When the Government announced this week that it expects all schools to be fully open on the return for the autumn term, so all children attend in all year groups full time, we simply agreed with the intention; it is what we have wanted.
Guidance on how schools might individually achieve this came out the same day. This is where the broad statement of intention stops and the planning and preparation starts.
We will have just under 200 pupils in school next week, a little over 40% of the number on roll. We have to move safely and with resilience to 100% effectively overnight – from the day we close for summer to the next day we are open at the start of the new term.
Senior staff have read the guidance and will be meeting this week to discuss how we implement it, and on what scale (do our ‘bubbles’ become class-sized and shaped with all activity built around that, or do they stretch to whole year groups – as they are likely to be in secondary schools – with activity differently set?). The Governing Board have COVID-19 response as an agenda item for their meeting this week; they will want assurances about preparations and plans for safe opening.
I will explain and expand on possible implications for one area of our school’s broad and ambitious curriculum, music. From this you may see how organisation of paramount health well-being importance to minimise the risk from excess contacts will impact in unexpected ways and in unexpected places.
We teach music to every child in every year group and in every term – all classes have timetabled lessons in our dedicated music room. We also enable continuous, frequent and numerous peripatetic instrument lessons (over 200 children were having lessons this academic year). On top of all that, we offer at least four extra-curricular opportunities for musical development and engagement; choir, wind band, orchestra and hand bell group.
Music lessons take place in the music room (obviously) – it is a central place where instruments are kept, where we can close a door, and where other paraphernalia of the classroom are removed. If more than one ‘bubble’ is to use the space or the equipment in a period of 72 hours it must all be thoroughly cleaned in between. We either have to massively increase resources so each child has personal music equipment, have children wiping every beater and instrument they have touched, employ cleaners specifically for this task throughout the school day, increase the size of the ‘bubble’ to include all classes in the space in the time period or reschedule how we deliver music. If we consider each year group as a ‘bubble’ then we could divide up the term into quarters and each ‘bubble’ could have music in the music room for one quarter. (This could be, say, a week, a fortnight or a month or a half term at a time.) The other three year groups would have to change their curriculum plan for the period. So instead of a weekly lesson we may have to aggregate or reduce this to lessons for only part of the year. If each class is a ‘bubble’ then they might have a condensed unit of study of many lessons but in just one week. If a year group forms a ‘bubble’ then a unit might stretch over a half term. Each model means all other ‘bubbles’ waiting their turn.
It is not as easy as just delivering music lessons in the classroom, not when we have open-plan teaching areas for half of the school.
Peripatetic instrument teachers work with children from more than one year group each day they are in school. So as not to be a contact in more than one ‘bubble’ they will have to maintain the social distancing expectation and teach from more than 2 metres away – difficult to show or assist a hand position bridging on a cello fret, or on the valves of a trumpet, from that far away. We may have to restrict access, timing, instrument choices and so on.
Orchestra takes place during the school day – we release staff to lead this activity. Children are drawn from across three year groups. We may (just ‘may’) be able to continue in the medium term if children from different ‘bubbles’ can be kept separate (at least 2 metres) within the hall, where orchestra meets. It’s not how an orchestra assembles, and may be so problematic it makes the activity impossible or not beneficial. Otherwise it will mean only running it with children from one ‘bubble’ – be that a class or year group. Obviously that instantly reduces the number of children involved, and again will change the very nature of that activity.
Hand bell group tends to come just from one year group, Year 5, and so may be okay – as long as anything touched is cleaned well before and after each use.
Choir runs after school, with up to 70 children involved, four or so members of staff and an additional adult volunteer or two. After-school activities will be able to restart but must follow the same protection steps as in place in the school day. As singing is not currently allowed at weddings (and pubs are being advised to turn the volume down on piped music so as to lower patrons’ voices) we will have to look hard at how this can be safely organised. All face the front of course – but that means 70 children singing straight at the adults at the front. So a minimum 2 metres between staff and children, and possibly 3 metres for safety. And the children will have to be kept in the same ‘bubbles’ as during the day – so unless the attendees are all from the same ‘bubble’ they will have to be separated as well. (Like my dad used to say, ‘spread out and keep in a bunch’.) Not quite the image of community singing if eight groups sit and stand apart but within the same hall.
Wind band might not be so affected; it has lower numbers attending as it is a little more specialist, and it uses the one hall we have. Children use their own instruments (except the drummer / percussionist who might be using the school’s drum kit). They do, however, use school’s music stands so these would need a clean when set out and when put away. A slice of the activity time will go on set up and pack away, but for the crucial reasons of public health and well-being.
This just how we might have to re-organise music provision. Then there’s Computing (shared computers, iPads and suite); practical equipment in all subjects that are normally shared across the whole school (thermometers in science, stop watches in PE, globes and atlases in geography, brushes in art, artefacts in history, clocks and scales in maths...); outdoor play equipment; PE spaces and equipment; play times; lunch queues, rotas and seating; staggered starts or separate entrances; PPA for staff so staff contacts are minimised; trips and visits when no ‘bubbles’ share a coach; inter-school sport; cooking; intervention groups across year groups; after school clubs; administering medication; use of the library and other shared areas; indoor lunchtime games club; pupil monitor roles; classroom organisation; parent evenings and new-starter meetings; celebrations and sharing; protecting visitors, pedagogical change, pupil's demonstrations at the interactive whiteboard…
There are quite a few things to discuss and agree before we get anywhere near September. Our aim is the same – to have all our pupils here full time in September – but the detail and impact of how we implement that aim safely has to be worked out yet.
If you would like to read the guidance from DfE for parents and carers, you can find it here.
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