Back to school for Lancashire's children with safety measures and mass testing
Schools across Lancashire are busy preparing for the return of pupils on Monday, in the first stage of the country’s ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown.
Schools closed to all but keyworkers’ children and vulnerable children from early January, when the Prime Minister announced a third set of national restrictions in response to the pandemic.
It followed tough months of disruption to normal classes for pupils, parents and teachers, which began almost a year ago when the first lockdown was put in place.
GCSE and A Level exams were cancelled and schools did not reopen until June, when some schools welcomed back certain year groups.
Most primary school children returned to school for the new term in September 2020 only for schools to close again in the New Year when the third national lockdown came into force - meaning weeks of homeschooling for parents and video lessons for teachers.
In the run-up to Monday, local schools have told the Post about their coronavirus measures and how they will help keep their students safe when they return.
Mass testing will be in place and familiar classrooms and corridors will feature new safety measures.
Archbishop Temple School, Fulwood will see a staged return for pupils who will be in ‘learning bubbles’ according to year group.
All students will go through a sanitation station and will be invited to carry out coronavirus tests.
The school has shared a testing video on its website so students and parents know what to expect.
Headteacher Ivan Catlow said: “It’s going to be brilliant to have the children back in school.
“As a new headteacher in an outstanding school, I haven’t had the opportunity to meet a lot of the children so I really look forward to this.”
Mr Catlow hopes that more practical learning, like science experiments, can now take place as children have missed out on this when homeschooling.
“Online learning has been great but obviously there are things you can’t do, like experiments, which we are excited to be doing again,” he said.
The headteacher said he is ‘assured’ that staff and students will be ‘safer than they’ve ever been’ if testing goes ahead as planned.
“We’re looking into getting things back to normal, with all the necessary precautions in place, and getting back to a situation where children can enjoy some real, high-quality teaching and learning face-to-face,” said Mr Catlow.
He emphasised that there will be ‘teachers everywhere’ to look after children and their well-being while they get used to being back at school.
“Getting up and having breakfast earlier is going to be different to getting out of bed and going to the kitchen table to learn every morning,” he said, “But I’m looking forward to it and teachers will be there to support students.”
County councillor Phillippa Williamson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, said: “It is absolutely fantastic that we can now welcome all our children back into the school classroom – the best place for them to learn.
“Schools have been working very hard to get ready and put measures in place to reduce the likelihood of Covid-19 spreading."
Ms Williamson praised Lancashire teachers and schools for ‘doing a tremendous job’ of delivering home learning and supporting vulnerable children and key workers’ children.
“This lockdown has been a very difficult time for parents and children, and we thank them for their continued support and patience,” she said.
“We urge everyone to follow the rules so we can keep our schools open and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”
Albany Academy, Chorley has also been busy preparing to welcome its students back to the school.
Headteacher Peter Mayland stressed that the full curriculum will be delivered ‘immediately’.
“As a trust we will be delivering the full curriculum immediately while emphasising the social and wellbeing parts of our curriculum,” he said.
“Some children have been in school full time throughout the pandemic, some have been able to fully engage at home, and some parents have been able to fully support their child.
“Collaborative and practical work will be at the forefront of our teaching as it would usually be.”
Currently, the majority of teaching staff and schoolchildren are not included in the immediate roll out of coronavirus vaccinations.
This has led to some concern over schools becoming potential sites of transmission for the virus.
Ian Watkinson, National Education Union (NEU) representative for Lancashire, has called the reopening of all schools ‘a complete gamble’ despite the safety measures that will be in place.
“People are trying to put as brave a face on it as they possibly can but we’re totally with the science which says that this is a reckless approach and a gamble,” he said.
“Having all children back, on the same day, at the same time, when there’s such a huge difference in the case rates and transmission rates across the country is reckless.
“We have a lot more cases in Lancashire than in the south. It’s an absolute punt, a dangerous one.”
Mr Watkinson says that he is concerned due to a number of cases already arising in partially opened schools.
“Not surprisingly there have been plenty of cases,” he said.
“We’re really worried about this and yes, everybody is trying as hard as they can, to do what they can on the ground but they cannot make the classrooms bigger or improve the ventilation much and we will be faced with full classrooms.”
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has stated that the majority of children and young people display no symptoms or only a ‘very mild illness’ if infected with the virus.
While homeschooling has been far from easy, encouraging children to return to the classroom will also be a challenge.
Katie Kellett, 29, has had to juggle working from home as a rota coordinator while homeschooling her five-year-old daughter throughout the pandemic.
Her daughter Summer attends Harris Primary School, in Preston, and is nervous about returning to school on Monday.
“It is definitely a lot to deal with,” Katie said, “I’m anxious because she doesn’t want to go back.”
Summer has been attending school on Wednesdays so Katie can work from the office.
“Even trying to get her to school just on a Wednesday is really difficult,” Katie said.
“We have had a talk about how she has to go back to school for five days next week and she is really upset about it.”
Despite Summer’s back to school nerves, Katie says that her school has been ‘great’ at communicating with parents.
“I can’t fault them,” said Katie, “They have stayed in contact and they have twice daily Zoom calls - that last about ten minutes- to stay in touch.
“I can’t always join in because I’m working but we try to make it to two or three a week."
Harris Primary School also has an app to keep parents updated on safety measures.
When Summer goes back to school there will be a one-way system in place and parents will have set time-slots for dropping children off and picking them up.
Katie feels like her daughter has been unable to keep up with her school work and peers through homeschooling.
“We haven’t completed all of the work that has been set, we just don’t have the time to do it and I’m not a teacher,” Katie said.
“Summer is definitely going to be behind but she is only five so I’m not as concerned as I would be if she was older.”
Even though Summer may be behind, Katie does not want to consider sending her to extra classes and summer school which could be made possible by government ‘catch-up’ funding.
“It’s not her fault that she has missed out,” Katie said, “I’m not going to eat in to time that we could spend possibly enjoying life or seeing family and friends.
“My daughter is an active little girl who has missed out on swimming and holidays.
“I’m not going to take that away from her again to put her back into school for longer or during the summer holidays.
“She will only be attending mandatory lessons.”
Emma Mander, director of Great Minds Together, which advises schools, families and local authorities, said the return to school could be particularly hard for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
“After this period of lockdown children with SEND will struggle with returning unless there is a tight transition plan in place,” she said.
“That change, from being around nobody to an environment with lots of people can be very disruptive and distressing for such children.”
Ms Mander is particularly concerned about children whose needs have gone under the radar.
“It is the children that have an unidentified need who are the ones teachers and educational support workers really need to be looking out for,” she said.
“In particular, children who are potentially neuro-diverse but might not even be on the SEND register yet.”
She encourages teachers to pay attention to children who may be labelled as ‘naughty’ as some could have additional needs.