It may be safe to go back in the water sooner than we think. How prepared are we?

The current situation for children is wholly unacceptable, let’s face it. When children aren’t being educated adequately, we risk a great deal, not least the future of our society and economy. We hear that only a fraction of the most vulnerable are actually attending school as they should. From the beginning we’re told that the risk to the so-called ‘R’ count from children returning to schools is very small, yet the decision to reopen schools is a hugely risky political decision. The latest forecast of infection suggests that before the year is out, the vast majority of us will have caught the disease. Yet, when one mentions schools re- opening, I can’t help but think of that scene in Jaws when they declare it’s safe to go back in the water…

So, what are the implications for schools if they were to reopen?

The countries who have started to open schools have done so in a phased way. In China, this has meant only certain year groups returning and insisting that those in the primary and early years wear hats to remind them to keep their distance! Pupils are temperature checked at the start of each day to see if they can attend. In Denmark, the return to school has been cautious and is providing a test case for schools around the world. To stop the spread of infection, parents aren’t allowed inside. Teachers can’t gather in the staff room. The children each now have their own desks, separated by a few feet from their nearest neighbour. During break, they can play only in small groups. By the time the school ends at 2 p.m., they will all have washed their hands at least once an hour for the past six hours.


…imposing strict hygiene protocols will be essential!


Are schools in the UK ready for these types of measures?

It seems to me there are 4 key factors schools must consider when planning for the easing of lockdown:

  • How do they mitigate the possible and yet unknown risk to teachers, especially to those who have underlying health issues? It seems sensible to gather this information now: teachers with conditions, teachers living in homes with people who are at risk, for example. This will help to scope the staffing levels.
  • How can schools feasibly manage social distancing and what would be the consequences of pupils not abiding by these rules?
  • How prepared are teachers for teaching the curriculum with mixed success from online learning? What have been the positives that can be continued post lockdown
  • How can schools address the emotional impact of being locked down for months for both staff and pupils, so that schools become a safe place again? How do we help young people to manage the uncertainty of the times?

The new normal

Returning to ‘normal’ is unlikely for a very, very long time. But what might the new ‘normal’ look like?

We have to accept that maintaining social distancing in schools, especially primary schools, is going to be very challenging and almost nigh impossible. However, imposing strict hygiene protocols will be essential. Minimising numbers of pupils in the school at any one time will require a timetabling endeavour. In Denmark, schools are allowed 10-15 pupils in a classroom at one time. Working this model, half classes and half days and not full weeks in the first instance makes sense. Online learning would continue, therefore; some pupils doing a morning and some doing an afternoon and not every day. Only pupils eligible for pupil premium stay for lunch. Break times restricted to classrooms. No visitors.


Schools have to acknowledge their huge role in supporting pupils’ mental health.


Mentoring sessions

Small group tutorials and mentoring sessions to discuss these issues seems a vital part of the programme of restarting schools. School leaders could begin to shape their plans to support the mental wellbeing of staff and pupils upon return. Some of the headteachers I’ve spoken with have developed plans for pupils to be supported through a range of mental health strategies timetabled throughout the school day: small group discussions, yoga, mindfulness techniques etc. These leaders are making use of online courses for most staff during the school closure period.


In my view, it is also worth schools gaining some buy-in from parents now. Perhaps organising a parent group where the school could share and discuss its thoughts around re-opening.


The national decision to reopen schools is fraught with difficulties, especially for the safety of our workforce, but we should plan for the challenge of dipping our toe in the water sooner rather than later.


Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any doubts or concerns about your pupils returning to school. We are still open and here to provide support.


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