Returning to Schools and Academies – Advice to from the NSPCC

27 Aug

Returning to school after over five months is going to be tricky if not daunting – for all – headteachers, teachers, administrative and support staff, parents and most of all, the children.   Following the lengthy lockdown, pupils will be dealing with new school rules, routines, classrooms, classmates, teachers and, in some cases, even new schools.

For many, these changes will inevitably create anxiety, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and new school social distancing and hygiene measures. More so again if they, or other family members, have been shielding until recently.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has produced excellent guidance for parents and schools/academies, on the safe resumption of schooling, an edited version of which is set out below.

I         Advice for parents

To make their transition easier, here are seven things to consider if your child is returning – or preparing to return – to the classroom.

  1. Talk to your child about how s/he feels

It is important to encourage your child to discuss her/his feelings about returning to school. This may require a difficult conversation about the pandemic, especially in the light of the school’s/academy’s safety measures.

If your child feels anxious or worried, help her/him understand this is perfectly normal, and that you and the teachers are there to support. Although difficult, try not to share any anxiety you may have with your child.

Also bear in mind your child may be returning to a pre-existing issue from before lockdown – for example, a bullying or relationship matter, or difficulty with school work or staff – or s/he may be preparing for the transition to secondary school.

Try to give child a non-judgemental and supportive place to share any anxiety. Younger children, in particular, may not always have the words to express their feelings, so try to find a way of bringing up the issues without putting pressure on them – for instance when you’re playing with them, or going for walks. This can help them to open up naturally and identify what they are anxious about. If you are concerned about your children’s mental wellbeing, extra support is available.

  1. Pack right, pack light

Your school/academy will have been in touch to let you know what your child should and (more likely) shouldn’t bring in – such as stationery, bags, PE kits, bottles and lunch.

Make sure you have checked what your child needs, in order to make her/his day easier. It is important to be aware that neither children nor staff are recommended to attend school in PPE (i.e. facemasks) as government guidance has outlined that misuse might add to the risk of infection, rather than reducing it.

  1. Make sure your child understands the rules

Your school/academy will have also been in touch to explain the various new procedures in place – such as the class ‘bubbles’ and handwashing routines. If you haven’t received this information or are unsure what the rules are, you should contact the school/academy office.

It will be important for your child to understand social distancing and hygiene rules and, importantly, why they are in place.

This potentially includes being distanced from friends or siblings throughout the school day, which may be hard to understand but important to accept.

Make sure you read all school/academy communications with your child and make sure s/he is prepared, so it is not a shock when the child enters through the school/academy gates.

  1. And make sure you know the rules too

You will need to know where and when to drop off and pick up your child, as well as what parts of the school/academy you can access.

Your child will be eagerly expecting you at collection time, so make sure you, or whoever is collecting her/him, are there in the right place at the right time.

  1. End of day emotions – don’t push your child

For younger children in particular, a school/academy day can require a lot of self-regulation or compressed behaviour, which can lead to tired and emotional outbursts later on in the day. Given the length of the lockdown and the new school/academy safety rules in place, these emotions may be hard to cope with when they return.

It is a good idea to keep this in mind and allow for some ‘letting off steam’. Your instinct may be to ask about the day but be aware that your child may prefer to unwind and not talk.

  1. But stay informed

Given the long absence from school/academy, there may be a difficult period of readjustment. There may be fresh challenges for your child, from working with new classmates and teachers, to coping with schoolwork and observing the rules.

Try to stay informed about how your child is getting on – but if you are concerned, contact the school/academy office about speaking to the class teacher.

  1. And get some rest…

Your family may have been getting used to some rather unusual hours during lockdown and that may have extended into the summer holidays.

Make sure your children are getting a good night’s sleep for the return to school/academy. It might mean introducing some earlier bedtimes than they had recently, but a good night’s rest will help all to cope with the return to school/academy and the new routines to which the child will be adapting.

II        Questions-Answers on returning to School/Academy

1.        Travelling to school/academy?

The government wants children to walk, cycle or be driven to school/academy, rather than use public transport, if they can.

Parents will be expected to stay beyond the school/academy gates when picking up and dropping off and make an appointment if they need to meet staff.

Ideally, pupils on school/academy buses would be kept in separate groups and socially distanced. But this is hard to do. So, pupils should expect to wear face masks (except those under 11) and use hand sanitisers.

2.        How does social distancing work in school/academy?

Moving between classrooms and along corridors in a packed school/academy, where space is often at a premium and class sizes might be 30, makes the one-metre rule extremely hard to enforce. Instead, the focus is on minimising contact points.

The suggested way of doing this is by grouping primary pupils by class and secondary pupils by year. This means that they will be kept separate from other classes or year groups for lessons, break times and any other activities.

There will be no big group events, such as assemblies, and teachers will need to stay at the front of the class to maintain social distancing from the pupils.

3.        How will the school/academy day be different? 

To keep pupils in their group ‘bubbles’, it’s likely there will be a staggered start to the day and varying times for breaks and lunches. Lessons and breaks could be longer or shorter; the school/academy day could start later or finish earlier.

4.        What else will be different? 

Desks will be spaced out as much as possible and will face forwards. Windows and doors may be left open to increase the ventilation.

Certain sport and music activities such as contact sports, indoor aerobic activities, singing in choirs and playing instrument in orchestras will be restricted. This means they may not happen at all, or there may be smaller groups, or they may be held outside.

Water fountains will be off limits. All pupils should have their own water bottles and check to see whether they need to bring packed lunches.

Arrangements for the use of lockers, toilets, cloakrooms, and other communal spaces such as canteens are likely to be different from usual.

Pupils might be asked, for example, to use these facilities at specific times only and within their groups; or they might be asked to come into school/academy wearing PE kits on the appropriate days, to avoid using communal cloakrooms. (Schools/Academies have been advised to stick to their usual policy on uniform.)

5.        What are the hygiene arrangements?

Pupils can expect to see a lot more cleaning going on during the day, either by cleaning staff or teachers armed with anti-viral sprays.

They will be expected to wash or sanitise their hands regularly and follow the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ advice when it comes to coughing and sneezing, to stop the spread of germs and viruses.

Currently, there are no plans to ask children of any age to wear masks in school, so those who’ve had to wear them on the way to school/academy will be reminded how to remove masks and wash their hands on arrival.

All tissues and disposable masks will have to be put in sealed bins, while washable masks should be carefully removed and kept in a bag to take home.

Sharing equipment will be discouraged wherever possible, so older children are likely to need their own pencil cases and calculators, for example.

6.        What happens if a pupil develops coronavirus symptoms?

Anyone with Covid symptoms should stay at home, self-isolate for at least 10 days and arrange to have a test. But if symptoms develop at school/academy, pupils will need to be taken home immediately and tested.

Schools/Academies will be provided with testing kits to give to parents. If pupils test positive, schools/academies will have to send home other pupils who have been in ‘close contact’, which includes those within one to two metres for more than 15 minutes.

If there are two confirmed cases within 14 days, or a rise in absences because of Covid-like symptoms, this could be counted as an outbreak – meaning all the pupils in that group, or even the whole school/academy, may have to be sent home.

A mobile testing unit could be sent to a school/academy with an outbreak, to carry out tests to see whether an infection had spread within a class, a year group or the whole school.

In the event of a local outbreak, health protection teams or local authorities may advise schools/academies to close. The government has said, however, that whole school/academy closures “will not generally be necessary”.

7.        How will pupils cope after such a long break?

Inevitably, it is going to be a difficult period of readjustment – not just to a full school/academy day but also to a rather different environment from the one pupils left in March.

Pupils are likely to have forgotten the various routines and expectations of behaviour and learning.

Schools/Academies will be teaching the full curriculum for all year groups and GCSE and A level students are not expected to drop any of their chosen subjects.

However, there will undoubtedly be gaps in children’s knowledge, whatever their age, and schools/academies will be trying, particularly in the first term, to catch up and revise work missed or not fully understood.

Year 7 pupils, particularly, are expected to have to cover a lot of the work they missed in their final year at primary school.

The government has allocated funding to every school/academies to support the catch-up system and there is also a National Tutoring Programme for the most disadvantaged students.


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