EducationUK meets COVID-19 head to head

The Government has asked schools in England to reopen, carefully, for some of its junior year groups, namely Reception, year 1 and Year 6 from Monday 1 June. Many schools have been open throughout the period of #lockdown for the children of key workers and for those children classed as vulnerable. As we were preparing to reopen our school for our key worker children, we have combined both operations onto the one site at Claires Court Junior Boys, and the header above shows the scene set on Sinday 31 May 2020.

The marquee highlights a new entry zone for the school, with 4 main entry channels therein to permit us to check our returnees, both in terms of their health & well being, and that they are not bringing onto campus forbidden fruits. This is going to be #schoolusual for those boys and girls returning, but as pioneers, they are helping us as an organisation to prepare more generally for our reopening for all year groups in due course. The scene also shows additional handwashing facilities as well as emergency toilets for use.

The government’s rules for schools to follow require groups sizes 8/16 much smaller than seen usually in their schools, but for our sector, these group sizes are the norm because it is only in providing teachers the opportunity to get to know their pupils as individuals are we able to get to know them well enough to make the very real difference we do to their learning outcomes at the end of each key stage. And of course as it is not just about exam results, but about building confident, resilient individuals, willing to take risks and opportunities and happy to ‘give it a go’ too.

One of the major benefits we have are the 6 RCN nurses we have on our staff; they will be to the fore in the forthcoming weeks, as we certainly are not planning to take any risks with anyone’s health. As the numbers of pupil grow as they return to class, so their parents will be released from their roles as co-educators – thanks a million to all of our parents who have supported their children through this most unusual period!

As Academic Principal, driving the next steps in our school’s ‘recovery’ agenda, we are planning for a range of scenarios for the future, most of which include having all children in at school full time. Of course we may have to ‘cease’ because a ‘viral spike’ causes #lockdown again, but in such a scenario, we have ‘built’ our remote learning platform and for periods of 2 weeks, we would simply run full-time school ‘virtually’. Whilst I am very proud of the clear choice we made for the first extended close-down period to focus teaching and learning on the morning only, that was driven by the reality that we were not going to be back at school any time soon, and we need to manage the new scenario accordingly. Our new distance learning will recognise the need to keep up academic learning for the winter months, when so much of the ground work is laid for the development of new skills and understandings. Im many ways, we have been fortunate that the ‘viral blast’ has happened at the best time of year, causing us to lose 1 term of work, but spanning 6 months of calendar time.

I can see a hybrid emerging where we have to land year groups in the labs for a day, if switching between rooms is not permitted. I see all of our rooms becoming ‘classrooms’, and quite a few additional out-door spaces as well. I can’t see normal ‘school lunches’ resuming, though I can see ‘canteen facilities’ being available. Inter-school sports are likely not to return until 2021 it is reckoned; whilst this great weather could imply an ‘indian summer’ of cricket and athletics, we know the British weather will let us down at some stage, so perhaps we will need to bring back our sport of ‘micro-orienteering’ which we use in activity week usually, or perhaps encourage our technically capable but less physically committed students to build their own drones for competition ‘a la Robot Wars’.

We are encouraged by our government to be led by the scientists, and I will, of course. But those scientists know nothing of running schools, and in that province this school proprietor accepts the challenge to run the best possible school provision we can, as this generation of pupils are going to be the ones that will become the teachers and scientists of the future, and they’ll need to be good ones too, as the problems stacking up for us all look pretty big ones too.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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