Signs, space, and bubbles: How Shropshire schools are preparing to welcome back pupils
As Shropshire primary schools prepare to welcome the return of some pupils next week the question most parents are asking is 'what will it be like when my child goes through the gates?'
Across the county primary schools have been working towards the government's target date of reopening from Monday.
The first stage is limited, with the government wanting Reception, Year 1, and Year 6 pupils to return – alongside the children of key workers who have been in school throughout lockdown.
Given the difficulties faced by some schools in preparing classrooms and staffing for the new socially distanced form of education it is likely to be some time before all schools are open as the Government expects.
Some schools are known to have been concerned about the Government's approach. Those concerns were raised with Shropshire Council's education team earlier this month, with the authority agreeing schools could go at their own pace. In Telford schools are also being allowed to take a phased approach to reopening.
One school that is ready for next week is Much Wenlock Primary.
In a Facebook video for parents, now viewed thousands of times, they have shown exactly how the school will operate.
There are a host of measures with pupils beginning the day by arriving and queueing with distance markers to get into the building – while motivational and comedy messages line the route.
Only one person can enter the foyer at once – where children are greeted by a message telling them "the queen will see you now".
Once in the school the pupils go out and meet their teacher in the yard and stand on dots provided for each group.
As per the Government's plan children are taught in 'bubbles' so they only mix with the same group of children, while classes – limited to 15 pupils – are spaced out so children work on desks away from each other.
The staff room has been expanded to give teachers and assistants social distance and playtime sees the yard split into three distinct zones.
Lunch sees pupils eating with their bubble friends.
The video has been praised by many parents for showing what children can actually expect on their return.
Carl Litchfield, headteacher at the school, which has been open to the children of key workers throughout lockdown, said: "Obviously within a community there are a whole range of emotions about coming back so what we were trying to do was give them an insight so they could see.
"In the feedback we have had people have said it has helped with their anxiety levels about it and they are confident about sending their children back."
Mr Litchfield said that about 70 per cent of parents had said they were sending their children back, and said he expected in to increase as people get more used to it.
He said: "The children in this year group coming back, we asked the parents last week if they intended to send their child and about 70 per cent said yes they will send them back.
"I think parents will see how that first week goes, see what the infection rate is like in the country as well, and as the weeks go by we will see more and more coming back."
Shropshire Council said individual schools were carrying out their own assessments to bring pupils back, and that it would back their judgement on whether it is possible.
A spokesman said: "Shropshire Council wants to see the wider reopening of schools in line with the Government’s aspiration where it is practical and safe for schools to do so based on public health guidelines. The safety of children and school staff is our key priority. Each school will undertake a risk assessment which will determine whether wider reopening can be achieved and if a phased reintegration is necessary.
"Shropshire Council recognises that for many schools a phased re-integration will be appropriate. We will support schools’ judgement in this matter."
The council said it does not have expectations on the number of pupils returning next week due to the individual difficulties faced by some of its schools.
A spokesman said: "The design of Shropshire schools varies greatly; we have everything from very small 2-class rural schools based in Victorian buildings, to large 21st century classrooms. For this reason it is not possible to set an optimum class size, and schools are asked to use their risk assessments to determine the number of pupils that can fit in each class to ensure safe, social distancing."
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