How a Dutch primary school tackled a tricky reopening

Amid half terms and parental concern, the British School in the Netherlands has had to come up with flexible arrangements to make a return to the classroom work for everyone

Sue Aspinall

Traffic cones to help students arrive safely at British School Netherlands

On 21 April, the Dutch government made the announcement that they wanted primary schools to start reopening after the Dutch public schools’ holidays on Monday 11 May. Today.

For the British School in the Netherlands (BSN), which follows the UK school term schedule, this was not straightforward.

We had just resumed our remote learning programme after the Easter holiday on 20 April and so would only be able to reopen for one and a half weeks before our half term on 22 May.

As such, we split our offering into two concurrent programmes: one that offers a full day at school followed by a full day of remote learning, and one that is all remote learning.

Split days

We did this in part because we knew many families would want to keep their children at home until after the half-term break. They could use this time as a transitional period and an opportunity to see how the new set-up worked (rather than upending their routines for such a short time before half term).

So, we are reopening to provide school-based learning for approximately 60 per cent of our primary student population, with 40 per cent still at home.

This means that we will have just 30 per cent of our regular cohort in school each day.

This makes it a touch easier to put new social distancing measures in place and also underlines the reality that just because schools are reopening it does not mean parents will automatically want to send their children in.

What is more, at the BSN we have three primary schools that are on their own campuses, are different sizes and have very different physical designs.

This meant agreeing the remote learning programme for all three junior schools and providing a clear steer for staff and parents on any issues that could arise from one campus’ programme being compared with the others.

Staff engagement

Explaining to staff how we would reopen and work to keep them safe was a key priority for us and staff have been incredible in adapting to what we have asked of them.

At all stages, we have engaged with our senior leaders and year leaders first to ensure they are able to offer suggestions.

We have explained this as necessitating a phase of teaching and learning that will be more traditional, didactic and structured than we would usually wish.

The latest step for the staff has been to understand that the health and safety measures that have been put in place will affect their ability to teach in the way they have been trained to do.

The staff have embraced this and it has helped to have the classrooms set up ahead of their visits to the campuses, for them to see how this will translate in practice.

In school, we have also created "pods": mini schools within the school that minimise travel within the school building and provide unique timetables that stagger breaks and lunchtimes.

Staff have rooms within these pods where they can work, eat and get refreshments, which they have appreciated, too.

Personalised items for pupils to avoid cross contamination

Keeping parents informed

To prepare parents, we have sent carefully timed communications that cover issues such as health and safety guidance and an overview of the revised learning programme and how we expect the school will function on reopening.

Last week, for example, parents were provided with details of how to drop off and pick up their children, and were given information about the remote learning for the alternate days when the children are not in school.

Throughout the days running up to the reopening, we have spoken to numerous parents by phone. These conversations have answered specific questions, offered reassurance and helped clarify individual family circumstances, as parents come to a decision about their cause of action.

Student preparation

Finally, to prepare students, we have provided 15-minute student-led online conferences for each student with their parent, their teacher and an additional known BSN adult.

Having the extra BSN-related adult not only provides the level of safeguarding required for such a call but means there is a second school-related person to continue the conversation if any technical issues affect the teacher’s connection.

We used these calls to reassure the children about coming back to school and to assess how they might be feeling about returning.

It allowed them to raise concerns, talk to their teachers about what they have been working on and generally help everyone prepare for the return with more insight and knowledge.

It is very difficult to predict how this will all work, of course.

It is possible to mitigate as much risk as possible through the physical arrangements of the campus, the preparation of staff and the communication channels.

What is not controllable is the children, parents and staff behaviour.

All we can do is trust that everyone wants the best for the pupils and that they will do whatever it takes to ensure they are reassured, nurtured and engaged with fun, relaxed and personalised activities that help them to adapt to our new set-up.

Social distanced chairs at British School in the Netherlands

Sue Aspinall has been the headteacher at Junior School Vlaskamp at British School in the Netherlands since 2013. Before that, she worked as headteacher at the British School of Tokyo

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