Primary schools across the county began to reopen this week.
For many youngsters, it’s the first time they will have been in a formal learning setting in ten weeks and in a lot of cases the school they recognised will be very different with social distancing measures in place.
But North Yorkshire’s teachers have formed a new front line in the fight to get back to a new normal, providing a safe, consistent space where children can learn safely.
Stuart Carlton, Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Service, said: “As our schools begin to return, it’s important parents and students are reassured they are safe and measures are in place to keep them that way.
“The hard work of our teachers means creative and safe measures have been put in place to give children a stable learning environment. There’s a focus not just on their learning, but their happiness.”
Greatwood Community Primary School
Greatwood Community Primary School, Skipton, has been open throughout the pandemic for vulnerable children and children of key workers.
It’s now back open to reception, year 1 and year 6 students, and Head Jonelle Yeoman says it has been a joint effort between the teachers, every member of staff and the community.
She said: “The key to us being able to reopen was preparation. When it was announced schools would shut back in March I started thinking about what we’d do should they reopen, so we were prepared for that announcement.
“We’ve communicated with parents throughout the process, including those who were still bringing children to school and those who didn’t need to.
“Luckily, our school building has been useful in setting up a safe social distancing regime. It’s one long corridor with fire exits surrounded completely with playgrounds and green space, meaning each year group can have their own entrance.
“I’ve sprayed footprints on the ground to indicate where the children should stand when they are social distancing when children are coming in and out of school. We have hand sanitiser outside every room and walkie talkies for staff to communicate without bursting any bubbles.”
She added there are currently four separate bubbles in the school – one for EMS students, one for pupils from vulnerable and key worker families and then ones for reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils of no more than 15 each. Students eat their lunches in their classrooms, too.
Jonelle said: “We have 47 children back in school at the minute and everything is running smoothly.
“Throughout lockdown, we had anywhere between 30 and 14 students in our school and made sure we kept talking to parents about if their child would be in on a certain day.
“We managed this through the incredibly hard work of our teachers and support staff who are the ones out there on the front like, our cook and the support and help of our parents and community.
“The support from Jenn Plews, CEO at NSAT, and Karen Butler, the School Advisor, has been amazing, too.”
St Cuthbert’s Primary School
One of the main aims at St Cuthbert’s Primary School, Harrogate, was to provide a calm, consistent environment for children during these unprecedented times.
Head Lynette Brammah said that was one of the main things they took into consideration when looking at how they could open in a safe way for students from yesterday.
She said: “For us, the key was preparation and communicating to parents. From the minute it was announced we could be coming back, we communicated with families, asked what they needed and asked what the children were worried about.
“Luckily, opening went very smoothly.”
Lynette and her team have put rigorous measures in place to ensure safety and social distancing of their children.
This includes splitting their classes into smaller “bubbles”, which will remain throughout even if children are absent.
They have separate entrances for each class and staggered break and lunch times, with the playground split in half so bubbles don’t mix.
Lynette added: “Community is a massive part of schooling for us and we wanted to keep that spirit going.
“Luckily, at the moment we have flexibility with the curriculum, too, so we are listening to what the children want to learn about.
“When we came back we’d scheduled in time to just talk and let the children talk to each other. But one of our Year Six students asked whether they were finished talking and could start getting on with some maths.
“Being in the school building should signify to children it’s a safe and happy place where they can come to learn and we want to continue that.”
Easingwold Primary School
Rigorous planning and creative ideas on how to keep students both happy and safe meant their first day back at Easingwold Primary School ran as smoothly as possible, according to Acting Head Alison Cottrell.
Alison said in order to ensure the school is a safe, welcoming environment for children to be, she created action plans and put together Q&A leaflets for both parents and children so they know what to expect.
She said: “I wanted to answer as many questions as possible for parents and for children so they weren’t coming in blind.
“The one for children made it clear the school is still here for them, it had pictures of our students from key worker families completing handwashing protocol and showed things like the painted markings on the playground which children can use safely.
“We’ve planned the entire day, from using separate entrances and exits to cleaning throughout and having two adults in every classroom to ensure that happens.”
Alison added they will ease back into learning in a supportive, light way.
She said: “The first week of learning will be very light – we don’t want to go rushing straight back in.
“We are starting by touching up on key skills like mental maths, timetables, handwriting, to ease students back in.
“We have a big focus on practical things, so children can work independently in a socially distant and safe way and also a large focus on PHSCE to enable children to talk about their experiences.”
Alison added they’ve put together creative packs for younger children to ensure they don’t miss out on anything, too.
She added: “Monday went really smoothly, children were so excited – but everyone stuck to the rules and everyone did their absolute best. It’s a step towards normality.”