England is opening up this week. City sandwich shops are open, across the country market traders are up and running, and some primary schools have reopened for some children. It’s tentative, but it’s a start.
Keen to get the economy going, the government has struggled to provide a convincing rationale for its preferred approach to getting children back to school. Education secretary Gavin Williamson insisted that ministers have acted with caution, taking “the most precautionary approach” at the same time as urging teachers to return to the classroom “for the good of their pupils”.
In the event, 44% of schools did not open more widely on 1 June - and 21% of those who did, did not manage to meet the terms laid out by the prime minister, according to a survey carried out by the NEU.
How has it been?
It’s fair to say that teachers, parents and their pupils had mixed feelings about returning to the classroom. With strict seating plans, hand washing and socially distanced ‘bubbles’, there’s a lot to take on. Chris Parkhouse, headteacher at Grove Road primary school in Harrogate asked Twitter whether the distancing measures had worked effectively. More than 4,000 people responded to the poll, and 66% of them said no.
Some respondents were reasonably happy about social distancing in the classroom. They have found that when children are in their seats they tend to stay well-spaced. It’s when they get up and about that the problems arise. Constant reminders to keep their distance are wearing and impossible to enforce when pupils leave the classroom.
This was echoed by a number of secondary teachers who have continued to teach vulnerable children and the children of key workers. One reported that, outside the classroom, the majority of her students do not follow the socially distance measures at all.
Even when pupils do ‘get it’, teachers often find themselves at odds with the buildings themselves. When moving around in corridors, on stairs, in playgrounds and while washing hands it can be impossible to keep children apart, whether in their socially distant bubbles or not.
Welsh schools to reopen on 29 June
Nevertheless, Kirsty Williams, education minister for Wales, has announced that she expects all schools in Wales to reopen on 29 June. This will apply to all age groups, but for limited periods, and with only a third of pupils in schools at any one time. Schools and councils are expected to manage their own return, and extend the summer term by one week, and add an additional week to October’s half term.
Teachers will, no doubt, understand the Welsh minister’s wish to allow children to “check in, catch up, prepare for summer and September”, but teachers’ representatives are not happy. David Evans, from NEU Cymru, said measures were “too much, too soon” and that there had been too little consultation over the additional week in July. Neil Butler of NASUWT said: “Allowing all pupils the opportunity for contact time at their schools is the most dangerous option in terms of virus transmission”. The minister’s reasons were “not good enough for risking lives”, he added.
- Are you back in the classroom?
- What do you think of the government’s timetable?