Back to school: Melissa Heppell at Atlantic Academy reveals plans to reopen & how the key issues will be addressed
This article by Grainne Hallahan & Dan Worth was originally published by Tes.
We asked teachers across a raft of different settings how they are tackling various challenges of reopening – this is what they had to say.
The Department for Education’s frequently updated guidelines has been a source of contention in the lead up to schools reopening, as leaders grapple to understand exactly how they can return to the classroom while keeping everyone safe.
Meanwhile across the world, international schools also face a tricky guidelines of their own, too.
So how are schools planning to follow these rules in the best interest of both teacher and student safety?
We spoke to teachers at primary, secondary and international schools on the different approaches being taken to some key issues to help provide some insights to inform your thinking or offer reassurance you are taking the same approach as others.
The teachers featured below are:
Lucy Moss, a deputy head at a school in Lancashire (LM)
Charley Lee, the headteacher of a secondary school with a sixth form in the East of England (CL)
Elaine West, a senior leader of a secondary school in the South West of England (EW)
Mike Godwin, the head of pre-prep phase (Years 1-5) at Harrow International School Bangkok (MG)
Ian Thurston, the head of secondary at Dar Al Marefa Private School in Dubai (IT)
Have you moved all of your classrooms into rows?
MH: Where possible and appropriate for age groups, we have our students facing forwards. We also have clear table plans in place to help support any track and trace situations should they arise. Teachers have also been encouraged to embrace outdoor learning where possible.
LM: We will use rows with the exception of Reception and Year 1, where it is not practical for continuous provision.
CL: Yes, all desks will be in rows, although we had this anyway.
EW: All of our rooms will have rows with space at the front for the teacher to move around in.
MG: Yes, but we are allowed to move desks together for small group work so long as children wear masks and it is only for short periods of time.
IT: Yes, reduced from 24 to 18 tables in classrooms to allow for 1.5m distancing.
Will you screen teacher desks or student desks?
MH: We do not have screened desks – it’s not realistic to think our teachers will be sitting behind a desk all day.
We have ensured that teachers are at the front of the room for the majority of the time and we have also written into our risk assessment that all rooms will be very well ventilated.
However, any 1:1 teaching such as individual reading will be carried out behind a screened desk. This will ensure a barrier of protection is in place for any staff working 1:1 with a child but will also mean we can continue this valuable and essential role in the classroom.
LM: None of our teacher desks has been screened because we don’t really sit at them!
IT: No. Teachers don’t have desks in rooms.
How will teachers work 1-2-1 with students?
MH: Any feedback from a teacher will be shared through a visualiser on a digital display – however, this isn’t a change from our normal practice. We also did a lot of work on Google Classroom in lockdown and we are keen to continue this.
LM: We are not advising our teachers to remain in just one spot – they will be moving about the classroom. We are planning for all 1-2-1 interactions to be in person, but with common sense.
CL: Teachers are asked to stay at the front of the room wherever possible and most will use visualisers.
EW: To make one-to-one work, teachers will probably be using the visualiser from the area at the front of the classroom that they should be staying in.
MG: Teachers are free to circulate and work with children so long as they maintain an appropriate level of social distancing.
IT: Teachers and students must wear masks when working 1-2-1 in close proximity.
Have you changed to rules regarding books being taken home?
MH: Our marking policy means very few of our teaching staff have to take books home for marking. Students will be bringing reading books to and from school, but they will be quarantined before being reissued.
LM: We have adapted our marking policy skimmed down to help avoid this. Children will have different reading books for home and school.
CL: Teachers won’t be taking student books out of the classroom. Students can take their own books home if we ask them to – however, this rule will vary depending on the different year groups.
EW: At the moment we’re planning for books to go home, but this might change.
MG: Yes, teachers are free to mark books and take them home. Children are able to take reading books and library books home as well.
Our procedures dictate all people wash their hands before and after handling any equipment in school. They also state that any resource that has left school must be sanitised and left for 72 hours before being re-used.
IT: No. All assignments and feedback will be uploaded to Managebac. Students are provided books, but teachers will not take them in.
How will the start and end of the school day change?
MH: We will have staggered start and finish times with classes arriving and leaving in three timed sessions, each with a 10 minute arrival time. We will also have a one-way system that will support distancing during drop off and pick up.
LM: Students are still travelling in by their usual methods. We have the start and end of the day split up into year groups and staggered by five minutes and using seven different entrances into school.
CL: We’re not staggering our own start/finish times, as we’re already at a different start/finish time to the other local schools.
If we had staggered, we would put our students on buses with other schools and actually make things busier and increase the risk of spreading the virus.
Instead, we’re using different entrances and exits to the site to keep things spaced out.
EW: We have made the decision to go with no staggered starts. This is owing to the fact a lot of our students get bussed in, and the bus companies couldn’t accommodate staggered starts.
To try and minimise congestion as the students arrive, we have arranged to have separate entrances for all students.
MG: Staggered times makes it better but it is not perfect so we have other systems in place for maintaining social distancing too.
IT: We have staggered entrances for each phase of the school. Most students have told us they will come by car. We have designated zones for each family to spread students out, but keep families together.
How will your students travel to school?
MH: Many of our students actually cycle or scooter to school – and we have encouraged this – not just for social distancing but also to support our Healthy School status that we have worked hard to achieve.
A number of parents will also be dropping their children off at school – and so we have clear drop-off zones to support parents with the staggered start times.
CL: Our students travel mainly on local and contract buses.
EW: We have many students who travel by school bus. The rest of our students walk or cycle. A few are dropped off by car, but not on site.
MG: The vast majority of children are driven to school in private cars. Some use the school bus system and a small percentage walk. We have staggered times throughout the school to minimise possible crowds
IT: Most students have told us they will come by car.
How will lessons be conducted?
MH: Where possible, students will be staying put and staff will be moving around the building – we want to ensure very few students are milling in corridors as it is much harder to social distance in these areas.
There will be some students who have to move to different classes, for different groups or sets, in these situations, the students move first and then the adults, the two groups shouldn’t be mixing with one another where possible.
LM: All our lessons will be outdoors whenever possible!
CL: We took the decision to keep key stage 3 students in the same class, with the exception for some specialist lessons (eg, music). KS4 are in year group zones, but will change classrooms. Because we don’t have space for KS5 to have zones, they will go into empty rooms freed up by classes with specialist lessons, and will wipe surfaces before and after use.
EW: Students will be in different classes and will move around. All of our lessons are one hour, but we have cleaning routines at lesson change over which will cut into the lesson time.
MG: Pupils are following their normal timetable. They have PE, swimming and go to different locations for ICT, Thai and music lessons.
IT: Students are based in their homeroom except for specialist facilities such as art, design and science. Grade 11-12 move between six designated classrooms.
How have lunchtimes changed?
MH: Our staggered day continues into lunch and break times. Our youngest primary students will be eating lunch in their classrooms – either a packed lunch or a meal from our canteen.
No students will have to mix at break and lunchtimes – this ensures that we can keep students separate.
CL: We have decided to set up a second serving point to make lunchtimes less congested and busy. We have reduced the length of lunch to 25 minutes to accommodate an extra sitting.
EW: We are splitting lunch to help keep year groups separate. We’re encouraging students to bring in their own food, but we are providing catering at lunch.
MG: Children all have a hot lunch provided by the school, which is served in the canteen. Lunch is now staggered sittings, and we are operating a free-flow system using signage to let pupils know when it is their turn to eat.
IT: Students will remain in homerooms with their packed lunches. They can pre-order food from the canteen and collect it as well.
Will staff/students wear masks?
MH: Currently, government guidelines state there is no requirement for masks to be worn in primary schools but we will watch to see if this changes of course.
LM: If a teacher or student wishes to wear a face covering, we won’t say no.
CL: We have taken the decision to make all face coverings optional for students as we are not in a high-risk area. For staff, they can wear face coverings in areas where it is not possible to socially distance.
EW: This is still to be confirmed. While we are not in a high-risk area, we do have busy corridors. However, our cleaning schedule will make it difficult to be in the corridors to check if students are wearing their face coverings.
MG: Yes: by Thai law, facemasks have to be worn in schools at all times (except PE).
IT: Staff and students must cover faces and can choose to wear gloves.
Will clubs run?
MH: We will continue to provide our wraparound care for working parents as this is an essential service for the parents we have at school who need it.
LM: There hasn’t been a decision made yet. At the moment we’re thinking that some may run once bubbles can be ‘burst’.
CL: We will have clubs, but either within year groups or if it is a mixed year group there will be no more than 15 in a group.
EW: All of our clubs will run as normal.
MG: Yes, they start on 21 September. Sport Academies have already started.
IT: There are no extracurricular activities at the moment.
Where will staff go when not teaching?
MH: We have enough space to be able to encourage staff to keep to approximately three to a room with good ventilation and social distancing in place.
LM: All staff can take their PPA at home, or socially distanced in the staffroom.
CL: We have very limited workspace, so are encouraging staff to leave the site when not teaching. For example, they can work in a local café, or they can go home.
EW: As staff are not encouraged to spend time in the staffroom, it is likely PPAs will be spent in classrooms.
MG: Staffroom, Year group office or PPA room.
IT: The staff hub with distancing measures in place.
Where will staff eat?
MH: All our teacher break rooms have sinks to ensure good hygiene is in place. Teachers are able to eat in these locations.
LM: Staff can eat in the staffroom, their classroom, or outdoors.
CL: All staff will eat in the hall with the students.
EW: Due to limited space, staff will probably eat their lunch in the staffroom.
MG: In the canteen with the children or the staffroom.
IT: In the homeroom with students or the Staff Hub.
Are meetings being run as normal?
MH: All of our meetings, especially whole school meetings, will be run virtually. This is a very easy way to ensure staff are distanced from one another.
Our inset sessions that will be run next week are all virtual and will feature various break out rooms where appropriate.
LM: We haven’t yet made plans for meetings.
CL: All of our larger whole staff meetings will take place electronically with staff joining from around the building. Parents evenings and governors meetings will be virtual too.
EW: We are exploring the option of running meetings as virtual events.
MG: Yes, although due to our numbers of staff we are having to run concurrent or consecutive meetings due to limited space.
IT: Meetings will be held in large venues like the theatre where distancing is possible. If this is booked out, meetings will be held via Teams.