New term will help Soham heal

Headteachers in the town struck by tragedy believe getting back to old routines will ease the community's grief, report Joe Clancy and Karen Thornton

"IT is a matter of getting the balance right between getting back to a normal routine and being sensitive to what has happened over the past few weeks," said Geoff Fisher, the headteacher of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Talking to The TES, Mr Fisher, 54, head of St Andrew's primary, Soham, said he believes the deep wounds caused by the girls' murders will eventually heal.

He said: "Our normal focus at this time of year would be on how we would go about improving national test results, but this will take second place to making the children feel secure and safe and getting back to an established routine. It will take time. But we will recover."

Soham's schools are hoping to restore some sense of normality to the grief-stricken Cambridgeshire community when they reopen next week for the start of the new term.

The police this week completed their searches of the primary school, allowing staff to return to prepare for the start of term a week on Monday. The neighbouring secondary school, attended by the girls' older siblings, remains sealed off, although there are hopes it, too, will open on time next Friday.

Staff are due to return to Soham village college two days earlier for training days. Head Howard Gilbert admits he cannot remember what the original theme of the days was. Staff will receive briefings on how to handle pupils' questions and where to turn for more support. Many met earlier this week with education welfare and child protection workers, and meetings with parents and pupils are planned for next week. The school has also set up an office in the town centre.

Both heads agree a major task will be making sure that the trust between children and staff is not further damaged by the fact that the two accused were known to many of them.

Maxine Carr, charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, is a former teaching assistant at St Andrew's. Her partner Ian Huntley, accused of the girls' murders, worked as a caretaker at Soham village college.

Mr Gilbert said: "We will do our best to open on time because the best thing is to have the school running as normal. I want to walk across the playground and hear children laughing."

Mr Fisher also spoke of his personal pain over the deaths of the 10-year-old friends, whom he had known since they started at his 400-pupil school, aged three.

"They were two sensible, intelligent girls. It was devastating when their bodies were found," he said.

A service at Ely Cathedral was due to take place today to celebrate the lives of Holly and Jessica.

STRENGTH, STABILITY, SUPPORT

TEACHERS will be the first port of call for distressed children returning to their schools after the deaths of classmates Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Just being back in the buildings where they were used to seeing them may trigger reactions. But maintaining school routines will provide the security needed for youngsters to discuss their feelings. Counsellors will be on hand to help.

Keith Melton, Cambridgeshire's principal educational psychologist, says:

"The daily routines of school life are of great support for children as they come to realise they have got to adjust to this new reality."

Teachers need to give "messages of strength, stability and support".

Older children will ask the big unanswerable questions: "how did the girls die?", "why?", "who do you trust?" While younger pupils may believe that a place where flowers have been placed is actually where the two girls have been laid to rest, he added.

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