‘We want our schools to be vibrant places for the children again’
- Credit: Archant
Schools across the country have been preparing for some of their pupils to return to the classroom. Here is how one group of schools has been getting ready to make sure pupils can be taught safely and get on with lessons.
Staff at the Embark Federation of nine schools across Derbyshire have put their hearts and souls into preparing to open their doors to Reception, Year One and Year Six pupils over the coming weeks.
They have created the Reconnection to Recovery and Resilience programme with education consultant Sharon Gray. The nine-point support plan has attracted attention from educators as far away as New Zealand and Australia, to help parents return their children to schools with confidence.
Embark Federation trust leader Matthew Crawford said: “As soon as we went into lockdown we were thinking about our pupils coming back to school, whatever date that would be. We want nothing more than for our schools to be vibrant places again, where the children love learning.”
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Embark’s chair of trustees Sarah Armitage, who has collaborated on the programme, said: “We are carrying all of our 3,000 children through a crisis and that’s a big responsibility, so we recognised immediately that we needed a plan.
“Our compass through this has been our core belief in families first and, through adversity, we have created a programme with the children’s emotional needs at the centre.”
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The first stage of the Recovery and Resilience programme focussed on staying connected with families, so children were encouraged to keep scrapbooks and make time capsules during lockdown. Another key strand of the programme was, in line with government guidance, carrying out bespoke risk assessments for each Embark school.
Matthew said: “It can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. One of our schools is nearly 300 years old with narrow corridors and small classrooms while others contain lots of large spaces so social distancing will be much easier.”
Anna Upton is headteacher at Chaucer Junior School in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, which has 240 pupils and is housed in a building with interconnected classrooms. She said: “We don’t have corridors in some places so we have created a one-way system meaning the children won’t bump into each other. We’ve factored in that some children require more physical space than others because they have some form of special educational and/or emotional needs.
“As for hand washing, we’ll be showing the children how to do that and encouraging them to wash their hands at regular intervals in wash basins in the classroom.’
Chaucer Junior is introducing staggered drop-offs and break-times and Anna and her team have measured all the classrooms to work out the size of the ‘bubbles’ – groups of a maximum of 15 pupils – they can fit.
Children can take in their own lunches or enjoy food provided by the school, safely delivered to the classroom door to avoid children congregating in the dining hall.
A fortnight ago, Anna and the Year Six team sent out questionnaires to all of Chaucer Junior’s parents so they could express their concerns – then rang to talk them through. Anna said: “In nearly every conversation, as I explained to our families how the new measures would work, I could sense them relaxing on the end of the line.”
Another Embark school, Heath Primary, near Chesterfield, held a massive Zoom call for parents to allay concerns.
‘The time is right to bring pupils back’
Schools across the country have stayed open throughout the coronavirus crisis with many of the nation’s teachers offering lessons to the children of key workers doing essential jobs. Now the Government says the time is right for other children to join them back in the classroom.
Measures are being taken to ensure the safety of everyone involved, including children teachers, support staff, cleaners, school cooks, teaching assistants and early childhood specialists.
The Government says children chosen to return first are at a very important stage in their learning. Children in Reception and Year 1 will be mastering the basics, including counting and the building blocks for reading and writing. Attending school at this age lays the foundations to support lifelong learning and social and emotional development.
Year 6 children are preparing to transition to secondary school and therefore will benefit from spending time with teachers and friends to prepare them for what is a big step in their lives.
Here are some of the measures schools are introducing:
*Smaller class sizes of no more than 15 pupils.
*Limiting contact between groups by creating “bubbles” of students and teachers.
*Drop off and pick up times are to be staggered.
*Children will be encouraged to wash their hands regularly.
*They will stay in their small groups for lunch and break times.
*Hygiene measures will include increased cleaning of surfaces and furniture.
*Children with coronavirus symptoms should not be sent back to school.
Check with your Local Authority for the latest news on schools opening in your area.