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Thoughts on returning to school

By Huw Lloyd

If, like me, you tuned in to hear what Boris Johnson had to say as he addressed the nation about schools, education and getting children back into school, your house may have sounded like mine as he announced that reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children would be returning on June 1st.

In my house there was a collective gasp in the room, a silence and then a perplexed ‘how?’ from my wife. As more information and guidance has been released the minefield for headteachers and governors planning this return grows and grows.

I should add we have a five year-old girl who is currently in reception and her transition into Year 1 has been a hot topic of conversation for the last few weeks. The change from reception to year one learning is huge and our eldest who is currently in year five found this difficult, so I understand why the Prime Minister has said they will be the first back.

Planning ahead

Being able to work with our four and five year-olds to prepare them for year one is I feel vital, but to echo my wife, how? And the other question is, will it actually prepare them for year one?

I do not envy schools having to plan and prepare for this when you think of all the things they have to consider: social distancing, hand washing, cleaning of play equipment, class sizes, rooming, staffing, one way systems around school, managing drop off and pick-up times and PPE for staff.

When you throw in parental concerns around safety of their children, it makes for that ever-growing minefield for school leaders. Planning over the last few weeks utilising the Government’s guidance as to how to implement this directive will have had to be thorough and detailed with many contingency plans built in for changes in numbers of staff and pupil numbers.

Simply put, child and teacher must be an absolute priority for everyone involved. As difficult as it may be, everyone has a right to go to work or school and feel safe and this will be weighing on the mind of school leaders heavily, especially when you consider that people who were told to shield for 12 weeks are still covered by that recommendation until June 15th.

However, it could also be a time for innovation in classroom practice and school organisation; an opportunity to try new things and test out theories. How often as educators have we dreamed of smaller class sizes and said ‘with fewer kids in the class I could cover so much more and meet individual needs better?’

Quality time

If schools have to halve, or even quarter, class sizes to enable social distancing, we will be able to see if more quality time enables children to make as much if not more progress as in a full day of school in a class of 30+ children.

Would this keep children more refreshed and less stressed? As I wrote in a previous blog, parents are anecdotally reporting their children seem calmer and happier while being home educated under lockdown conditions. Could this be a half-way house?

Could this be an opportunity to try different strategies which with larger classes we have looked at and gone, ‘oohh, I’m not sure about that with so many children!’

One thing it will definitely do is give an opportunity for staff to work with children to manage their transition from their current year group to their new one and take the time with them to allay any fears and prepare them for any changes they may see.

And let’s be honest there are going to be lots of changes for all of us when we return to whatever normal looks like after lockdown has ended.

So, I guess the answer to my wife’s cry of ‘how’ is ‘with great difficulty’. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. The concerns people have are valid, of course they are, but then the opportunities are also valid and should not be discounted either as we all navigate this next stage of educational change brought on by Covid-19 regulations together.

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