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‘The pressure is immense’ - Headteachers feel strain of term dominated by Covid

PUBLISHED: 17:31 21 October 2020 | UPDATED: 17:31 21 October 2020

Pupils in class at Queen's Hill Primary School in Costessey. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Pupils in class at Queen's Hill Primary School in Costessey. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

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Pressures of managing coronavirus measures while successfully welcoming back all pupils to classrooms have made this one of the most stressful school terms ever, headteachers have said.

Binks Neate-Evans, executive principal at four Norwich primary schools. Picture: SubmittedBinks Neate-Evans, executive principal at four Norwich primary schools. Picture: Submitted

All of Norfolk’s 422 schools reopened in September having been faced with introducing complex guidelines ranging from pupils being class and year group bubbles, while also delivering a return to learning.

Rising numbers of positive tests amongst pupils and staff has meant measures have been tested in the past few before schools broke up for half-term.

More than 70 schools and colleges in Norfolk currently have confirmed coronavirus cases - and 1,500 pupils and staff have had to self-isolate since term started.

Social distancing measures as a child studies. Picture: Jacob King/PA WireSocial distancing measures as a child studies. Picture: Jacob King/PA Wire

MORE: More than 70 Norfolk schools and colleges have Covid cases

Binks Neate-Evans, executive Principal at Bignold Primary and Nursery, Angel Road Junior and Angel Road Infant and Nursery schools, said: “Typically the autumn term is pretty tiring but this has been double tiring.

“It is high stakes because the decisions you make in school impact on people’s lives in a very tangible way at the moment.

“You have to be really confident in your decision making and be able to communicate the rationale behind that to families and children.”

City Academy Norwich, Framlingham Earl High School, Sprowston Community Academy and Marshland High School are amongst those to have seen coronavirus cases. Pictures: Simon Finlay/Adrian S Pye/Denise BradleyCity Academy Norwich, Framlingham Earl High School, Sprowston Community Academy and Marshland High School are amongst those to have seen coronavirus cases. Pictures: Simon Finlay/Adrian S Pye/Denise Bradley

Angel Road Junior School has had to send home a class bubble after seeing a confirmed positive Covid case.

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Ms Neate-Evans said: “We took swift and decisive action and have closed a bubble. The parents have been incredibly supportive and understanding.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: Archant LibraryGeoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Picture: Archant Library

“We were hoping to get to half-term without having to manage that but unfortunately we didn’t, though having part of that self-isolation period covered by the half-term is the best worst case scenario.”

Although overall attendance at Norfolk schools is above the national average, despite the pandemic, there have been confirmed Covid-19 cases in at least 23 primary schools, 17 secondary schools and in one of the 13 special schools.

Nationally Department for Education (DfE) survey data shows more than a fifth (21%) of schools have had one or more pupils self-isolating, 46% in secondary schools and 16% in primary schools.

School pupil wearing a face mask on public tyransport. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA WireSchool pupil wearing a face mask on public tyransport. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

More than one in 10 schools said they had more than 30 pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of Covid-19 inside the school.

MORE: High school sends students home and has deep clean after pupil tests positive for coronavirus

Geoff Barton, a former Bury St Edmunds headteacher and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “School leaders and their staff deserve great credit for the huge amount of work they are putting into managing complex control measures while delivering education for those in school as well as those who are at home self-isolating.

“The pressure is immense and we are increasingly concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of school leaders and their staff.”

Ms Neate-Evans said despite the necessary emphasis on Covid measures and schools looking slightly different from normal, children had settled back into learning.

“What has been incredible is how well the children have adapted,” she said. “There were a lot of worries about anxiety levels in children, and actually they are very settled, very responsive to learning and very pleased to be back at school.”


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