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Don’t rush reopening of schools, say Shropshire heads

By Mark Andrews | Telford | Education | Published: | Last Updated:

Two leading Shropshire headteachers have said they would welcome their schools reopening, but warned they would need time to put safety measures in place.

Priory School headteacher Michael Barratt

Michael Barratt, executive principal of The Priory School in Shrewsbury, said the partial reopening of the school would present difficulties in maintaining social distancing rules.

He said it was therefore important that the Government provided clear instruction about how the reopening would work rather than leaving it up to schools to interpret the rules.

"I would want to see clear direction so that there is a consistent understanding of what reopening looks like," he said.

"That would include standards on social distancing, and which year groups would be given priority."

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At the moment the school is open to just a small number of pupils, mainly those who parents were employed in key sectors during the lockdown.

Mr Barratt said he expected years six, 10 and 12 – the final year of primary school, the first year of GCSE study and the Lower Sixth Form – to be the first to return to school.

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He said measures could be introduced to ensure social distancing in the classroom, but said it would be near-impossible to enforce during break times, lunchtimes and on the walk to and from school.

"That would be almost impossible to police, because you are dealing with young people," he said.

"Young people are human beings, and will look for social interaction. They are missing their social interaction at school and missing the relationships with their friends."

Mr Barratt said schools were given just two days' notice when the closure plan was announced, and said he hoped they would be given much more time to adapt to any reopening plans. He said there had been talk about schools being given three weeks' to reopen, which could be feasible.

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He said if social distancing had to be imposed in the classroom, it would probably be necessary to split existing classes into two.

"If we have twice as many classes, that means we will need twice as many teachers, that's an important consideration.

"It might mean you have the school open for half the year group in the morning, and half the year group in the afternoon, but then you have to think about corridors, and how you do the social distancing there."

Guidance

Mr Barratt said it would be down to the medical and scientific evidence to decide when would be the right time to reopen schools.

But he said that providing it was safe, and clear guidance was given, he would be glad to see pupils return.

"I'm really looking forward to the school reopening," he said. "Teaching is a social vocation, it's the interaction between staff and students, between students themselves, and between staff themselves. When you are used to working in a building with 900 people, and suddenly you are down to 10, then of course you miss it.

"I think the big challenge is to reassure staff and parents that the measures that are put in place will ensure the safety of everyone in the school," Mr Barratt added.

Gill Eatough, executive principal of Learning Community Trust

Gill Eatough, executive principal of Learning Community Trust, which runs six schools in the Telford area said she did not expect schools to be fully open until September.

But she said it was definitely worth partially reopening after the half-term break to help youngsters reacquaint themselves with school life.

Dr Eatough said, though, that it would be a complicated process that would involve some difficult decisions, particularly with regard to imposing social distancing among younger children.

The trust is responsible for Hadley Learning Community, Charlton and Ercall Wood secondary schools, Wrekin View primary school and Queensway special school.

Dr Eatough said: "The decision we think that will be made will be to allow the year 10s (14- and 15-year-olds) to go back, and that will not be so difficult as they are generally sensible, they understand it. It's when we have younger children in the primary schools and special schools that it will be more difficult to manage."

She said consideration would need to be given as to how many youngsters would need to be allowed into the building, and classrooms would need to be rearranged.

"We would need some time to get that ready," she added.

Dr Eatough said the school had already bought masks and gloves for staff, should they feel they need them. She added that the schools would also need a deep-clean before pupils returned.

"The big question is how the public are going to react to this," she said. "One of the questions we asking the Government is if we are to open, and parents decide not to send their children, where will that leave us? Normally parents would be fined, but we would expect that to be suspended until at least September."

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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