All across Britain, schools are currently trying to plan their reopening following a period of schooo closures due to covid-19.
Ministers have said that schools will reopen in stages, with certain key year groups or age cohorts returning before others. Scientists have been studying the possibility of rotating students on a ‘week on, week off’ basis.
Amongst talk of one-way systems and meals outside, many headteachers are expressing their concerns over how the practicalities of returning to school will actually work.
Robin Bevan, headteacher at Southend High School for Boys, says: “I would struggle to get a third back. You can’t come up with a solution until you know the social distancing parameters.
“When I read about Denmark going back to school, the first thing that struck with me was that many walked or cycled. That is not possible or us in the same way, with many students commuting some distance.
“Part of me wants to see the school reopen as soon as possible. I love it. I miss it. But there’s another part that says, ‘hold on a minute – even playing with ideas around doing it is too early’.”
Southend High was originally built for a fraction of its current 1300 students. With a 97% room occupancy rate, Bevan says there is little spare room.
Many school leaders have been trying to be creative in their preparations for schools reopening. Various approaches include continuing some lessons online for a few more months; adding extra cleaning sessions for school buildings and enforcing one-way flows through corridors where possible.
However, according to The Observer, many teachers are running into numerous problems that they do not know how to solve. Howard Payne, a headteacher at Medina Primary School near Portsmouth, voiced his concerns.
“We have only eight children at the moment, but children do gravitate to each other. Our corridors are very narrow. We’re getting a whole host of these issues and trying to think about how to keep social distancing in place. We’re up in the air,” he says.
Another huge concern for Payne is the provision of school meals.
“If it’s summer and the weather’s good, we’ve got a field. They could all separate,” he says.
“However, the school meals will have to start a lot earlier. You have to get the children in and out quickly, but that will be hard. Lunchtimes and playtimes are a challenge.”
Next year’s exams need to be ‘remodelled’
Many of teachers concerns revolve around children’s education, with teachers pushing for changes to the 2021 exams to reflect the disruption to this year’s curriculum.
Cambridge sixth form teacher Niamh Sweeney said: “I think education as normal is a long way off and the remote learning we’re doing now will become part of that new normal.
“For our students to come back, there’s the practical stuff on physical distancing, but there is also the emotional preparation. There’s no way next year’s exams should be based on the full curriculum.”
”Many children will be traumatised by what happened. What they need is a curriculum and an experience in school that brings them back into society and learning.Mary BoustedJoint General Secretary of National Education Union
Teaching unions have also said that next year’s exams will need to be remodelled. Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that assuming GCSEs, A-levels and SATs will take place as normal next year is “a questionable assumption”.
“We may have to look at a different form of assessment,” she said. “Many children will be traumatised by what happened. Some will be hungry. Some might have been subjected to emotional or physical abuse. Some will have stressed parents, or be stressed about being in cramped accommodation.
“What they need is a curriculum and an experience in school that brings them back into society and learning.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We are working in close consultation with the sector as we consider how to reopen schools, nurseries and colleges when the time is right, and will ensure everyone has sufficient notice to plan and prepare.”