Hopes and fears for return to school life

Uniforms are bought, equipment is ready. But this new term will be like no other as we continue to live with coronavirus.

Care practitioner Bryan Abad and daughter Brianna Abad, aged five, from Bridgnorth
Care practitioner Bryan Abad and daughter Brianna Abad, aged five, from Bridgnorth

It feels like this week would never come.

After months of juggling work and home-schooling, many parents have been yearning for the day they could prepare a packed lunch, lay out uniforms, give their little cherubs a kiss goodbye and boot them out of the door and onto the school bus. Meanwhile, enjoying a few hours of peaceful bliss in a child-free home.

But, with the threat of coronavirus still looming and predictions of a second wave remaining ominous, some may feel apprehensive about sending their youngsters off to spend the day in a stuffy classroom with a load of other children.

Teachers have been making their final preparations to classrooms, implementing various social distancing measures to keep children safe. Questions remain though, about how easy it will be to get young people to follow the guidance.

Today the message from Shropshire Star readers is clear.

Most support the wholescale return of education this week across Shropshire and Mid Wales.

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And most are also very aware of the damage they feel may have been done already by the loss of education, which has stretched back many months for many, apart from the very haphazard relaunch that happened in schools prior to the start of the official summer holiday break.

Around six in 10 of those questioned in a shropshirestar.com poll supported the return to school, with less than a third against.

And around seventy percent highlighted concerns both about the educaiton of children and their mental wellbeing after being stuck at home.

For many families, the familiar routine of buying back to school clothes and equipment has kept them busy in the last week.

Those picking up supplies with their children spoke of their hopes and fears as term time approaches again.

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Care practitioner Bryan Abad was in town with daughter Brianna, five, who will be starting school this September.

He said: “We’ve just moved to Bridgnorth a couple of months ago from Rochester. She’s going to be starting school here in September.

“I feel 50/50 about her going with the virus still around. It’s going to be difficult to get kids to follow all the rules for social distancing and if they have to wear masks. Their minds aren’t really set up to follow those kind of procedures.

“Maybe they should have done online classes, perhaps.

“When we were in Rochester her schooling there just finished, then we moved. So we have been providing education at home, helping her learn to read and write.

“It’s not too challenging, I don’t think. It’s enjoyable and it’s part of being a parent. It’s your job.”

George Fenton with his children George Jr, four, and Eva-Rose, five, from Coalport

George Fenton, from Coalport, Ironbridge, was full of praise for his children’s school. His daughter Eva Rose, five, and George Jr, will be going to Old Hall School in Wellington this year.

George said: “I’m feeling confident with what the school is putting in place. It’s going to be trying times but as long as they communicate properly with the parents and the kids I think it’ll all be fine.

“The kids will be in a year bubble so I think they’ll be fine. Mr Stott, the headteacher, has been really good at communicating with us and letting us know exactly what’s going on.

“Eva Rose was in reception so she went back to school for five and a half weeks before they broke up again. We were glad she was able to go back, it definitely benefitted her.

“At the end of the day, kids will be kids. It’s down to the school to explain things properly and then the parents to reinforce it and to follow it up with how far they want to go. They’ll make it normal for them.”

Karolina Kowalska, from Telford, is glad to be sending daughter Nelia, five, back to school. She has no burning worries about sending her due to coronavirus.

Karolina said: “I’m pretty confident. She’s looking forward to going back. She’s been home since the middle of March and it’s not easy to cope every single day with keeping her entertained and doing work. She’s been to the school and met a few of the kids who are going there so she’s very excited.”

Samantha Dale and son Will, aged seven, from Codsall

Samantha Dale from Codsall said it was a bit scary to be sending her seven-year-old son Will back to Lane Green First School, but said it was important to get the routine back.

She said: “He’s been getting a bit upset recently and his social aspect to being stuck at home is starting to get a bit much for him, so he needs to go back to school.

“The school have done a really good job of making everything ready, keeping us updated throughout lockdown and doing daily update videos with teachers and pupils.

“I did have a little moment recently, thinking ‘Oh my goodness, he’s going back to school’, so it’s not just him going back, I’m also anxious about not having him at home.”

While term time officially starts in Shropshire and Mid Wales tomorrow, most schools are taking advantage of a training day to get staff used to the new school environment and ensure they are confident about measures to keep students safe.

That means school gates will become busy again on Wednesday, with parents being urged to be responsible and to observe social distancing.

It has been a busy time for schools as they come up with ways to keep children safe, especially for those in older buildings with small corridors.

The National Association of Head Teachers carried out a survey ahead of he new school year that found that 96 per cent of schools are organising regular additional cleaning of classrooms and school premises.

The vast majority are also looking to create pupil bubble groups, with staggered lunchtimes and break times as well as different start and finish times. The data also suggests that 83 per cent are installing signs to direct pupils and parents and 79 per cent are installing additional hand-washing or hand sanitation units.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said the union’s figures showed that school leaders and their teams had worked “incredibly hard” over summer to get schools ready for the autumn term.

He added: “We know that parents and families want their children to return, but we also know that confidence is a fragile thing.

In an appeal to parents and carers, Mr Whiteman said: “Please do not let the very public political difficulties and arguments cloud your confidence in schools. School leaders and their teams have continued to do all that has been asked of them.

“With co-operation and understanding between home and school, we can achieve the very best return possible despite the political noise.” Mr Whiteman also called on the Government to provide clear guidance ahead of any possible local lockdowns.

He said: “You don’t need a crystal ball to see that local restrictions will be a feature of the autumn and winter.

“We’ve already seen them happening in a few areas of the UK. All we’re asking the Government to do is to meet us halfway. We’ve done everything we can to get ready but we can’t have any more last-minute plans.”

Education Secretary and South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson said: “Getting all children back into classrooms is a national priority, and these findings shine a light on the brilliant work going on across the country to make sure our schools are ready. I want to thank all of the headteachers, teachers and school staff for everything they are doing to ensure children can get back.”

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