Classroom doors are opening, slowly
Each of the countries we cover in our weekly updates is at a different stage in its response to the Coronavirus outbreak. For all of them, the situation is revised on an almost daily basis, and to compare them offers a fascinating insight to how we are emerging from lockdown around the world.
Cardiff High (Ysgol Uwchradd Caerdydd), as with all in Wales, is gearing up for a partial opening on June 29. All schools will be open for a four-week period, which means they will reduce the summer holiday by a week, with a two-week half-term in October by means of compensation. Students will undertake catch-up and wellbeing work. The guidance points to the need to support students’ mental health by allowing time with friends and giving them the chance to regain a sense of routine and prepare them to learn again. This approach means that the vast majority of the learning will still be home based.
The guidance also recognises that it is ‘not practical’ for primary school pupils to maintain 2m separation while it is expected in secondary schools.
As in Quebec, parents can opt in or out of sending their children to school. At the High School their proposal is that a different year group would be invited on each day of the week. Staff and pupils would be organised in year-group bubbles. A staff risk assessment has been undertaken and again as in Quebec, 25 per cent are now for various reasons considered vulnerable. Simon Thompson, Deputy Head Teacher (Dirprwy Bennaeth) of Cardiff High, said the school was about to complete its staff consultation process on how the school would operate and following this, parents would be consulted..
The partial return to school in Jersey was considered by Senator Tracey Vallois, the Education Minister a success with 93 per cent of pupils returning to primary schools and between 70 per cent and 90 per cent heading back to secondary schools. Sean Regan, Group Director of Education, said: “Attendance in all our primary schools has been remarkably high, with almost all of our 10, 11-year-olds and Year 6 coming into school. The happiness and appreciation of the returning pupils and their parents and carers has been mirrored in the older age groups returning to secondary schools. Staff have welcomed the returning children and young people magnificently.”
Lesley Stagg, Senior Adviser, puts some of this success down to the fact that the pandemic, with the exception of a few unfortunate cases, has not impacted islanders in the way it has elsewhere. This has been attributed to the shutting down of travel to and from the island. Only ‘lifeline’ flights have been operational, such as to Southampton hospital. However, there are fears that when links reopen the situation might change.
She went on to say that schools are currently coping very well with limited return to class for Years 6, 10 and 12. However, even if as expected, social distancing reduces from 2m to 1m, they would still not be able to have all year groups in schools simultaneously as they don’t have the space. Jersey is therefore discussing dropping social distancing in schools altogether, as medical evidence shows little risk to pupils or their teachers. They now await the medical team’s advice and the Minister of Education’s final decision for the next stages of education. Meanwhile, teachers continue with both class-based and online learning for the island’s young people.
The UEA, of which Dubai is part, has one of the highest proportions of private to public schools in the world and as such is highly affected by market forces. There are 643 private schools with 810,000 students and in public schools there are 280,000 students who are mainly Emirates and Arabic speakers. In Dubai, 41 new schools have opened since 2016 with another eight offering an additional 13,000 places scheduled to open this September.
Fees vary wildly, and reflect the educational provision. Those charging the highest fees offer outstanding sports and performing arts facilities along with teachers from an international background. These facilities are likely to remain dormant for a good part of the next school year and with uncertainty surrounding international travel arrangements for staff, compacted by worsening economic conditions the press notes a growing trend of parents seeking places in schools offering a cheaper education.
However, as the lockdown continues to ease, the community pools (pictured) are reopening. Not only does this provide a chance for our colleagues to relax but also to discard the third paddling pool they have installed since the lockdown started – the other two having punctured in the midday heat.
Mike Dubeau, Director General of Western Quebec School Board, and his team have found themselves these past few weeks having to consider the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement as well as dealing with the impact of the virus. With a large number of First Nations students in the Board’s schools, there is a history of working closely with a diverse community. Ruth Ahern has led this work for the Board for many years. In the light of the issues raised by the movement and in response to a number of similar incidents in Canada to that which sparked the movement in the USA, they have reiterated their commitment to embracing diversity and are revisiting their approach to racial diversity.
On an upbeat note, Mike wanted to congratulate the outstanding work of the Board’s Adult Education Vocational Training team. He reports that a little over two weeks ago, the Premier of Quebec in response to the crisis in the care homes announced a plan to train 10,000 people to work in long term care facilities. “At that point there was no official programme and no students. However, today the team started training three cohorts of students (54 in all) and the course is oversubscribed. The credit for this goes to Ruth Ahern, Helene, Damian, Jennifer and the entire team.” As we have said before, in these unusual circumstances, where there is a will, there is a way.
In England this week whilst we continue our hokey cokey around when, who and how our students should return to school, the main headlines have been occupied by Marcus Rashford. The 22 year old Manchester United and England footballer, succeeded in his campaign to have 1.3 million free school meal vouchers extended into the summer holidays. Throughout the lockdown we have reported the disproportionate negative impact of homeschooling on students from poorer backgrounds. Marcus came from such a background and has first-hand experience of using the scheme.
For us headteachers of an older generation, these vouchers served as a measure of the level of disadvantage in our schools.
In addition to the pressure placed on the Government by Marcus Rashford, the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health published a letter to the Government urging positive action to get children back to school. They make the case that schools are not just an exam factory but provide a far wider and essential role in supporting children’s health and wellbeing. Their statement shows that what used to be referred to as the extended school has ,especially for those schools serving disadvantaged students, become the norm. An expert opinion which I am sure we all concur with.
Thanks once again to our contributors. As the global picture continues to evolve we will also continue to report on how our collaborative community is responding.
Take care and stay safe.