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

Covid-19 pandemic presented the country with huge challenges when schools across the country, except for key workers’ children had to close and families found themselves home schooling their children as we battle with the virus.

No one can dispute how important it is for children to be back in schools and nurseries, where they can enjoy a playful environment of learning with interaction from their friends and teachers, which can only further promote good mental health.

So, the news of welcoming back more children to school can only be positive.

Since the start of the outbreak, schools have remained open and supported vulnerable children and children of critical workers to ensure they can continue to attend school. Now from 1 June HMG have reached out to early years providers such as nurseries and childminders to ask them to welcome all children back.

One school who has been preparing for the challenges with safety at the heart of everything they do, is Bonneville Primary School.

The South London based primary school opened its doors to a priority group of children from the Lambeth community every day since lockdown began.

Like hundreds of education settings across the UK, they are now preparing to welcome back Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 for the phased reopening of our school systems, and every eff ort 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.”

“It’s so important to get the children back into school – homeschooling is not a replacement for the structured education that we can provide here. For the early year’s 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 Primary – a 420-capacity lower school situated between Clapham  Common and Brixton Hill – 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, which can be a lifeline for some families.

‘‘We have children from a wide range of backgrounds,” Andrea says. “The school reflects the community it is part of and it’s a place where diversity is celebrated as a real strength of the school.

“Everybody has been working incredibly hard to keep the whole thing going during a difficult time. With a large proportion of staff and students from BAME backgrounds, we are developing specific risk assessments looking at additional factors like age, existing health issues and people they live with, so that due care can be applied.”

As such, fewer resources and more outdoor learning in groups of up to ten have been used to effectively protect staff and children for the last seven weeks. This month, with just under a third of the schools due to return, a brand-new ‘bubble’ system has been developed to scale up the safety measures.

Ms Parker explains: “It’s about being clear on who’s been in contact with who. 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.”

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 10-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 for the children. Inside classrooms, the layout is more spread out, and each child gets their own desk and chair for the whole day.

“We’ve also removed all soft furnishings, to make navigating around the school easy, and doors will be left open to avoid touching handles.”

Lunches and break times look a little different, too. Instead of communal eating in the school halls, meals will be hand-delivered to the classrooms for cleanliness and efficiency, while playtimes will be a chance for getting outdoors.

“For breaks and PE lessons, we really want to maximise the outside space, especially for our younger years,” says Ms Parker. “Equipment, like hockey sticks and tennis rackets, that our children love will be used by one group at a time and then routinely cleaned.”

So, how can the school keep shared spaces and surfaces clean throughout the day? Special attention to hygiene has been carefully considered in accordance with government guidelines, as Andrea explains.

“After every session, the children will wash their hands with soap. We’ve installed hand sanitiser dispensers outside every classroom and extra cleaning materials are available for desks. A janitor works throughout the school day but on Fridays we will close early to facilitate statutory planning and preparation time for teachers and additional cleaning.”

The same efficient systems will be rolled out across south London sister schools Jessop and Stockwell when it’s safe to reopen. Andrea’s own six-year-old daughter has been attending Bonneville throughout lockdown because she is the child of a key worker, and the Headteacher wants other parents to feel reassured about the hard work that’s gone into these measures.

“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 comm-unity is like a family and we will do our utmost to protect them. The measures will be reviewed weekly and we will work hard to actively respond to everyone’s needs as they arise.”

Please check with your local authority for the latest news on schools opening in your area.

TIPS FOR FIRST WEEK BACK AT SCHOOL

  • 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.
  • Practice healthy habits at home to support good hygiene in the classroom
  • Above all continue to reassure your young ones

Please closely refer to the protective measures in education and childcare settings guidance here. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-implementing-protective-measures-in-education-and-childcare-settings/coronavirus-covid-19-implementing-protective-measures-in-education-and-childcare-settings