Reopening our school has made the future a little brighter

7 Jun 2020, 5:00

Braced to comfort crying children without physical contact, reopening has instead resulted in huge smiles and boisterous enthusiasm. Tracey Hudson explains her school’s safety-first strategy

Everyone at Rockingham Primary School knew that managing a wider reopening while maintaining strict social distancing was going to be complicated, but looking back on it, I couldn’t be happier with how this week has gone. Parents and pupils have been in touch to say how happy they are to be back, safely learning with their friends. It has been exhausting, but seeing so many of our pupils has made it all worthwhile.

Our key priority had to be easing our pupils into their new system safely and without disruption. Two pupils who were already in school worked with my deputy headteacher to make a video showing the changes. They filmed themselves proceeding through the footsteps of a pupil arriving at school, narrating the changes made, how the one-way system works, what the zones on the playground mean and the new classroom layouts.

That format was really accessible for our pupils and helped them visualise what school would look like when they came in on Monday morning. And it’s the culmination of a lot of other work to stay in touch with them, making weekly calls to ensure they felt supported and knew they could count on us.

All of this prep work was key to making sure they weren’t too nervous about coming back in. In fact, I think I was more anxious than they were! Of course, more issues may well come up in the future, but for now everything is going well.

Not a single pupil has been upset by these changes

Much of what we are doing is happening in schools across the country. We have split our pupils into “bubbles” of six to ten pupils who are spread out across the school. The bubbles have staggered timetables to ensure we don’t have too many pupils moving around school at any one time, and that allows us to make sure they are always safely distanced. We’ve introduced one-way corridors, staggered drop-off, break, lunch and pick-up times, and brought in sanitisation stations.

In addition to all that, we have introduced roving staff members – colleagues present in the school corridors and acting as a constant source of support – and that has been invaluable. They are working within incredibly tight safety protocols but they are crucial to keeping our system running. From taking a child to the toilet to replacing Chromebooks with flat batteries to bringing bagged lunches to the classroom doors, they keep our pupils safe in their bubbles.

For our pupils, we’ve introduced resource packs so they can keep everything they need within their own learning space, and they know to touch only the items within their packs.

Planning playtime was more of a challenge. Our solution has been to divide the playground into different zones, each with different play options. Each bubble has an allocated time slot within a zone, supervised by a member of staff, and can either play non-contact games or use an individual piece of equipment (like a skipping rope) which is then sterilised before the next child takes it up.

These are early days, but not a single pupil has been upset by these changes. We were prepared to have to re-establish routines, and braced ourselves to try to comfort crying children without physical contact. Instead, we have been met by huge smiles and unchecked enthusiasm.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, it turns out, has been trying to get our heads around the overwhelming amounts of guidance from the DfE. This revealed a huge advantage of being in a multi-academy trust, as our central team did invaluable work disseminating the most relevant and up-to-date information.

Staff and parents were concerned too, and we have tried to ensure they all felt reassured and appropriately informed. Staff were encouraged from the outset to raise concerns and in the end our transparency has meant that our relationships with staff, parents, carers and pupils have never felt stronger.

We don’t know what will happen in the future, but we are confident we will meet it as a school community. As the week comes to a close, the future is a little brighter.

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  1. Elizabeth Regent

    If only we could go further. How bright would our world be then?

    A six year old asks, “Mummy why can I go to McDonalds but I can’t go to school?” And another, “Why can you go to the pub and see your friends but I can’t go to school and see mine?” What are our priorities here?

    Some will say that it’s all about money and the economy. This is a feeble distraction from what is really happening. Businesses are opening because they have found a way. They have overcome difficulties, worked within the guidelines, completed risk assessments, adapted their practices but they have found a way. Because they need to, because they want to, because they can.

    So, why can we not do this for education? Do we not need to do this for our children? Do we not want to do this for our children? Why are we blighted by obstructive, unhelpful problem-mongerers who seem intent on criticising any decision made.

    The resulting culture of blame and judgement is toxically dangerous. I do not want our country to be like that. What happened to the ‘make do and mend’? What happened to helping each other through adversity? What happened to listening to each other’s views opinions ideas and working together to build strong societies? This is how some of our greatest successes have been achieved.

    We could blame the government; however apportioning blame, a favourite ruse of the media who seem currently to be struggling to reflect the mood of the nation, will further serve to exacerbate the situation. Ultimately, it is ‘our’ responsibility. And how we decide to proceed and the decisions we make will affect our children both short-term and long term.

    It is refreshing to see some councils really trying to make it work. Wandsworth council has discussed potential problems such as space and staffing and come up with workable solutions: using council buildings, making parking available to avoid public transport use.

    So why can’t others? Why are some still adamant that it is not possible? It feels almost as if we don’t have to do it, so we won’t bother. Is this really what we want to be teaching our kids about how to face adversity? That there’s a problem so we just won’t bother. They have been incredibly resilient making their own fun whilst within the restraints of lockdown; maybe we need to learn from them. It makes no sense to the child that asks the questions. Where is the creativity? Where is the teamwork? Where is the support and encouragement? Where is the determination to succeed? Or do we just not care?

    ‘There’s a sucker born every minute,’ is the famous quote from The Greatest Showman’s, PJ Barnum. Are we those suckers, sucked into believing a return to education is not possible? Like Barnum, we need to have a vision. And if we truly believe, we can bring that vision to life. He didn’t have a building – he put up a tent? Now there’s an idea. They built the Nightingale hospital for 4,000 people in just 9 days because that at the time was our priority. Surely our children and their education is also high up on that priority list?

    Yes, it may take some effort. Yes, there are logistic problems to overcome. But they are not insurmountable. If we were to work together towards a shared vision we could do this. For our kids, for our future, for each other. And what a lesson that would be for our children. And just maybe, that 6 year old in years to come, will no longer be asking the questions but will be finding their own solutions to whatever life throws at them next.