Coronavirus vaccine brings hope of a more normal school life in 2021

Kids Christmas DIY projects

Children are continuing with the normal festive traditions in school, although there will be some Christmas activities that won't take place this year - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The last fortnight has brought positive news of the progress of vaccines, and with it, the widely-discussed idea that life could be nearer to normal by Easter. While some people remain dubious, many of us have have been swept away with optimism, and have allowed ourselves to imagine what our regained normality could look like. What would it mean to us in schools?

Mixing our bubbles
One of the most sorely-missed absences for our children is seeing wider circles of friends. In our small primary school, friendships are not usually confined to those of the same age. In non-pandemic times, the children freely intermingle on the playground, often seeing siblings and cousins, as well as bigger and smaller friends. This was the loveliest thing to witness. Younger ones had positive role models who they admired and aspired to be, and older ones could show their softer, nurturing sides, qualities that aren’t always apparent in lessons.
So far, at the older end of the school, we haven’t even met our Reception children in person. To be able to integrate during the summer term would give my class the chance to meet our newest children, who we have only seen online. They would all have the freedom to roam over the playground and field at will, wherever their games take them. No more restricted play in a carved up section of the grounds, with specific companions, at specific times. Bliss!

More independence in lessons
In an ideal lesson, pupils make choices. They can use their judgment, perhaps choosing the level of challenge suited to them, the best apparatus for an experiment, or the perfect material for an art project.
For example, in a science investigation, there might be a range of possible equipment laid out for them to choose from. They would be able to select, test, then swap items, learning as they went along from their own experiences, and working on it with a partner or team.
This ideal is not reflected in their experiences of this term. Without being able to face each other, share equipment, move freely round a classroom, and at times, huddle in together to all look closely at the same thing, these opportunities are lost.
At many high schools, pupils are missing out on practical science lessons altogether, instead learning about theory and observing demonstrations, as the logistics of cleaning every item of equipment proves too challenging.
The promise of normality on the (possibly far off) horizon would mean a return to this way of teaching and learning, where children can follow their instincts and use their initiative.

Whole school togetherness
Being together every day was so much a part of our routine that I’m not sure we even thought about it. Break and lunchtimes, assemblies, shows and events, traipsing around the classrooms to carry out maths surveys… We were all accessible and familiar to one another.
After passing a small boy in the corridor last week, he looked at me in astonishment and exclaimed: “I saw you on the screen!” Without our usual communal contact, he hadn’t realised that the person he saw taking the online assembly that day was someone who shared the same building, just two short corridors away from him.

Events with the wider school community
I’ll admit, not everyone loves school events. I’ve seen many a harassed parent being dragged reluctantly by their offspring, for a fourth round on the tombola. But most children love them.
The widespread cancellation of this month’s Christmas fairs (often spelt ‘fayre’, as if to reinforce how traditional a custom this is!) has been met with mixed emotions. Muted joy, perhaps, from some parents, but much disappointment from those who go to school.
Behind the scenes, fairs are often our school focus in December, as we busily make crafts, design posters, bake sweet treats, create boxes for them to go in, and work out budgets of expenditure and profit. Teachers can pretty much get a fortnight’s excited learning out of the children without them even realising they’re working.
So without them, we miss that sense of purpose and community that schools have when they prepare an event together. And much needed fundraising will be lost without the oft repeated sentence: “Look. If I just give you £10, can you go round by yourself while I sit here with a mulled wine?”
No sale of personalised tea towels comes close. (Although maybe we’d better leave this one open to interpretation.)
So roll on spring, when with a bit of luck and 300 million vaccine doses, we will reunite: to sing, to perform, to sell wonkily embroidered Easter rabbits and suspiciously coloured fairy cakes. And for when our offspring can once again head off towards the whack-a-mole clutching a £5 note, while parents deservedly enjoy an early summer Pimm's.

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The Secret Teacher has been teaching at an East Anglian primary school for more than 15 years

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