Coronavirus: What is happening at my primary school?

By Rachael McMenemy & Phil Shepka
BBC News

  • Published
Westfield Primary AcademyImage source, Westfield Primary Academy
Image caption,
Westfield Primary Academy normally has 384 pupils

Plans to bring back all of England's primary school children before the summer holidays have been scrapped, although some year groups have already returned to lessons. We spoke to the head teacher and two parents of a school in Suffolk about the decisions they have made.

'Working with families'

Toni Kittle became head teacher of Westfield Academy Primary School, in Haverhill, in September.

"I definitely didn't expect my first year to be like this," she said.

Schools in England closed on 20 March, except for key workers' children and vulnerable children, as Covid-19 spread in the UK.

The education secretary announced on Tuesday that there would be a "cautious, phased return" to school - but that would no longer mean all primary year groups going back before the end of term.

However, schools with greater capacity have been offered the flexibility to take back more pupils if they want.

Mrs Kittle said she has tried to maintain an open dialogue with parents to make sure they feel able to support children working at home as well as keeping them posted about changes being made at the school.

Image source, Westfield Primary Academy
Image caption,
Toni Kittle has been head teacher since September

"I want to be flexible and welcome children where we can," she said.

Parents have been invited to take part in socially distanced visits to the school to let them see what changes have been made and help them feel less anxious.

Video messages showing the new layout of classrooms and the school building were also sent out.

On 1 June, 110 children from Nursery, Reception and Years 1 and 6, along with the children of key workers, returned, with a further 20 joining them a week later.

Mrs Kittle said each school should be able to make decisions on an individual basis because of differences in size and resources.

"Each school is so different," she said. "And each school can't necessarily offer the same support."

At Westfield, which normally caters for 384 pupils, children have been split into "bubble classes".

"We are respecting families decisions and working with them very closely to try to respond to individual concerns."

Image source, Westfield Primary Academy
Image caption,
Westfield Primary Academy pupils have been socially distancing in class

Mrs Kittle is also keen that the emotional toll of the new way of educating is addressed, whether children are in school or not.

"How must they be feeling not being at school for even 10 weeks and longer?

"As a head teacher, I value children being back at school, it's academically important but also socially for their wellbeing it's incredibly important. But it's not a one size fits all model, it's different for each family."

Following the government's announcement that all primary children will not return, Mrs Kittle said the school was working in partnership with Unity trust, which runs the school, to explore options for more children to return.

They are currently looking at creating a rota to enable pupils from other year groups to return for a few days before the summer break to "allow them to make valuable connections" with their class teachers and friends again. This would be done on a rota basis to maintain social distancing.

Mrs Kittle added: "I'm happy to be flexible and to welcome children back but to do that we have to make sure parents don't feel pressures and that they have a choice."

'My kids are thriving at home'

Image source, Julia Conquest
Image caption,
Maddison and Amelia Conquest have been learning at home

Amelia Conquest, seven, and her sister Maddison, five, have been learning at home since just before their school was closed.

Their mum Julia said she was glad when the schools closed because she had become anxious about sending her girls.

Although she had worried about teaching them at home, she said they were "thriving".

"We have got a good routine, getting up, printing off work and completing work but we also have a lot more family time to do learn other things they hadn't quite learned yet, like riding a bike without stabilisers, learning to swim unaided in the big paddling pool. Stuff which, personally, I think is important growing up."

Image source, Julia Conquest
Image caption,
Year 1 student Maddison would be eligible to return to school

Maddison could have gone back to school on 1 June but her parents decided to keep her at home with her older sister.

"For me, to put one child back in school but not the other was unrealistic... it's unrealistic to think I could leave my seven-year-old on her own while I take my five-year-old to school."

Image source, Julia Conquest
Image caption,
Julia Conquest said she had been preparing her children to return to school for September

Mrs Conquest praised the communication from the school which she said had helped her to make informed decisions.

'I was very undecided'

Holly and Lucy Wallis are also pupils at the school and returned on 1 June, despite some initial anxiety.

Their mother Jackie said she thinks school has been the best place for them and has noticed a definite lift in their moods now they are back in the classroom with their own teachers and friends.

"The first day I was very undecided to send them actually," she said.

Holly, six, has a bladder and kidney condition which means she needs regular trips to the bathroom.

Mrs Wallis was concerned this could prevent her going back to school but instead special arrangements have been made to keep Holly safe, while also meeting her needs.

Videos of the new routes in and out of school, as well as the new layout of classrooms, helped Mrs Wallis feel less apprehensive about her children returning.

Being back at school has eased pressures at home, Mrs Wallis said she had felt a lot of pressure while home schooling but the family had been happier since the girls had returned.

"They are worn out, but in a good way, they had a lot of pent up energy before," she said.

"They are loving having a routine again, getting a packed lunch, walking to school, you can see a difference in them, you see a lift in them".

However, she has said that she is unsure if she would be happy to let the girls continue at school if a lot more children were to return.

"The fact that there's not that many children that have gone back made me feel even safer, it was not a lot of people.

"If more children come back then I don't know but for now, as a mum, I'm feeling good about what is in place and feel it's the right thing to do for my children."

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