I am sorry to contact you all on a Saturday but I have been listening to the news and looking through the front pages of the newspapers and thinking what a worrying and confusing time it must be to be you, seeing so much professional disagreement about what is safe or not. I had originally written this email to send to you on Monday, but hope it will reassure you today.
In my email last Tuesday, I said it had been a very strange 48 hours, but the twists and turns of last week didn’t end there.
We spent Wednesday agonising over how to manage the return of the named Year Groups to school from Monday, 1st June. We ended up with a plan that we felt was safe, giving the children a happy and purposeful return to school. The return would be slow and carefully managed with their well being at its heart. On Thursday evening, the Government issued additional advice that threw our plan up in the air! Friday saw us agonising over whether to stick with our plan or follow their advisory plan. We have decided to stick to our plan as we believe it the best we can offer your children as well as being supportive to our staff.
The Government guidance says all children in Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 should return for full days in half classes of 15 children. If you add in our Key Worker children, this would mean 220 children being on site for full days from 1st June or very soon after, including over lunchtime. These children would need to share toilets and come and go from school at roughly the same time as each other. In practical terms, using Polar Bears as an example, these Reception children, who will have been out of school for over 2 months, would all return together. Mrs Stamper would be in her class with 15 children, including eating their lunch there. Next door would be 15 Pandas, sharing toilets with the 15 Polar Bears. The other 15 Polar Bears would be in a Year 2 classroom they have never used before with a teacher they would not have met before. Similarly, 15 of each Year 1 class would have to be relocated to Year 3 classes with teachers they may not know, sharing toilets (that they have never used before) with Year 6 children from the same corridor. For some, this may be an adventure but for others a hugely daunting experience. Every safeguarding rule says children need known and trusted adults, and never more so than during this worrying time. The Government guidance also said, as so many teachers would be involved in this plan for return, home learning for Years 2, 3, 4 and 5 from their teachers would come to an end.
This is the reality of the Government advice. It is the offer that many schools have given to their families. Some schools have very publicly told their parents how awful it would be, appearing to try to put them off sending their children back to school as the school lacks confidence in the safety of this plan and also the physical atmosphere the children will return to – bare, unknown classrooms and unfamiliar adults.
I do not believe this arrangement is safe, manageable or desirable at this time. I am not prepared to offer this to you and your children. Our school Governors agree with me on this.
I am never going to make an offer of returning to school to a place that does not feel like the school they left with happy, confident adults being delighted to see the children, caring about them and their well being. I will not offer you something, tell you how awful it will be and hope you will not take the offer up.
The thinking behind our plan includes:
- Everything we do has been risk assessed thoroughly, using a format provided by the Local Authority Health and Safety team with Union consultation.
- Our plan and Risk Assessment has been scrutinised by our governors
- Staff have been consulted at all times and involved in what is being planned
- The wellbeing, safety and happiness of the children has been considered in preference to adherence to the models being given to us
- The fact children have been away from school for such a long time, and how that will make them feel about returning and how they will cope with this, is vital in the first few days and weeks of any return. Many children have had limited experience of people beyond their household or of being out of their house. In some households, there have been pressures on families that have meant there has been some sadness.
- Children should be in known rooms and outside spaces with the staff they are used to being with as far as is possible
- The teachers will be carefully planning what the children will do. This will involve some academic work but will prioritise emotional and social learning.
- We have been working in school with groups of children since lockdown began. We have learnt a lot from this.
- Managing cleaning is more important than ever. We have a wonderful cleaning team.
- The total number of children on site needs to be kept to a minimum in these early stages and movement around the site tightly controlled; this will not stop small groups of children using our vast outdoor spaces safely.
- Parents must feel confident to send their children to a place that is safe, happy and has prioritised the children above everything else
- We will be keeping children in small groups (hubs), without mixing with other small groups, to limit social interactions; this includes children not eating their lunch in school in the first stage and not having an extended outdoor lunchtime where they could mix with a much larger group of children.
- We want families to feel confident in our offer and consider taking it up, helping us keep contact with as many children as possible across a week.
- Staff will not be wearing PPE around children
Most importantly, they are your children. You must do what you believe is right for them and for your family. It will not help any child if, by sending them to school, you become very anxious.
Our initial offer, outlined below, is for 2 weeks. On Monday, if your child is in one of these Year Groups, we will send you a very simple survey to ask if they will be attending, if they won’t be attending or if you have any further questions. Once we know who is coming, we will send you a more detailed plan covering which day, what to wear, which gate to use…
After the first two weeks, we will contact you all again to explain how we will move in to Stage 2 (planned to start on 15th June). If your child has not attend during Stage 1, this will be their chance to join in with their Year Group if you are confident for them to do so. Home learning will continue for all Year Groups throughout this time.
Year 6 will work in hubs of a maximum of 10 children. This ensures social distancing in classrooms for children and teachers. We have set our classrooms up to accommodate this, removing extra furniture. The rooms feel very safe but quite empty; soon the rooms will be filled with laughter and smiles! The rooms are spread across our Key Stage 2 classes to limit the use of toilets and of external doors. Each child will have their own desk and resources (stationery, scissors, rulers etc) which no other child will be using at any time. They will not be able to mix with children from the other two hubs that are at school at the same time. For this first stage of our return, 6P will attend school in the morning (8.30am – 11.30am) and 6M in the afternoon (12noon – 3pm). This avoids too many children being on site and avoids lunchtimes, which will be a difficult time to manage.
We want Year 6 to have emotional and social support at this time, including around their move to high school. We have things we want to revise with them and new learning we believe is important at this time.
Nursery, Reception and Year 1
Children will be in hubs of no more than 6 children. They will work in their familiar spaces (for Reception and Year 1, their usual classrooms) with their usual adults. We are offering one morning session (9am – 11.30am) for each hub in each of the first 2 weeks, eg a Monday morning in both weeks; a Tuesday morning in both weeks etc. Each Year Group will have its own way in and off the site so there is no chance of breaking adult social distancing. We are realistic that we cannot guarantee that children of this age can maintain social distancing at all times but we will try. Their classrooms are being arranged to encourage this and they will move around school with a ‘spacing rope’, marked off to help keep them apart. We will use our outdoor spaces as much as possible. Some resources have been removed from classrooms (eg dressing up clothes) so that those that are in use are easier to clean each day.
If there are siblings in other returning Year Groups, we will be offering them sessions on the same day.
If, by making this a slow and phased return, parents from Years N, R, Y1 and Y6 have issues going back to work, there will be a chance to talk to us about this.
I hope you understand the time and energy we have put in to offering you something we believe is in the best interests of our whole school community. As I have said, the parents of the Year Groups involved will have a chance to ask further questions in the survey that will be emailed to you on Monday.
Take care everyone. We miss you all and want to see you all as soon as it is safe to do so. Most importantly, keep taking care of each other.