Pupils have been returning to school in North Yorkshire all this week and are quickly becoming familiar with the new arrangements in place.
Each school has implemented its own arrangements to fit with the layout of school buildings, pupil numbers and other factors, using a risk assessment template developed by the County Council in conjunction with headteachers and the unions.
These measures include keeping pupils in bubbles so they only come into contact with the same group of students every day, with different bubbles using separate entrance and exit points into school, specific areas for eating or socialising and staggered break times where possible.
Other arrangements may include one-way systems, staggered start times for the school day and extra facilities for hand washing. Many schools have adopted a phased return to the start of the new term, with year groups returning to school on different days this week, as students become familiar with new routes around school.
Rebecca Bainbridge, Headteacher of Mill Hill Primary School in Northallerton, said children had been looking forward to returning to primary on Tuesday morning.
The school worked to make sure it looked as familiar as possible to children in the circumstances, encouraging pupils to wash their hands at sinks they would normally use and accessing their classrooms in the same way. Some of the main adjustments involved teaching children in a bubble of the same classmates. Last week, parents wanting more information on the arrangements, were given tours of the school before it reopened.
Rebecca said: “We have decided that we will make measures such as regular hand washing in school and different break times our new normal.
“We have focused on keeping children in the same bubbles throughout the school day to minimise the risk of infection, so they won’t be mixing with different year groups or classes. Systems such as one-way systems created pinch points, so separate entrances have been identified for different year groups keeping our bubbles completely separate.
“Keeping children in bubbles allows us to minimise the risk of them coming into contact with many other children and allows the school and classrooms to remain looking as normal as possible.”
She said it along with settling children into the new bubble system, they would be looking at where children were in their education after such a long time away from the classroom.
The Headteacher added: “It has been wonderful to ‘get back to it’ at school after so much planning and preparing for the start of the term.
“The children have all been excited to get back and parents seem to be reassured by our systems and routines. The children have all enjoyed seeing each other and sharing news and the teachers have been pleased to get back to a routine.
“Our week is starting with having a good look at where all of the children are, so that we can ensure that everyone catches up to where they need to be.”
Any pupils returning with anxieties or mental health issues will have extra support in place.
North Yorkshire County Council received a Government grant of £126,000 for Wellbeing for Education Return, to better equip schools and colleges to promote children and young people’s wellbeing, resilience and recovery in response to Covid-19.
As well as strengthening and building wellbeing and resilience, the grant aims to prevent the onset of mental health problems and ensures those with pre-existing or emerging difficulties access the right support. Schools will receive training through the funding and local authorities can use the funding to appoint local experts to adapt the training for a local area, as well as provide ongoing advice and support until March 2021.
Amanda Newbold, Assistant Director for Education and Skills said: “I am delighted to see so many children returning to school this week. Headteachers, staff and governors have worked extremely hard to ensure schools are as safe as possible, so that children can return to their classrooms and benefit once again from the opportunity to learn and achieve in school.”
Cllr Patrick Mulligan, Executive Member for Education said: “It has been an encouraging start to the new school term so far. Pupils seem to be adapting quickly to the new routines and arrangements in place, while teachers will be supporting any children who have anxieties about returning to the classroom.
“Teaching staff will also be assessing where children are in their education, before putting the next steps in place for catching up on missed education.”