With schools in England having re-opened to a limited capacity, and schools in Wales re-opening for all year groups, Mr W, a primary school teacher from South Wales, reflects on the COVID-19 journey for schools so far, what the next steps look like, and what will work.
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Schools in Wales are reopening in some capacity on the 29th of June. I was surprised to hear Kirsty Williams, Wales’ Education Minister, make the announcement that schools were to reopen, as were many others. That said, I’m pleased we are opening back up, and we can start to rebuild our educational institutions. Can I call them schools yet? Or is it now Bubbles? Are they still Hubs? What we used to call ‘schools’, anyway.
I think we should applaud teachers, teaching assistants, and SLT for their adaptability. Let’s take a step back and look at the journey. Schools were closed on the 23rd of March. Headteachers were told to throw away their diaries and school would not be school again for a long time. In three months, teaching has moved entirely online with no training or guidance, and our school buildings have become Hubs. These Hubs accommodated many different children from lots of different schools in a childcare setting, using a revolving door of staff to ensure children could be safe and looked after at all times. There was even talk of overnight provisions being made available. From these childcare provisions, Bubbles are emerging, where schools are opening for small numbers of the school, not necessarily for the purpose of education, but to help children with wellbeing and bring a sense of ‘normality’.
I, as well many other school staff, have been busy marking out seats and desks to ensure that they are at least two metres apart. Any unnecessary desks and furniture have been removed and placed into storage, and a one-way system has been implemented in tape around the school. My classroom looks a lot different to how it appeared on that last day. The whole building certainly doesn’t look like a school anymore.
So, to get down to brass tacks: are Bubbles going to be worth it? Well, like everything else, it depends. Speaking to parents and guardians over the last 10 weeks has shown how individual every family’s predicament is. Some parents have been quick to ridicule the short time offered to their children, but many are welcoming schools reopening for their children. Their children have missed out on a social and emotional education that distance learning just can’t provide. They’ve missed playing with their friends and seeing their teachers, who for many are the only constant in a child’s life. 3 hours is better than none, to some at least.
What’s happening in September? No-one really knows. Science and the politics will soon determine. I hope if anything, the closing and reopening of schools highlights that schools are not just places of work, discipline and constant categorisation. They are facilities of wellbeing, emotional regulation, and sometimes just a place to be yourself. For some, just being a predictable and non-judgemental place is enough. Schools are very complex microcosms and I don’t think many people, myself included, took stock of the innumerable non-academic facets that a school offers.
Another thing I hope is that we don’t rebuild schools back to what they were. This is a great opportunity to look at what worked, what didn’t work, and begin to implement things that focus as much on our health and wellbeing as much as our academic achievements. The COVID-19 pandemic is the most massive upheaval of routine and status quo that has happened in our lifetimes. It is undoubtedly a very sad time in our history, with so many lives lost and people affected directly or indirectly by this strain of coronavirus. What if, from the ashes of our lockdown, we can rebuild an education system that has had a period of introspection and a re-evaluation of what is really important to us? The fundamental fact that our health and wellbeing should be our number one priority. On that note, I wish everyone in schools a safe reopening and I hope you get the opportunity to feel some normality over the next few weeks.
If we do go down this route, I hope they give the job of rebuilding to headteachers, teachers and teaching assistants. Seeing the effort they have put in over the last 3 months or so is worthy of commendation, even if we aren’t fighting on the front line. We’ve shown ourselves to be adaptable, unflappable, and great problem solvers. In fact, let's get a few teachers, teaching assistants and SLT members together and they can sort Brexit out. Instead of the countless hours and millions of pounds politicians have consumed, I’m sure a school could figure it out in a lunch hour or so, for nothing more than a bag of chips and a carton of curry sauce.
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