Going Back to School; Are you and your children ready?
Guest Blog by Emma Meadus, Head Teacher Coppice Valley Primary School
Schools have been told to ready themselves for potentially reopening on June 1st for Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils.
When this was announced, how did you feel? Concerned? Relieved? Surprised?
We sent out a survey to my school families, asking them if they would send their children back into school if we reopen on June 1st. Many answered with, it depends – it depends on whether I have to go back to work, it depends on what home-schooling will still be on offer, it depends on how different school will be and it depends on how safe you can make school.
I’ve been thinking about those last statements a lot over the last week – what will school look like now and how can I make sure everyone is physically and emotionally safe in school?
The first thing I have had to come to terms with is that no matter how much I try, I cannot COVID-proof my school. No headteacher can. We can’t make the shops we visit or even our homes totally risk free. What I can do is reduce the risk of transmission with good hygiene routines and social distancing measures. In the next few weeks schools will have rigorous risk assessment documents to complete about how we can manage the risks to our children and staff.
But will this be enough to reassure parents? I’m a mum to a school age child and I’m nervous about sending him back. Not because I don’t trust his school to do every thing they can but because I’m now so used to the idea of keeping him at home to protect him. Oddly enough, life in lockdown feels normal now and going out, being amongst other people feels strange.
My rational self knows the government data is telling us that the risks are lowering and it is time to move to the next phase in the social distancing plan. But we’re all human and sometimes what your head knows doesn’t match what your heart feels – or at least it takes some time to catch up! In school, I think what this means is that we’ll see pupils returning in small numbers that grow over time as parental confidence grows.
So, what can you do to prepare your children for returning to school? Below, I’ve explained the main actions schools will be taking, as laid out in government guidance, on reopening. Then I’ve given you some ideas for how you can get your child ready for returning to school.
1. Keeping things clean and tidy
Let’s be honest. Good hygiene does not come naturally to most children. I’ve yet to meet the 4 year old who doesn’t explore the world around them by licking, sniffing and feeling everything they see. I’ve certainly spent my fair share of time in A&E with my son and various bits of plastic wedged in his ears and up his nose!
What we’re doing: Schools have thorough cleans every day after pupils leave but once we reopen we will be ramping up our cleaning procedures. We’ll be cleaning “hotspots” like door handles, table, taps and toilets during the day as well as thorough cleans of rooms overnight. Any equipment that is hard to clean will be removed from use e.g. soft toys and soft furnishings. There is no doubt that classrooms are not going to look anything like the places children left in March. They will be stripped back and reduced to the bare minimum so we can keep it clean. There’ll be no playdough, paint and anything else that cannot be easily cleaned or could harbour the virus.
What you can do: explain to your children what changes there will likely be in their classroom, like less tables and equipment. Try not to frighten your child by telling them not to touch anything. We need to be realistic and to get through the school day children are going to have to pick up and use resources. Just reassure your child that their teachers and assistants are keeping things as clean as possible to help keep them safe.
2. Social Bubbles
The government has recognised that young children cannot social distance and that the 2m rule is just not enforceable in schools. Instead we have been told to keep children in small groups or “bubbles” to lower the risk of transmission.
What we’re doing: Children will be in groups of no more than 15 pupils plus their staff. We’re being encouraged to stick to these groups as far as possible, staying in the same space with the same adults. Each school will risk assess their spaces, setting furniture apart to encourage children to stay apart. We will be removing lots of equipment to lower transmission risks.
The government guidance has stated that whole year groups should be in school but with no more than 15 in a room. This may mean that some children will be looked after by staff they are not usually taught by and in rooms that they don’t usually go in.
What you can do: Children will probably be imagining that going back to school will be like it was before. Prepare them by talking about what will have changed.
Schools often use a technique called a “social story” to prepare children for situations that they haven’t been in before or can’t imagine what it will be like. Quite simply, you take the situation that your child is going to experience and make it a question e.g. “How will I greet my friends when I see them?”, then you use photos or drawings to go through what the situation is likely to look like and options for how the child can behave in those circumstances. You can make a comic strip or booklet featuring your child. This can be a great way to relieve anxiety for any child but is especially good for children who have autism or social worries. You can find lots on the internet, here is a good one about returning to school. Once we have classrooms set up, I’m going to take photos and videos for our website, to help parents prepare their children.
There are also lots of books you can read with your child, specially written for children about social distancing and the virus, such as “What is Social Distancing?” by Lindsey Coker Luckey.
3. Good Hygiene
Coughs and sneezes spread diseases. How is it going teaching your child to catch their coughs and sneezes in a tissue? Yeah, not well for me either! However, we have succeeded in the elbow technique of catching coughs and sneezes in a sleeve.
What we’re doing: Schools have been told to have plentiful supplies of tissues and lidded bins for used tissues which need emptying and double bagging several times a day. We’ll also be doing routine handwashing several times a day and after coughing, sneezing and nose blowing. We’ll have hand sanitizer available in all areas too, if soap and water is not available.
What you can do: teach your child about coughing and sneezing into a tissue or into their sleeve if they can’t manage tissues, then to wash their hands. Getting into good hygiene habits like this will serve them well even after we get back to normal. Handwashing is pretty much ingrained in us all now but do you remember to go around the backs and under your nails? This video is useful for teaching your children good habits for life.
By far the most important thing you can do is ensuring that you don’t send your child to school if they, or anyone in the household, have symptoms of coronavirus.
4. Education and Making up Lost Ground
My priority is making sure everyone is OK, first and foremost. I am asking my staff to put social and emotional well-being first. We’ll start with activities to rebuild relationships, getting used to being back in school and with larger groups of people. We’ll be focussing on subjects that naturally lend themselves to expressing yourself and talking like drama, art, music, personal and social education and role play. These subjects have lower concentration demands than Maths, English and Science so will allow our children to build up their academic resilience again. It will be a bit like the first week back after the summer holidays. Summer Learning Loss in children is a recognised educational phenomena. Our children have been through something similar but coupled with social isolation, fear and for some, the trauma of bereavement. It’s crucial we recognise this and attend to these needs in our pupils. As soon as they’re ready, we will begin to unpick the academic gaps, finding out how much they’ve remembered and what they’ve forgotten. This will tell us what our recovery curriculum will look like.
Something to hold on to, as you think about your child going back to school, is that we have actually been doing most of this already for the last 8 weeks. Schools have still been open for key worker and vulnerable children and during this time we’ve learnt a great deal very quickly about keeping children safe and happy, in this new, strange world.
Sending your child back to school is not an easy decision. I’d never seek to influence you as a parent either way on this particular choice but hopefully I’ve given you some insights and ideas.
For now, make the most of the time at home with your children. Hopefully, you’ll get a well-deserved break yourself from home-learning and being your child’s teacher this half term. Enjoy!