With the prospect of schools re-opening on 1 June, head teachers are faced with the question – how do we attempt to keep children a safe distance apart?
Countries who have eased lockdown measures already have had different approaches. A school in China saw children design hats to remind themselves to stay a safe distance apart from their friends.
A school in France drew squares in the playground to remind children to stay in their own space.
But the UK is aiming to take an approach similar to that of Denmark and Germany – schools have been told they do not need to enforce the two-metre physical distancing rule, but instead children will be in micro-groups, or “protective bubbles”, of no more than 15 students. They’ll spread out across the school and stagger drop-off/pick-up/breaks/lunch times in attempt to stay away from other bubbles and effectively minimise risk. Each class will have the same teacher and the same classroom in further attempt to limit the risk of infection, however the teachers may be on a rota depending on staff size, and therefore may have one week on one week off. (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/may/11/headteachers-raise-concerns-over-reopening-of-english-primary-schools).
We caught up with two Head Teachers – Kirsty Knowles (Head of St Augustine’s Priory Junior School) and Gordon Jamieson (Head of St Thomas More Primary School) to try and gain a better understanding of what this may look like, “All heads are doing something slightly different. There is no perfect solution and the government have left it vague enough so that we can do that.” Gordan said.
Interestingly, although Kirsty and Gordon are taking slightly different approaches to the new DfE guidelines, both expect to have around 50% of students return on the 1st June. They also both expect this percentage to rise as parents’ confidence and comfort level grows.
Both Kirsty and Gordon have arranged bubbles of under 15 students, as well as a separate bubble for children of key workers. These protective bubbles will be met with a huge amount of hand washing, open doors (so as to avoid touching doorknobs), sterilising surfaces and resources, one-in-one-out bathroom policy, and staggered break and drop off/pick up times. All of this, whilst, “trying to not make the school look like a crime scene” Kirsty says. For example, she plans to use bunting over caution tape.
Despite all these precautions, the Department for Education guidance on how schools can function safely has been met with a lot of backlash from unions and head teachers alike. The NASUWT (a union of 300,000 teachers) has said that teachers can legally refuse to return to work because of the health risks, and has threatened legal action in order to defend teachers against being forced back into schools.
The union said they had fundamental concerns about the recent government guidance for schools. Specifically, that it was inconsistent with the guidance given to the NHS and other front-line workers, care homes, and other workplaces.
“Stringent guidance has been issued for the NHS, for care homes and for employers across the UK. It is unacceptable that this has not been the case for schools … The NASUWT believes that teachers and other school staff have the right to the same consideration and protections, and to be confident that their health and welfare, as well as that of pupils, is at the heart of any planning for wider opening.” https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/may/14/teachers-can-legally-refuse-to-return-over-risk-to-health-union-warns?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Teams
At this stage, it looks as though schools will be re-opening on 1st June. Schools are doing their best to adapt to the everchanging landscape, but as Kirsty put it, “It’s important to recognize, this is probably not going to be perfect, especially in the first week. Children are human beings, and so are teaching staff, so we all have to keep doing the best we can.”
You can watch the full recording of this session with Kirsty and Gordon here: https://anzuk.blog/uk-teachers-and-support-staff-covid-19-qa/