North Yorkshire’s schools have had many things to check, consider and reflect upon as pupils begin to return next week.
Along with solving challenges with regards to social distancing within each school and keeping everyone safe, Heads across the county have considered every aspect of wellbeing and welfare of their staff and pupils.
From one-way systems in corridors, staggered opening times and lunch in classrooms to mental health support, Head teachers talk us through how they are making their schools safe and happy environments.
Stuart Carlton, Director of Children and Young People’s Services, said: “Schools across the county have been working incredibly hard to ensure every aspect of their pupil and staff welfare is covered.
“The circumstances are unprecedented, but schools have analysed every detail of their school day to make sure it’s as safe as it can be.
“They’ve also considered the curriculum and the mental wellbeing of their students during the pandemic to create a supportive environment for children to go back and learn.”
Richmond Methodist Primary School
At Richmond Methodist, their school ethos is “doing all the good we can”. This principle has been applied to bringing their pupils back, too.
Headteacher Sharon Stevenson and her staff have done a number of things to prep the school for the return of children.
These include staggered drop-off times, eating in classrooms and social bubbles of no more than 15 students.
Sharon said the school have taken a collaborative approach to planning, including the views of staff and parents alike.
She said: “The safety and wellbeing of our whole school community has been at the heart of every decision we have made, from a welcome back sign when they first enter the site, arrows to guide families around our one-way system and coloured dots to help us socially distance around school, we have tried to think of everything.
“We are aware children have been at home for 10 weeks and we want to support them to reintegrate and socialise back into the wider community and Richmond Methodist Primary and Nursery School provides a safe place to do this.
“It is important to us that although school might look a little different, our number one priority in the coming weeks is to ensure our curriculum is responsive to the social, emotional and academic needs of each individual child.
“As part of this, we have planned exciting learning opportunities, support and transition for our Year 6 children and lots of time to learn and play outside!
“We’ve also prioritised the mental health of our students during this unprecedented time and have SENCo available to support children and families alike.”
Parents have received a video showing what the school will look like and how those inside will move around the site safely.
Sharon also added the school will continue to provide high quality home learning materials for students who continue to stay at home.
Hutton Rudby Primary
Headteacher at Hutton Rudby, Matthew Kelly, says transparency is key in communicating the new rules, plan and any worries and concerns about the return to school.
Staff and parents undertook a questionnaire to raise any worries or concerns, before a rigorous risk assessment took place.
Matthew and his team looked at the school day from start to finish to identify areas which needed managing – from parents arriving in the mornings to picking up their children at the end of the day.
The school has a one-way system, children have been placed in social bubbles and classrooms modified to mitigate the risk.
He said: “Parents will arrive at staggered start times, we have staggered all lunchtimes and playtimes as well.
“Hand sanitiser stations are on every entrance to the building to ensure anyone who enters can clean their hands along with each classroom too.
“We have a designated medical room in school, which we have set up as a PPE room. We have a separate area in school if we suspect any child has Covid-19 too so we can isolate that child quickly, with a staff member wearing PPE.
“We’ve relayed any information we have with parents throughout the process. The key for us is transparency to aid reassurance.
“If we remain transparent and listen to concerns, we can mitigate and manage any risk.
“In classrooms, children are in social bubble groups.
“Learning for the children won’t involve direct teacher to child interaction, they won’t be working with teachers on a close basis.
“The children will be shown all the systems we have in place and the different routines on the first Monday they come back.
“Each child has a pack of resources in a zip wallet to ensure no cross contamination.
“All soft furnishings have been removed and we’ve also given information to parents informing them their child can’t bring anything into school or take anything home.
Matthew added they were focussed on each child’s wellbeing, providing a safe and supportive learning environment.
He said: “Our focus is on the child’s health and wellbeing – they will need to learn how to get used to school again.
“We also decided every teacher will follow up with the same class in September meaning they are already aware of any gaps in learning.”
Mill Hill Community Primary
Head Rebecca Bainbridge says she and her staff have worked hard to ensure everything is in place for a safe return.
Over half term week, they’ve ensured the school is clean and rooms are set up and ready to go – including sneeze guards on the reception desk, lidded bins in classrooms and cleaning equipment for use throughout the day.
There is also PPE for emergencies along with digital thermometers for use if someone becomes ill.
Rebecca said: “There’s arrows around the school to make a one way system.
“We’ve also allocated sinks and toilet blocks to different bubbles so that children and adults have easy access to soap and handwashing in a socially distanced way throughout the day.
“Handwashing is part of our school timetable too – on arrival, before eating, after eating, coming inside and also throughout the day when needed.
“Our catering team will provide bagged packed lunches and we will either eat this in the classroom or outside if the weather is good.”
Rebecca added there are antiseptic wipes and hand gels around the school as well.
Students have been grouped appropriately in smaller social bubbles too.
Rebecca added each child will have a specific work pack only used by them and any equipment such as laptops will be sterilised every night.
She added another challenge has been setting an appropriate curriculum through this.
She said: “Our first challenge is settling children back into a routine and reminding them of school readiness.
“We have planned our curriculum so children can talk about their experiences too – our children are going through a world changing event and we want to help them deal with this.
“The main message we are sending out to parents is that we understand their nervousness, and their child’s nervousness and we have put in as many measures as possible to ensure the safety of children, parents, staff and wider families linked with them.
“We will keep astride of our plan and we will review anything that isn’t working.”
Thirsk School and Sixth Form College
Thirsk School and Sixth Form College is also preparing to re-open for a number of their pupils.
Being a secondary school and sixth form, the school has faced different challenges to a primary.
Head Emma Lambden and her staff have solved logistical challenges and spoken to parents and students to create a safe environment for them to return to.
Emma said: “We’ve tried to keep parents in the loop at all times. We’ve done a survey and asked them for their comments.
“Based on their comments, I’ve been able to feed back and answer their concerns.
“We have floor markings in areas where students will be travelling through.
“Our classes will be split into bubbles of no more than 10 in the secondary school.
“They will stay in the classroom all day and their lunches will be brought to them.
“Luckily, we have plenty of outdoors areas meaning students can safely go outdoors in their social bubbles.”
Emma added that the curriculum will cater to all students and they will tailor their approach to each student depending on how much work they’ve done over lockdown to get everyone to a similar level.
She added: “The situation in our sixth form is slightly different as well, because we wanted those students to get the specialist subject teaching they need.
“But our sixth form is very small, with about five pupils in each.
“The school is big enough to spread people about easily, and we are looking to only have a quarter of the year groups in at a time.
“Each class will be very small, with about five pupils in each.”