than classes as advised.
“Some of the guidelines sound very sensible but if you did class bubbles you’d have to have adults crossing between them,” said Ms Shirras. “Even a lot of Norfolk’s smaller schools are doing more than one class together.
“In our school year groups have designated outdoor space, their own toilets, their own hand washing stations, but they are completely free to play within their years.”
No more assemblies
Large numbers of people gathering in the same room is a definite no-no in the Covid era, meaning no assemblies.
Ms Shirras said schools were turning to doing shared activities online, for example producing short videos to give children “some sort of collective experience”.
Lots of cleaning
The government guidance advises “robust hand and respiratory hygiene” and extensive cleaning procedures, and schools have taken note.
“During lockdown we have installed 16 extra sinks around the school,” said Ms Shirras. “Each year group now not only has designated toilets but hand basins too. Every single door has a hand sanitiser.”
Lunch in the classroom
Schools have been encouraged to staggering break times with some choosing for children to have lunch in their classrooms.
“We have chosen not to use our dining hall to start with because you have to clean completely between year groups,” said Ms Shirras. “Children will eat their packed lunches in the classroom. We would like to do hot dinners as the autumn moves in but it has got to be right for the big picture. The priority at the moment has to be teaching children. “
Less school activities
School trips, competitive sports and school concerts and plays are not possible. “There are some real contradictions in the guidance though like being able to play sport out of school but we are still allowed to play sport in school,” said Shirras. “Another is not being able to have pupils singing. You are only allowed to sing outside and only up to 15 children. There are some things that are basic parts of primary school life that are going to be very different.”