‘We don’t want kids to be traumatised’ - schools and nurseries on preparing for more children in June
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School and nursery leaders in Suffolk have spoken of the challenge of trying to provide a welcoming yet safe environment for returning children next month.
Many parents are torn with the decision over whether to send their children back to nursery or school from June 1, while the government plans have faced a backlash from education unions and now the British Medical Association who have questioned the safety of this return date.
The government recently announced that nursery, reception, year-one and year-six children could return to settings from June 1, as it begins to ease coronavirus restrictions.
One Suffolk mum said she had been told nursery staff would be wearing full PPE (personal protection equipment) and, when taking into account other changes at the setting for safety reasons, she felt it would be too strange for her child to send them back.
Government guidance says wearing a face mask in schools or other education settings “is not recommended”, but does recommend small class groups, the appropriate cleaning of play equipment and staggered drop-off and collection times.
Clare Flintoff, chief executive of Asset Education, which has 14 schools in Suffolk, said they would be accepting children from those specific year groups from June 1, but “it’s got to be safe for all of our children and staff”.
In a letter to parents she said: “I can confirm that our schools will not be able to take in all children in nursery, reception, year-one and year-six at the same time from 1st June.
“If we were to follow the government’s proposals, the youngest children would be with unfamiliar adults in unfamiliar classrooms. They would be in smaller groups and would not necessarily be with their friends. This would not be the school experience that we would want for them.
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“It would also take all of our available staff and would mean that our current learning provision via Google Classrooms for other year groups would be significantly compromised, which would impact on all other children.”
However, the early results of Asset Education’s parent survey reveal only about 20% did want a place from June 1 (31% were undecided). Parents will be asked again next week.
Mrs Flintoff told us staff would not be wearing PPE, apart from the government-recommended exception of when a child has coronavirus symptoms.
She added: “The government accepts it’s not possible to have social distancing in primary schools, not that can be maintained completely as young children will be young children.
“Our intention is to socially distance them as much as possible.
“It could be a scary prospect for them coming back to school if school is very different. The last thing we want is for them to be traumatised from their return to school.
“Their return to school has to be really lovely....and that’s what we are planning, and for that to happen as soon as possible.”
David Finch, managing director of Suffolk-based Alpha Nurseries, which currently has 18 nurseries open for key worker and vulnerable children, said the safer you make the setting the “harder it becomes” to ensure it is welcoming for children. He added his staff won’t be wearing PPE, unless for the exception.
He said the parents of many of their children worked in the NHS, but they had not had a single coronavirus case at any of his nurseries – and stressed this was without the use of PPE.
“We are not scientists, but I trust in science,” he said. “And in all the conversations we have had with our nurseries around PPE, they have said ‘we hope we don’t have to wear PPE, it will scare the children’.”
Mr Finch added feedback from parents indicated there would not be a massive take-up at his nurseries from June 1.
What are education settings doing to make it safer?
Mr Finch said there had already been extra handwashing and cleaning at his nurseries that had remained open and this would continue, as well as social distancing between staff.
The social distancing extends to between staff and parents, which means a staff member cannot physically take a child from a parent.
Where space allows, Mr Finch said they were looking to split children into smaller groups when more returned from June.
The letter to parents, which outlined their detailed preparation plan, stressed they would not be able to offer a ‘normal service’.
It said: “We fully understand that this is a concerning and uncertain time for parents, it is also for us and we are only receiving the same guidance and advice from the government that is available to everyone.
“We hope that you can appreciate that we are trying to minimise the risk as best as possible for all involved and really appreciate your cooperation with all the restrictions that we have outlined.”
Mrs Flintoff said some of her schools were already open to the children of keyworkers and vulnerable children and they were “trying to make sure everything is as safe as possible”.
Asset Education hopes to write to parents next week with more definite plans on how they will manage opening up to more children.
Is opening on June 1 too soon?
Victoria Gascoyne-Cecil, headteacher of Worlingworth and Thorndon CEVC Primary Schools, said no teacher wanted to be faced with an empty classroom, but whether June 1 was an appropriate date to reopen was a complex question.
“And being asked to open for early years children, who cannot social distance, is an additional challenge,” she said. “Staff are very concerned about the welfare of our children, our communities and our own families, if we open too soon.
“Schools, just like families have their own set of individual circumstances; these issues are highly complex and completely individual to each school. Whilst our rural schools have plenty of outside space, our small Victorian buildings are not designed to enable social distancing.”
She said they were endeavouring to create a safe environment that is also welcoming to their children and continued to provide an outstanding education.
She added: “At present, we are making plans to take on the reopening challenge. These must be robust and we need to take our time exploring how we can keep our children and staff as safe as possible, whilst continuing to provide high-quality home learning opportunities for all.”