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Planning For When Schools Go Back

Most likely the government will begin to relax the Covid-19 restrictions sometime in May. Although they are very keen to avoid a second peak of virus cases, government departments are working through how society might gradually be re-opened. They are considering what restrictions, protocols and processes will be necessary given a large element of the population will not have developed immunity to the virus. Measures will need to continue to protect the most vulnerable and to minimise transmission whilst allowing societal norms to return as far as possible.

Immediate Issues

Schools may be one of the first organisations that begin to re-open so that workers can return to work, this could be during May. It may be that schools return is phased in line with other elements of the economy and some if not all may not re-open fully until the autumn term.

But what will that mean for school leaders? Initially there will be some very practical concerns around student and staff safety.  Whilst social distancing will prove impossible to fully implement, schools will need to minimise unnecessary contact between students and staff. This is likely to include restrictions around contact sports and large gatherings such as assemblies.

Schools will need to think about their behaviour policy and how it might be adjusted to accommodate social distancing and personal management issues. There will also be issues in some schools where students will have forgotten the behavioural norms and will take time to settle back into school life. Attendance is also likely to be an immediate issue with some parents and students reticent to return.

Premises safety reviews will be required including considering how school flow management can be adjusted to minimise crowding and proximity issues. There will also be a need to ensure individual and school cleaning practices are fit for purpose – facilities for hand cleaning being widely available, regular cleaning of computer keyboards, etc. Other issues that need to be considered are after school clubs, break and lunchtime arrangements, school buses, and so on.

Crucially, schools will need to consider how they will work with the most vulnerable, be they those for whom the risks of infection are high, or those pupils with SEND issues for whom the new restricted environment may be very unsettling. There will need to be clear procedures for handling staff and student sickness, particularly if it is potentially related to the virus.

All this may be done as a phased return, so that the new practices can be tested and adjusted as the full contingent returns. Certainly, all staff need to be involved in considering how the school will work when it reopens and be trained in any new policies and practices. Unions will be keen to ensure their members are properly protected.

Short and Medium Term Plans

All school staff have had a very disrupted last month or so, most working by rotation in their schools across Easter. Schools have tried to make the most of this time and school leaders have encouraged staff to undertake CPD online or to work on refreshing their curriculum plans, etc. Leaders themselves have been monitoring and analysing school finances, reviewing policies and developing their thoughts as to how their schools can improve provision for when pupils return. One benefit of all of this is that parents better appreciate what schools do on a daily basis in educating and managing their children – no longer do many parents think they could do a better job of teaching their offspring!

But now thinking must turn towards planning for the next few years. Staff will be looking to their leaders to have thought about how schools will return to as close to normal as soon as possible. The focus will be on what needs to be done to re-establish teaching and learning so that students can make up for the time they have lost. In some cases, such as for the year 11 students, this will not be possible and so solutions will have to be found that will allow them to move onto their next stage of education, employment or training.

The professional bodies have provided some good guidance during this difficult time and are likely to provide further advice about restarting schools in the near future alongside the DfE. These include:

Quite clearly all year groups will be behind where they should be and so there will need to be consideration about bridging gaps. Ideally prior to return, staff teams will review the curriculum plans for their year groups and decide how each group should restart their learning through refreshers and then how over the next 15 months they will make up the ground lost. It is important that schools plan to make as much use of the next couple of months as possible and do not let this time pass with the view of a fresh start in September.

This planning will be particularly important for those students who will have done very little since schools closed. This group is likely to contain a disproportionate number of disadvantaged students for whom the learning gap has widened. These gaps may be particularly apparent at primary where some younger children will have really benefited from high quality time with parents and carers and some will not. The individual needs of SEND and other vulnerable (child protection) pupils need careful consideration as their experience during this period could well have been unsettling and they may well find reintegrating to daily school life challenging. Schools may find the need for individual, nurture or intervention group activities to ensure children settle and to close gaps that have been identified.

As well as considering how pupils’ education gets back on track, and in particular refocuses of examinations and assessments in 2021, schools will need to address many other specific issues in their short and medium term planning.

Next year’s reception children would usually expect a home visit in the summer term to prepare them for school. This may well not be advisable so how are schools to convey the necessary information, reassure parents and assess any special needs? What will the induction process look like?

Transition to secondary will also be very different this year. Pupils and their parents need to be well informed about their KS2 assessments as well as their new schools. Primary schools should work hard to provide as much information as possible (including SEND and other learning needs) to their secondary colleagues. School visits will need to address social distancing issues and this may have to be done in smaller groups if at all.

Schools with year 11 perhaps face the biggest challenge. They need to ensure they support their students so that they do not fail to move onto their next step in education or employment. The lack of examinations this year has created a great deal of concern and uncertainty and schools need to be as clear and re-assuring in this area as possible. Regular communication with students will help and for those most disturbed by this or the wider impacts of the virus, support and counselling will be required. The position of many year 13 students is not dissimilar, and they will need additional support over the summer with their university and college places.

The DfE have announced that A-Level results will be received on 13 August and GCSE results on 20 August, based on teacher assessments. Ofqual have recently opened up a consultation on grading specified general qualifications in 2020 which closes on 29 April. You can give your views on the features of the exceptional arrangements here:

Year 10 and year 12 are following close behind in their footsteps. These groups have lost a significant amount of their education time with teachers even if schools have been able to provide work during the lockdown period. In addition to well thought through catch-up plans these students may well also need counselling and support for their mental well-being.

School staff have been on the frontline during this crisis supporting the key worker’s children on a daily basis. Many will be fatigued, and their mental health may have suffered. The next 15 months are going to ask a lot more of these staff and so planning for their well-being as well as the practicalities of rebuilding subject teams and filling staffing gaps will be necessary.

Other practical issues schools will be considering over the next 15 months include:

  • Detailed reviews of contingency planning – taking learning points from this crisis, considering how to handle another peak and potential closure, what needs to be put in place.
  • There may not be full closure, but absences may well be more in evidence than usual and arrangements will have to be thought through. For example, what will be the policy and process if a member of staff or a pupil has a cough or cold? If pupils have time away, what additional “catch up” measures may be needed to ensure they suffer minimal disruption to their learning?
  • Future use of online tools – not just for use in a crisis but how they can be more effectively used in delivering the curriculum so that students are familiar with them and how they can bring about effective learning.
  • Getting back to “normal” – curriculum development, T&L practice, and professional development.

Unfortunately, the more you consider what needs to be done to restart schools and importantly to re-establish a good education for all students, the bigger the challenge our school staff and leaders face.

As with all planning, the first steps are to identify the key tasks and involve the best placed people to break them down and then propose solutions. The most successful school plans are well structured and involve subject leaders/co-ordinators and their teams, who are able to address their local issues in the overall school context. School leaders can then pull these plans together into one coherent school plan.

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