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Is it time for the re-opening of schools?

Here at Tutor Doctor Bristol, we continue to work with many local students during the Covid-19 pandemic to support their education. This connection with our local community gives us a unique insight into what is happening in our local schools.

As parents are aware, the Government has announced a target of re-opening primary schools for certain year groups on the 1st of June. So, what does this mean locally for all our students in Bristol?

Within our team, Chin has been volunteering as a Governor at a primary school in North Bristol for the last 18 months. He has observed from his role that teachers and parents alike are very concerned about children going back to school in the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

As educators, we all want our children to return to the classroom as soon as possible. But the reality is that every school is different, and to make good decisions on re-opening schools safely, the authorities need to look at the devil in the details.

  1. Staffing: How willing is the teaching body to return to work? Have they been re-assured that all health and safety precautions are being taken? Are there many individuals who are in an “At-Risk” group?
  1. Student welfare: Does the school have a high percentage of vulnerable children who might suffer without the safeguarding and nutrition that a school setting provides? Equally important, what plans do the school have to absorb the potential increase in student numbers without detracting from the home learning offer of students in other year groups?
  1. Building layout: Can the school layout be re-organised to maintain appropriate social distancing between everybody? Will the suggested class size of 15 fit comfortably into the classroom? Is the school able to conduct lessons more frequently in outdoor spaces?

There is also the question of who to welcome back first into the school. The government guidelines are to welcome back Early Years, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 students back, in that order of priority. Some schools may choose a phased return of pupils, in which case children in the earlier years return first. School Governing boards may also choose to override this guidance and welcome back Year 6 students first, if they feel it is appropriate.

We have seen so far that there are many issues to consider. School leaders are going to face an unprecedented and complex set of challenges in implementing this decision. To be clear, it seems the Government does state that the 1st June is the earliest date school can open, “if conditions allow”. So, if the school is not ready, it would be reasonable to delay the date.

For our city, Bristol City Council (BCC) are taking a pragmatic approach and letting the leadership teams of individual schools make the judgement calls on the “when” and “how” of re-opening schools. At the same time, BCC is also supporting schools with the risk assessment work required to open safely.

In the Coronavirus era we live in, nothing is certain, and things can change very quickly. It will probably be no different for the 1st June re-opening. We must all learn to live with the uncertainty and be prepared to change course as required!