Return to school is fraught with hurdles
As preparations are made for a return to school, elementary pupils appear to have been designated as the first wave, amid social distancing policies and union calls for safety first. Don’t even mention risk assessments.
On last Sunday evening The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced as part of the gradual and guarded relaxation of the lockdown in England a phased return to school beginning on the 1 June with Primary School students in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 and contact with Year 10 students by the end of term. Class sizes are to be capped at 15 with students required to frequently wash their hands. To formulate their approach they have looked at the primary schools in Denmark. This will be conditional on the Government’s tests being met. Secondary schools are likely to be closed until September. The other three home unions have not made a similar commitment.
The logic behind it might be that getting the youngest students back to school is a safer option because parents of this age group need to work and are also least affected by the virus. On the other hand our experience at the primary school gate is that many of the students are met by their retired grandparents, many of whom unfortunately are not.
This policy accepts that social distancing makes full attendance problematic. The response from the unions has been that in order to support the Government’s policy, they need to see the supporting evidence that shows it is safe to return. However, in reality many schools are already partially open to look after key workers and vulnerable students and in some cases providing school meals and access to food banks, so this is about how safely this very small current school population can be expanded. As always health and safety has to be the first consideration, after that is satisfied, where there is a will, many will find a way. Reducing class sizes, rotating classes and altering the school day are options being considered. Risk assessments will go into overdrive.
Monday was the day on which parents could elect to send their children back to their elementary schools. Looking at the chart below, we can get a picture of attendance on the first day back in the Western Quebec School Board compared to the number of students per school registered to attend in September 2019. Out of the number who initially registered for a school return after the lockdown and those who actually were registered for attendance on May 11, you can see that initially 14 per cent of students were registered to attend. This fell to 12 per cent by the deadline and on the day, attendance was 91 per cent. Registration varied between schools, with one school registering 50 per cent of their students and half registering between 10 and 16 per cent. Over the next month, it will be interesting to see how these figures change.
We first heard last week about the Jersey, Education Department Standards and Achievements team’s effort that had gone into producing the portal to support parents and students learning at home. They had by Wednesday recorded a considerable uptake with 4,000 users visiting 12,400 pages, for an average of 7 minutes per visit.
This week we are focusing on the questions they are seeking to answer about transitioning students from one phase or support framework to another. These questions are raised in an environment where the critical element of student/support staff contact and building positive first relationships is restricted. Their questions include:-
- How will we get a baseline assessment?
- How are we going to fill the learning gap?
- How has the students’ morale and wellbeing been affected?
- How are students’ transition arrangements being managed, especially with the most vulnerable?
- How much of this can be carried out effectively in a virtual environment? Or can there be limited personal contact whilst maintaining social distancing?
By next week, the team will have analysed school responses (conducted with one-to-one calls by senior advisers to headteachers and subject advisers to curriculum leaders) about how the staff and students are coping with online learning.
We have already reported that the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) were considering inspecting schools’ homeschooling provision in Dubai. Now we ask those of our readers in the English school system who have experienced waiting for the OFSTED phone call on a Monday or Thursday which would herald an imminent inspection, to empathise with our colleagues in Dubai who are still doing the same. Thursday is the designated day when you get to know if you have a weekend to relax or not. They have been issued with a list of more than 30 areas to be considered.
On top of this because the schools are privately owned or run as a charity, staff contracts are usually run on an annual basis with a considerable churn. Though time consuming, this is normally carried out successfully. However, this year is a whole different scenario.
To finish this blog, our congratulations go to Samanthat Halpin, Principal of Eardley Elementary School, Quebec and the Design Technology Department of Cardiff High School, Wales.
From Mike Dubeau’s update:
Our very own Samantha Halpin, Principal of Eardley Elementary School, has gone viral with over 280 thousand YouTube views of her welcome back message to students!! If Sam gets invited to the Ellen Degeneres Show, we are all going!! Her last interview was with CTV this morning https://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1957057 . Great job Sam, you continue to make us all proud!
The Design Technology Department of Cardiff High School at the beginning of the lockdown rose to the challenge of the lack of PPE in the area by using their 3D printers to produce 8,014 face visors for local health workers. They worked tirelessly to achieve this and were supported by students and parents who organised a fundraising campaign to purchase the raw material. This helped bridge the gap in provision in the area. Fortunately, now there is an adequate supply of visors.
Thank you as usual to our contributors and you, our readers. Take care and stay safe.