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‘Part-time education for some time’ - headteachers discuss school reopenings

PUBLISHED: 17:14 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 18:33 22 May 2020

The reopening of schools to more pupils has provoked controversy. Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

The reopening of schools to more pupils has provoked controversy. Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

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Headteachers have warned children could be getting “part-time education” for some time, at a debate focused on the reopening of schools in Norfolk.

Mel Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth, with pupils. Picture: Victoria PertusaMel Fearns, headteacher at St George's Primary School in Great Yarmouth, with pupils. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

More than 80 people joined the EDP Open House discussion ahead of schools breaking up for half-term on Friday to talk about the planned return of some primary year groups on June 1.

Headteachers and the Norfolk representative of the biggest teachers’ union joined parents to talk about how schools are implementing safety guidelines including social distancing and teaching in small groups.

Schools have been closed except for vulnerable and key worker children since March 23. Picture: Tim Goode/PA WireSchools have been closed except for vulnerable and key worker children since March 23. Picture: Tim Goode/PA Wire

Melodie Fearns, headteacher at St George’s Primary School in Great Yarmouth, schools will face challenges of children returning to classes in very changed circumstances either now or in September.

“What I think the government needs to be honest about is that we cannot bring all the children back for a full day Monday to Friday,” she said. “We have to be honest and say this is going to be part-time education for some time yet.”

Children abide by a traffic light system for social distancing when washing their hands. Primary pupils could return to classes from June 1. Picture: Jacob King/PA WireChildren abide by a traffic light system for social distancing when washing their hands. Primary pupils could return to classes from June 1. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire

Binks Neate-Evans, executive principal at Bignold Primary and Nursery, Angel Road Junior and Angel Road Infant and Nursery schools in Norwich, said: “This is not short-term. It’s about managing parents expectations. No school can really say that they are ready to open on June 1 for the wider school population.”

MORE: Headteachers and governors to have final say on when schools fully re-open

Unlike some councils elsewhere in the country that have said their schools will not be reopening on June 1, Norfolk County Council has said headteachers are best placed to decide when to reopen.

Not all schools will be open for the planned return from June 1 and parents have a dilemma of whether to send their child back.

Mrs Fearns said she had taken the decision not to reopen for years six pupils from June 8, rather than June 1, with year one the following week.

Sarah Shirras, head teacher of St Williams Primary School in Thorpe St Andrew. Picture: Antony KellySarah Shirras, head teacher of St Williams Primary School in Thorpe St Andrew. Picture: Antony Kelly

“The question we are all asking is ‘is it safe?’,” she said. “What we can say is that all teachers want to get back to teaching and providing education for the children and we don’t want things slipping, but we need to make it as safe as possible and that is what we are striving to do.

“But that ultimate decision is going to have to sit with parents to gather the evidence, and I don’t feel there should be any pressure one way or another to bring the children back at this stage.”

Scott Lyons, district secretary of the NEU for Norfolk. Picture: Denise BradleyScott Lyons, district secretary of the NEU for Norfolk. Picture: Denise Bradley

At St Williams Primary in Thorpe St Andrew 42 out of 60 parents with children in year six say they will be in school after half-term.

Headteacher Sarah Shirras said: “We are a large primary school so we have a lot of space and we have a lot of outdoor space. Rather than guessing a number we set the classrooms up so that felt safe and that the social distancing was there. So the offer was driven by what we could offer rather than the number of parents.”

Parents will be urged to stagger drop-off and pick-up times amongest measures being introduced by schools reopening in June . Picture: PA ImagesParents will be urged to stagger drop-off and pick-up times amongest measures being introduced by schools reopening in June . Picture: PA Images

MORE: Seven out of 10 parents in survey believe schools should reopen in September

Penny Sheppard, headteacher at Queen’s Hill Primary and Nursery in Costessey, where 36 parents of reception children have said they will return on June 1, with 13 are undecided, said: “As every headteacher has done in the county we have filled out our 21-page risk assessment and the guidance is very clear and we are sticking to that.”

Scott Lyons, district secretary of the teaching union NEU in Norfolk, said: “Listening to the headteachers brings home the responsibility that head teachers have been put under and we are acutely aware of the impact that has had on everyone involved in trying to push forward for a June 1 opening.”

Penny Sheppard, headteacher at Queens Hill Primary and Nursery in Costessey. Picture: Bill SmithPenny Sheppard, headteacher at Queens Hill Primary and Nursery in Costessey. Picture: Bill Smith

He was critical of the approach taken by Norfolk County Council, but Mrs Shirras, one of the chairs of the council’s primary schools headteachers’ group, said: “We have already heard that many people need to get back to work.

“Child care is really important because some of our families are going to have no jobs to go back to unless they can start going to work.

“So I think that they’ve tried to do it for the right reason, some heads have seen that as putting the whole onus on them but we have got help and support from each other and from people in the local authority.”

Asked for advice for parents preparing to send their children to school after 10 weeks of home-schooling, Mrs Fearns said: “Parents need to be positive about it once they’ve made the decision.

“They need to say that school is still going to be really enjoyable and exciting and really promote that so that children don’t feel anxious and worried.”

MORE: Everything you need to know about school reopenings

Mrs Binks Neate-Evans said: “Children will look to trusted adults and they will feed off the behaviour of those they trust.

“We need to be really clear with them about what it is going to look like so we are preempting a lot of their worries and that we can talk to them about new routines and why we have got them in place.”

Mrs Sheppard added: “We know children are very resilient and adapt and see every day as an adventure, to me it is going to be the parents that are going to need the support.

“Parents, you’re going to have to be really brave if you decide to send your child back. You are going to be leaving them at the gate not in the classroom.”


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