For many who work in education, it has been a long-held belief that the government doesn’t know what goes on inside schools.
For example, since schools reopened to all pupils in March 2021, teachers have made it clear that the self-isolation rules are having a detrimental impact on the whole school community. If a pupil or an adult tests positive, all those within the bubble have to self-isolate, irrespective of whether they have symptoms or not.
From a staffing perspective, especially in secondary schools, this has become a timetabling nightmare.
But it appears that the government has finally realised what we knew all along: that the impact closing bubbles has on the day-to-day operation of a school – and in particular on a child’s education – is far-reaching.
It should be left to schools to decide what works and what doesn’t, and much will depend on the school’s context and community.
Which Covid restrictions should schools keep in September?
Over the past 12 months, there have been several systems and processes that we’ve implemented that have worked well. As a result, we’ll be continuing with them in the new academic year.
1. Hand sanitising
However many times you tell a child not to put their fingers in their ears, up their noses or in their mouths, they don’t listen. They then go on to touch everything in sight, including the adults.
Children in early years and key stage 1 are often the worst culprits, such is the nature of their inquisitiveness. As much as soap and water is the best deterrent, staff need something close to hand to counteract the germs, and sanitiser has been a saving grace.
Getting children to sanitise their hands regularly has also helped them to understand the importance of good hand hygiene. A life lesson if ever there was one.
2. One-way traffic
When I look back at the way parents used to enter and exit our school playground at the start and end of the day, it amazes me how we did it. Everyone squeezed in and out of one small gate: pushchairs, shopping bags, children and all.
Despite having a larger gate at the other end of the playground, it wasn’t until we had to implement a staggered system that we got the brainwave to have parents go in one entrance and out the other.
It wasn’t rocket science – it was common sense. Less congestion, less stress; it’s a keeper.
3. Parents coming into the playground in the morning
To reduce the number of people coming into the playground in the morning, we asked parents in key stages 1 and 2 to say goodbye to their children at the gate and let them walk in on their own.
Despite our initial apprehension about how well the children would cope, there were no tears and, in the main, no separation anxieties. Children gave their parents a cursory wave goodbye as they ran off to their lines to catch up with their friends before the school day started.
It meant that children were a lot more settled and teachers weren’t having to deal with a barrage of questions from parents first thing in the morning.
4. Virtual parents’ meetings
The convenience for parents of being able to log on wherever they are to meet the teacher, and not having to finish work early, arrange childcare for younger siblings or feel intimidated by being in a meeting with their child’s class teacher makes the whole experience a lot more relaxing.
For teachers, there’s the joy of knowing that, at the end of a 10-minute slot, the meeting is cut off automatically. This means having to keep things succinct, and avoiding those occasions when the meeting runs over time, no matter how many hints you give about others waiting.
5. Split play times
We’re a one-form entry school with a relatively small playground, and having up to 120 children in one space was often fraught with issues. With only a single area to play ball games and children careering round after each other, there were the inevitable incidents.
It also made for a very noisy and busy environment, which a number of our children struggled to cope with.
Since the changes, we’ve had only two classes out at the same time during the morning break and lunchtime. Both classes use designated areas of the playground. Children have enjoyed playing with their classmates and getting to know them better.
And, without doubt, there have been far fewer accidents or behaviour incidents. Overall, it has been a more pleasant experience for children and adults.
All the changes we are keeping have already been of benefit to the overall wellbeing of staff and children in our school. There is clear reasoning behind the changes and, based on a recent staff survey, they are all things staff want to keep.
All that remains now is for the government to put out a press release stating that they think schools should continue with the ideas that we’ve already decided we’re going to keep. Mark my words, it will happen.
Amanda Wilson is a primary headteacher. She tweets as @AmandaWilson910