No going back?

The precautionary steps necessary in response to the coronavirus pandemic have led to some unexpected outcomes and will, ultimately, leave schools pondering whether we will return to systems and organisations that were taken for granted up until March this year.

We have just held Parent Consultations online and by telephone, to an almost entirely positive reception. It required staff training and preparation, and perhaps the experiences of working parents and families during lockdown, to make it work so well. It gave us a ‘clean’ experience with assured site security and a positive impact on the environment – there were no journeys for parents to make, no childcare to consider (beyond entertainment while in the Zoom conversation), no wasted time, reduced waits, no wandering round the school trying to find a new classroom or teacher. For teachers it was easier to set up and pack away (though it gave admin staff a fair bit of organisational work to do before and during).

We might continue this way.

To minimise the meeting and mixing of year groups and ‘bubbles’ we have implemented double the number of playtimes, and we are running, effectively, four lunch breaks. This has given each year group twice the space to play in, and has led to a reduction in bumps, bangs and scrapes – fewer accidental collisions and fewer competitions for space meaning fewer knees to wipe clean and fewer ‘bump notes’ to send home. The cost is not to be dismissed, mind – extra supervision from all staff, less playground time available for PE lessons, less social and professional face to face contact for staff.

Having what amounts to four sittings for lunch is giving less outside queueing, but it is giving us staffing pressures and initially put pressure on children to eat up in time for the next year group to come in.

We might want to continue this way, if we can afford to and can find a practical way to give Year 3 children 5 minutes more to eat.

DfE guidance suggests schools implement a staggered start and finish to the school day (while keeping the overall hours the same) so that there is reduced congestion and contact at the school gates. Knowing we had sibling links to three neighbouring schools (all on different ‘staggers’) and two other schools nearby leading to further pedestrian traffic, we went for opening an extra gate and simply easing in over a 25 minute period. This is working really well; the first five days gave parents a feel for how it was working and then we quickly saw an adjustment as self-regulation altered arrival times. An unplanned outcome is that this creates a daily opportunity for children to talk and socialise, thus reducing any negative well-being and mental health impact. At the end of the day we are seeing sensible, responsible wider distribution of adults waiting to collect children. It is, again, heavily demanding of staffing at both ends of the day, but it is leading to calm, quiet and well-spread arrivals and departures. It has also cut out the previous unnecessary, unapproved, inappropriately excessively early arrival of a few pupils on to our playground (some used to arrive as much as 30 minutes before school doors opened).

We might want to continue this way.

We have had children arriving on PE days already in their PE kit, reducing the baggage brought to school and thus the squash in the cloakrooms and physical contact with other children’s possessions that inevitably happened. The cloakrooms are easier to use and much safer as a result. They are easier to clean, easier to use. PE lessons are longer in practical terms – we get ready instantly and no time is lost in waiting for the slowest to get changed.

We might want to continue this way.

And one that’s different? Lost Property has mounted up to a level we have not seen before, partly because we are not sending children to look through the collection for fear that this may lead to contact with children from other ‘bubbles’. We do need to find an answer to this – and it may have to be the traditional one of laying it all out and touring every class round and round, hoping some children recognise some items.

We won’t want to continue that way!

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