June 1st is the date that the Prime Minister announced that children can begin returning to school in England following ten weeks of lockdown. He announced that it would be done in stages, with primary schools opening up for years six, one and reception and the hope that years twelve and ten will return to secondary school at some point this half term.
It remains a very contentious issue. Schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not opening until a later date and unlike other countries that have opened their schools again, the Covid-19 virus, although diminished, is not under control in the UK with people still being infected and dying from the virus each day. Schools have largely given parents the choice of whether to send their children back to school, and many parents have described it as one of the hardest decisions they have had to make, with many school communities being divided on the issue.
Schools are all grappling with how they can make social distancing work. In primary schools with younger children who often learn through play and in secondary schools with very large year groups who are used to charging down crowded corridors between lessons and mixing closely at break and lunch times. Some independent schools have announced that they will not open this year and other secondary schools are only opening for set days, while others are opening their doors from the start of this half term. Every school’s approach is different.
Denmark and Australia are two countries where students have returned to school. I asked two parents, from both countries, who are also senior secondary school teachers to share their experience and offer advice for parents in the UK about going back to school after lockdown.
Denmark was one of the first countries to close its schools and one of the first to open them again. They are following strict social distancing protocols in schools.
- Prepare your children for how different school will be, because students are not returning to the same school that they knew before lockdown.
- Children have to spend break time and lunch time in the classroom and many children find this difficult, especially the ones who like to move around and expend energy during these periods.
- There are a lot more rules to follow due to the need to socially distance and children who normally find it difficult to follow rules have even more difficulty with the new constraints.
- Although returning to school is a chance to get much needed interaction with the teachers, it is not the place to see your friends, as you have either been split up from them due to reduced class sizes or do not see them due to loss of break and lunch times.
- Keep a close eye on how your children are coping with the new rules and regime. If they are finding it difficult they might need to have gaps in between the days at school or gradually increase their time in school. Every child is different and some children find it easier to cope than others.
Although there are still some restrictions in Australia relating to size of gatherings, schools have opened up and it is ‘business as usual’ with no distancing. Unlike the UK, there are hardly any new cases of Covid 19.
- The biggest change to school has been at the start and end of the day with parents not allowed on the school premises and having to collect from cars with the student’s name on the dashboard, so the parent does not need to leave the car.
- Children are constantly reminded about the importance of hand hygiene and social distancing. Any children with sensitivities or allergies have been encouraged to bring their own soap or sanitizer to school.
- Patience is the watch word of the day. Patience from teachers for students who need to bridge gaps that have arisen from remote learning. Patience from students for teachers who are returning to teaching full classes following a period of delivering online lessons and having to deal with their own health and family situations.
- Students are very happy to return to school and have responded with enthusiasm. However, although it is ‘business as usual’ everyone needs to remember that they have been through a very abnormal period of time and pause to think about what that means.
Student Navigator offers bespoke support and guidance to parents and students during lockdown and in their return to school for both primary and secondary pupils. We also have many resources and posts on our website. Please contact us today to see how we can help you.