Flare Up

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Schools across England stayed open for key workers’ children and the vulnerable throughout lockdown, but now they’re ready to welcome back more pupils. Here’s how some of them have been preparing for the challenge

In the heart of south London, Bonneville Primary School has opened its doors to a priority group of children from the Lambeth community since lockdown began.

Like hundreds of education settings across England, they are now preparing to welcome back Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 for the wider reopening of our school systems, and every effort has been made for a smooth and safe transition.

‘We are all desperate to see the children again,’ says Andrea Parker, lead headteacher of Bonneville, Jessop and Stockwell primary schools. ‘We’ve missed them dearly.

‘Knowing that people from BAME backgrounds have experienced the highest rate of infection, we are developing risk assessments specifically for those staff and students,

‘It’s so important to get the children back into school – home schooling is not a replacement for the structured education that we can provide here. For the early-years students, it’s what creates long-lasting learning, and, for our oldest pupils, Year 6 is a key milestone. Seeing friends is a huge part of their general wellbeing, and this term will be key for their transition to secondary school.’

When lockdown hit, Bonneville – a 420-capacity lower school – transformed into a ‘virtual school’ overnight, but kept the grounds open to around 25 pupils a day to provide essential care, education and daily meals.

‘We have children from a wide range of backgrounds,’ says Andrea. ‘Lambeth is hugely diverse – from black African contingents to Asian, Spanish and French. The school reflects the community it is part of – around 20-30 per cent of our children are black Caribbean.

‘Knowing that people from BAME backgrounds have experienced the highest rate of infection, we are developing risk assessments specifically for those staff and students, looking at additional factors such as age, existing health issues and people they live with, so that due care can be applied.’

Fewer resources and more outdoor learning in groups of up to ten have been used for the past nine weeks. This month, with just under a third of the school due to return, a brand-new ‘bubble’ system has been developed to scale up the safety measures.

Andrea explains: ‘It’s about being clear on who’s been in contact with whom. In the event that a child presents with Covid-19 symptoms, we can therefore act efficiently for that child, the teacher and the bubble of children they have been closest to.’

‘We’ve also removed all soft furnishings, and doors will be left open to avoid touching handles.

Each year group is divided into three bubbles of up to 15 children, with staggered arrival and departure times at the school gate. ‘For morning drop-off, there will be a ten-minute gap between each bubble. There’s a two-metre painted boundary around the school gates to keep parents at a safe distance, while routes to each classroom have been marked on the floor. In classrooms, the layout is more spread out.

‘We’ve also removed all soft furnishings, and doors will be left open to avoid touching handles.’ Lunches and break times look a little different, too. Instead of communal eating in school halls, meals will be hand-delivered to the classrooms, while playtimes will be spent outdoors.

‘We really want to maximise the use of outside space,’ says Andrea. ‘Equipment such as tennis rackets will be used by one group at a time, and then routinely cleaned.’

Targeted Support
In Derbyshire, a trust of nine local schools has focused its recovery efforts on the social and emotional wellbeing of families affected by Covid-19.

‘Within two weeks of lockdown, our attention switched to the issues that might be facing our school communities,’ says Matthew Crawford, Trust Leader at the Embark Federation, which serves up to 3,000 children.

‘These include bereavement – specifically, not being able to say goodbye to loved ones – the reported rise in domestic violence and parental job losses.

‘So we worked tirelessly to produce resources that would support the mental and physical health of our pupils and staff during lockdown and, ultimately, the return to school.’

‘Knowing that people from BAME backgrounds have experienced the highest rate of infection, we are developing risk assessments specifically for those staff and students,’ Andrea explains
Special attention to hygiene has also been carefully considered in accordance with UK government guidelines, as Andrea explains.

‘After every session, the children will wash their hands. We’ve installed hand-sanitiser dispensers outside every classroom, and extra cleaning materials for desks.’

The same efficient systems will be rolled out across south London sister schools Jessop and Stockwell, when it’s safe for them to reopen.

Andrea’s own six-year-old daughter has been attending Bonneville throughout lockdown, as she’s the child of a key worker.

‘She’s been here every day,’ says Andrea. ‘Like every school head, the children’s safety is my top priority, and the high level of safeguarding I expect for my daughter is the same for every child in my care.

‘After all, our school community is like a family, and we will do our utmost to protect it.’

*Only applies in England. Check with your local authority for the latest news on schools opening in your area.

Here are some tips for parents for the first week back
■ To reduce congestion at the school gates, only one parent should attend pick-up and drop-off.

■ Walk or cycle to school to ease the strain on public transport.

■ Remind older children to go straight home after school.

■ Practise healthy habits at home to support good hygiene in the classroom.

■ Above all, reassure young ones that going back to school is something to look forward to.