|Volume 50 Number 24, June 27, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
A Workers' Weekly correspondent spoke with a Teaching Assistant who works in a North London primary school about her experiences since the partial reopening of schools in early June.
What has been the experience since the partial reopening of schools at the beginning of June?
Only Reception, and Years 1 and 6, were admitted back to full time education. Those year groups were seen as transitional ages. Other year groups continue to use the online schooling forum.
The majority of parents appear to have decided to keep their children at home, and only a small minority of pupils have returned to school since the school reopened on June 1. Parents had to give the school two days' notice if they did wish to admit their children back.
The school week is now only four days long. Fridays are now a day for deep cleaning the classrooms, although the school remains open for the children of key workers on Fridays.
What was the reaction of the school's staff to the return to work?
Most teachers at school felt it was unsafe to return to school on June 1; one possible reason is that this borough still has the highest number of positive Covid-19 cases in London.
How did members of staff deal with the decision to return to school on June 1?
Union [NEU] advice was for staff to refrain from coming in until Covid-19 safety issues were fully addressed by the school's management [the Board of Governors]. The main issues were the high number of cases of Covid-19 in the borough, the absence of track and trace mechanisms, and general anxiety felt about re-opening at this stage of the lockdown.
How are the concerns of teaching staff being dealt with?
A risk assessment form produced by the local council was given to each member of staff, in order that they could voice their concerns and make adjustments and suggestions as to how they would operate in the classroom environment.
All members of staff were given advice about access to Personal Protective Equipment [PPE]. Because of the disproportionately high Covid-19 infection rate of Caribbean, African and Asian people, staff members from these communities were informed of access to PPE and each classroom has been supplied with it. It is up to the judgement of the Teaching Assistant [TA] and the Class Teacher to use it.
What practical arrangements are in place, or have been put in place for pupils and staff since the partial reopening and return?
Union representatives are in constant talks with the Head Teacher about the measures needed to ensure everyone's safety. There are two reps and they discuss with the staff first to get their views, which then get raised with Head Teacher. The school's Head Teacher and Senior Leadership Team ultimately make the decisions with advice and guidance from the Department of Education and the local council.
What about day-to-day issues?
Hand gel is given on arrival and children have to wash hands whenever there is a break or interval. Classes are relatively small with one teacher and TA supervising each class. The maximum number of pupils in one class so far has been eleven, and the lowest number of pupils has been two.
Access to most equipment and toys for Reception Year children are either restricted or have to be cleaned after every use. Social distancing is hard to implement for younger children. Classroom layout has been adjusted, and there are separate desks for each pupils and separate resources.
Each class is separated into a "bubble"; they have staggered start times, lunch times and play times, with classes only being allowed to occupy cordoned-off areas of the playground. Classes also leave at different times.
From the beginning of the lockdown, the school has been opened for the pupils whose parents are key workers. Since June 1, these pupils have had to use a different entrance and they are supervised in a separate part of the school building.
However, the number of key worker children looked after at school has increased due to more professions/job categories returning to work, and this has meant we have had to think about issues surrounding class bubble size and which teachers are allowed to supervise pupils. It's still a learning curve for all staff and pupils to get used to.