Teachers and staff at Old Oak primary school in west London are on tenterhooks, a week after reception year one and six pupils returned to classes across England in a controversial phased reopening of schools after almost three months of lockdown as the coronavirus pandemic swept the country. Head teacher Joe Brown has been incredibly busy over the past few weeks planning for the school’s reopening with the safety of pupils and staff high on the agenda.
He says: “We feel a strange mix of anxiety and excitement. Anxiety of the unknown. Excitement of being back where we belong with the children.” It will be a literally sanitised learning environment when year six pupils, and the key worker bubble return on 8 June. Brown says the school is taking baby steps and is adopting a staggered approach to wider re-opening, which will see year one and reception bubbles open a week later on 15 June.
We feel a strange mix of anxiety and excitement. Anxiety of the unknown. Excitement of being back where we belong with the childrenJOE BROWN, HEAD TEACHER
Parents will be asked to leave their children at the school gate, whereas normally they are encouraged to come and meet their child’s teacher every morning to hand them over. Brown explains: “This will be a difficult transition for us as school community as we are always open and welcoming to families.” Pupils will then have their temperature taken as they enter school in order to detect any high temperatures as part of an early warning system to detect infection from Covid-19. In countries like South Korea, pupils have even had to be sprayed with disinfectant amongst a regime of rigorous hygiene measures.
PROTECTING THE BUBBLES
The day will be structured as closely to a normal day as possible – the children will have classroom learning time, as well as break times outside – however the timetables will now ensure staggered play times and lunchtimes to avoid any mixing of the bubbles. Lunchtime will take place in the classroom, again to avoid mixing of bubbles and shared use of spaces.
Off the menu could be the school’s trailblazing ‘Bubble and Squeak’ initiative run by 400 pupils aged 5-12 to fight food waste. A nod to the traditional English way of repurposing food leftovers. Surplus fruit and vegetables from local businesses, markets and supermarkets is redistributed to the local community at an affordable cost. Another kill-joy in the changed climate.
Navigation around the school has had to be reimagined too. “We have a one-way system in the building to avoid any crossover, and the adult responsible for each group will remain with them – there will be no mixing of children or adults,” says Brown.
“We are planning lots of settling in activities, and finding the best way to explain these changes to the children in order to make this as seamless as possible, but we are expecting this to be difficult, both for the children and the adults involved,” he adds.
The children definitely know that things are differentLIZZIE HEPWORTH
Like many schools it has been a fraught period for all staff providing home learning resources and support for pupils during the lockdown; childcare for children of frontline workers with most teachers unable to meet together as a team. But unlike other schools, staff here have have had a taste of physical distancing with pupils after running a ‘Lockdown Library’ from a donation of around 200 books.
These were supplemented with some picture books and other learning resources more suited for younger readers, from the school library. They also appealed for more donations from the community for books suited to early years and key stage one and ended up collecting a further 600 books.
Human interaction, even through a playground fence, clearly meant a great deal to some parents
About 60 families have attended three events during lockdown alongside over 100 children. Surplus books have also been provided for former pupils who have since moved on to secondary school.
English coordinator and one of the organisers Lizzie Hepworth felt it was vital to keep in touch with pupils and parents during the difficult times even if it was at a safe distance with the school’s wire fence forming a reassuring barrier. At the start of May, the school organised a Book Trust Pyjamarama Day Lockdown Library – a book exchange in the playground where everyone wore pyjamas.
Hepworth says: “What started as a one off celebration of reading, proved so popular and the parents so grateful, that we have decided to make it a more regular event – not only does it give us a chance to ensure our children have books to read, but it also gives us an opportunity to see the children we miss so dearly and to make sure our families are coping under lockdown.
FROM A DISTANCE
“Human interaction, even through a playground fence, clearly meant a great deal to some parents who came to see us.” There hasn’t been an overly obvious theme to the books chosen by the children, although there are perennial favourites.
At Old Oak, which has an Ofsted rating of good across several subjects, English is taught based on the ethos of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, and focus is on language-rich, high quality books. Copies of the key texts taught in each year group have been very popular, and the children have been very excited to get hold of a copy of their prescribed class text.
Another theme is definitely Lego, and not just for the boys, all of the children. This prompted the school to run a Lego competition, in which the children had to design a mini figure in order to win a set of Lego.
NO HIGH FIVES
But coronavirus has been a difficult topic to deconstruct, as often conversations with the children have been focussed on how they were finding their home learning and the enforced absence from school. Hepworth says parents and pupils were grateful to see a familiar face and have a chat. “I assume they remembered what chatting in the playground used to be like.
“The children definitely know that things are different – after not seeing them for so long, it would be natural for some of them to give me a hug or a high five, and yet I stand at the other side of the school fence, only words to offer them.”