The school system in North Yorkshire has undergone a dramatic redesign to meet the needs of the pandemic response.
Schools have quickly turned to new devices and means of teaching remotely, using everything from online software such as Google Classroom to group video calls to help continue education as best they can.
But for vulnerable children and the children of workers whose jobs have been identified as critical to the response to coronavirus outbreak, schools are now providing urgently-needed childcare.
To make sure that childcare is available when needed, 16 hubs have been set up across the county, which remain open on bank holidays and weekends. Some of the schools operating hubs also include nurseries to care for younger children and babies.
Hutton Rudby Primary School, near Stokesley, is one of those hub operating in the county. The school has been adapted to provide care for children from babies to 12-year-olds, which has allowed siblings to stay together during the day while their parents work shifts in hospitals, care homes, supermarkets and in other critical roles.
Headteacher Matthew Kelly said: “Every staff member on my team volunteered to work in the hub; they’ve been incredible.
“We’re open for children from 0 to 12 and we have children aged from three to 11 at the moment. We wanted to get the message out to parents and the local community that we’re here to help and we’re being as flexible as we can.
“We’re open from 7.30am to 6pm, but we have parents whose shift patterns are from 7.30am to 7.30pm so we’re happy to extend those hours. Because we’re open for all ages, parents also don’t have to do a huge round trip on a morning dropping children off at different places and then work a long shift on top of that.
“The majority of parents work in the hospital in a variety of roles, including paramedics, consultants and doctors on a COVID-19 ward and intensive care. You see the marks on their faces from the protective masks when they pick their children up and it puts things into perspective.
“We’re trying to provide a safe, caring and fun environment. It also provides some normalcy and routine for them, which is very important as life is very unsettling for children at the moment.”
Barlby Community Primary School, in Barlby, near Selby, is another school operating as a hub, opening seven days a week and bank holidays.
The school has a number of parents working as nurses, paramedics, care workers and supermarket workers and said there was a clear need for them to open on weekends to help those families.
Headteacher Jillian Baker said she has been inundated with offers from staff and people in the wider community “desperate to come in and help” and support local children and their families by working in the hubs. The school is only bringing in staff where needed and on a normal day has a team of 30 staff on rota, with two reserve teams of staff.
During term time, the children in school have time set aside for catching up with their lessons online with teachers who aren’t in school, but there are also plenty of fun activities for them to take part in, especially over the bank holidays and weekends.
Jillian said: “We have a forest school, lots of arts and crafts equipment and den-making equipment. We’ve had children having hot chocolate around a camp fire and they’ve made some amazing dens. They’ve camped out in their dens and had lunch in them. Children have also been asking if they can sleep overnight in their dens – we’ve had to say no to that!
“But the children’s feedback has been great; they’re really enjoying coming into school.
“If pupils have a particular interest we’re encouraging them to follow those interests. A group of older children in school have set up a science lab. They do a lot of operations on a science dummy; they’re doing fantastic science work through fun role play. They’ve been playing that for four weeks now; things come and go but the science lab has stuck with them. They’re convinced they’re going to find a cure for coronavirus!”