With the news of a potential return to schools in England, the discussion of pros and cons will be something of a strong topic in households across the country. The British government have told us it is safe to do so when specific tests have been met, however many people feel that the safety of both pupils and staff is not being considered strongly enough. With this decision in place, rightly or wrongly, as certain year groups are encouraged to return to school, the anticipation of how things will look may be met with fear or anxiety.
Many questions arise as to what the new school day will look like. Will they still be in the same class as their friends? How many friends might not return to school and how will that make them feel? One thing is certain, throughout this phased return, safety is at the forefront of those working in education and it is for this reason that many changes will and have been put in place.
The regimented arrival at school will become the new normal. What once was an open door policy for parents being swapped for a precise and well managed intake of children. Markings outside of the school gates showing parents where to stand and the polite reminder for only one parent to drop off are just a few of the new strategies being implemented. With some of our youngest children set to return from June 1st, it is thought there will be more than a few tears at the school gates as children no longer have the reassurance of their parents taking them into the school building.
Classrooms have been stripped of many of its resources as children are limited in their use of equipment. Each item must be easy to clean on an hourly basis and the once sharing is caring terminology retaught. Keeping your own pencils and colors on your table is now key to restricting the spread of infection.
The beauty of teaching and learning through play becomes an impossible task to implement. No longer are children able to become the masters of imagination role-play in a tactile environment. Instead, they must stay within their individual areas and find new and innovative ways to interact.
The once crowded playground now becomes a vast open area as ‘bubbles’ of children are only allowed out at allotted times. New games are encouraged, such as ‘shadow tag’, where touch is prohibited but the joy of running and tagging is still able. The constant reminder to primary school children throughout the years that they are standing too close to their friends can feel harsh and unnecessary but this innocent unawareness of this global pandemic is also a reminder to us that we are responsible for their safety. To them, school just got a bit weird.
For those children of key worker parents, they have had the added advantage of being used to this new type of schooling. Seven weeks in, they have settled in to the idea of everything happening in one room. Eating your lunch at the same table you are learning at is perfectly acceptable. Having your own laptop, that stays on your desk, allows for you to access all of the home learning set from the teachers. The older year groups begin to notice if they get too close to another child’s desk, whilst the younger ones look at you with a perplexed expression when they are reminded for the fiftieth time that day. Learning in the same room as your siblings has seen older children taking on more responsibilities as each ‘bubble’ is designed to minimize outbreaks of the virus and keep families together.
In truth, these safety measures have been introduced and amended as collectively, the teaching profession, has learnt how to continue to look after children in school safely, whilst still providing accessible home learning for those at home. With only a small amount of children currently in schools, this has been a difficult yet doable task. As we see more children return, will the increase in numbers make even walking down the corridor a difficult and challenging procedure? As we look to other countries, such as Denmark, for guidance and advice, every day will be a learning curve for both student and teacher.
It is with this in mind that one of the key teaching methods becomes so important. Having a positive and can do attitude will encourage us all that we will get through this difficult time. The mindset of falling into ‘the pit’ but being able to climb back out again must be our motivation. It may look and feel like a different kind of day but children are fantastic at adapting and learning and right now their biggest lesson in school will be how to stay safe.