All Dutch primary pupils are back in school: here’s how

​​​​​​​Dutch primary schools reopened to all children last Monday, here a Dutch headteacher explains how it is working
14th June 2020, 6:03am


All Dutch primary pupils are back in school: here’s how

On Monday 8 June, we had our school back, with all of our pupils.

Full classes of between 28 and 32 children wandered into their normal classrooms, waved off by smiling parents and greeted by happy teachers.

The children were mingling with each other freely. In the Netherlands, there is no requirement of social distancing between children under the age of 12, but they must keep their distance from adults.

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As I wrote previously, we initially re-opened the school for half classes under these conditions, and children rotated each day between physical teaching in school and online teaching at home. 

This worked well - staff and parents became less anxious and any feared outbreak of infections failed to materialise in our schools.

School return

So, now we are back with full classes. How has it been after the first week?

Parents still have to leave their children at the gate. We just can’t afford to have too many adults in the school. The younger children play in the playground before school starts, and the parents still have to stay behind the fences to watch them play - they are still a little anxious about their children going back to school.

While parents watching their children play on the schoolyard is understandable, it also causes a bit of a problem - 150 parents hanging on the fence next to a busy road is not ideal.

Strict rules

When the children go into their classrooms, we have very strict rules around frequent handwashing and controlled times when toilets can be used.

In our younger age groups, between four and five years old, the children can play in designated areas of the classroom as part of their learning, or they sit at tables to work. We cannot do too much free play because the teacher has to maintain their distance. When we had 15 children this was easier, but with 28 to 32 it is much harder.

In older year groups, from the age of six onwards, the children sit at their desks. The teacher sits at the front with an area taped around their desk where the children are not allowed.

Flexible approach

As a staff team, we have discussed when we will - or must - break the social distancing-rules between us and the children.

The guidance from the Dutch government states that it can only be broken “when necessary”.

We have interpreted that as when children are upset or need support, and when we need to intervene for a child’s safety. So, if a child is upset in the playground before school, we will comfort and help that child.

For some teachers, “necessary” also means being able to stand next to a child and speak quietly to them about an issue with their work, or to guide them.

Trust in staff

Overall, we had to make the decision to trust our staff about when they think breaking the distance is necessary. We feel sure they will make the right decisions.

On the first day back, out of our 432 children, only seven did not come in. We rang those parents and offered them the chance to bring their pupils in for just an hour to see what it was like. They did so, and we now have every single pupil back.

Luckily, no member of staff has refused to come in. Yes, they are anxious, but they also really wanted to get on with the job they love so much.

Talking it through

It has not been the same story in every school. In one school in our district, 93 out of 600 children did not come in on the first day of school. But, overall, the prime minister’s decision has been supported and children are coming back into schools.

That is not to say parents are not seeking assurances. I have had emails from parents asking me to guarantee the safety of their child. I have had to explain that we have done everything we can, but I cannot promise 100 per cent that their child will not get Covid-19. It is impossible to rule out risk completely.

Parents seem okay with that. We take it seriously - we are anxious, but we are also realistic.

Reading the science

We look at the statistics - it is incredibly unlikely that children will become very unwell with the virus. We have had frequent testing in the country since schools came back part time more than a month ago, and the incidence of children having the virus is negligible. And we know of only one school where there has been a small outbreak among teachers in the south of the country.

We talk about our fears but we understand the science (the data and the projected figures) and we manage the risk accordingly. We know Covid-19 is a dangerous virus, but we also know our children need an education and the risk to us of providing that within the regulations is small.

So, I think it was definitely the right decision to have our schools reopen and have all of our children in school at once. 

Looking to the future

I look at the situation in England and I think the media has probably been unhelpful. I think the country has been less realistic about the risks and that teachers have perhaps had less time to talk through their fears.

Here, we made a full transition from staff all wanting full PPE to staff being OK with breaking social distancing when necessary. That was a huge shift, but it happened because we could talk about our anxieties.

We love having all of our children back. We want to keep them safe. We want to ensure we are safe, too. We can now feel like a school again and, though it is different in many ways, our focus on safety is the same as it ever was. It is just a little more visible than perhaps it was before.

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