'We're in a ghost school with empty classrooms'

One by one, the bubbles burst and the school emptied – and assistant head Curtis White is worried the same will happen next year
18th December 2020, 1:38pm
Curtis White

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'We're in a ghost school with empty classrooms'

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/were-ghost-school-empty-classrooms
Coronavirus: Our School Is Now A Ghost School With Empty Classrooms, Says Headteacher Curtis White

We had been fortunate not to have any Covid cases for most of this term. But, in the end, our luck ran out. 

It started with a single positive case one Friday lunchtime. We gave out workbooks and pencil cases and sent that "bubble group" home, fingers crossed that it would be an isolated case. 

It was not. Another bubble closed two days later, on Sunday, followed by two more on Monday morning. On Tuesday, two more classrooms closed.

As the bubbles burst around us, we had fewer and fewer pupils coming in each day - until finally we found ourselves wandering around a nearly empty school, with only our Reception class on site. 

Coronavirus: Schools should never be quiet 

Even for them, life was different. They didn't understand why the other children weren't in school, or if the same would happen to them. 

This was particularly true because so many had older siblings at home, and really struggled with not seeing them in school every day. Those tiny interactions between them over the course of the day - spotting each other on the playground or in the dinner hall - had suddenly been taken away, and you could feel the mood in school change. 

Schools should never be quiet, and particularly so at this time of year. We're normally trying our hardest to keep a lid on the rapidly building wave of excitement, and are used to losing children as they're drafted into ad-hoc nativity rehearsals.

But this time round there was a distinct lack of Christmas cheer. And telling the children that their Christmas festivities wouldn't be happening - that the surprise Christmas video for their parents was cancelled - was heart-breaking.

So, too, was having to stand at the door and tell 30 Year 3 children that they weren't coming back for two weeks. They were in tears, and we knew that there wasn't anything we could do. These are children who have loved being back in school, and who had no wish to stay home for the next fortnight. 

Empty corridors and dark classrooms

Once at home, though, they were fine. Like a lot of schools, we had used the online school Oak National Academy during the original lockdown and found that it worked for us, so we could happily keep going with this. Oak's resources align with how we've structured our curriculum, so there were no breaks in what the children were learning, and staff had received training throughout the autumn term to make sure they were happy using the technology. 

Of course, we've stayed in touch as much as possible, with daily phone calls or direct messages on our learning platforms, to keep an eye on their wellbeing. But these calls don't give you the same satisfaction as seeing 30 smiling faces at the end of the day, and staff struggled without this face-to-face element. 

Even walking down the corridor, with no one to say good morning to or grab a quick chat with, felt different. You take it for granted as a teacher, but having colleagues - friends - with you means everything

And there's no hiding from the fact that this could happen again. We know that schools are expected to remain open, even when year group after year group is learning from home, and there is a chance that next term we could again find ourselves in this ghost school, surrounded by empty corridors and dark classrooms. 

If that does happen, we're ready for it. We've had lots of supportive comments from parents for how we've handled the process, and we're delighted in how the pupils have responded. 

Whatever the new year brings, and whatever schools are asked to do, I know that we - like all schools - will meet the challenge head-on. 

Curtis White is assistant headteacher of Royston St John the Baptist Church of England Primary School, in Barnsley, South Yorkshire

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