Some Covid restrictions to stay as school leaders look forward to September

Coronavirus restrictions could change the way education is delivered in the future, claim school leaders – who are welcoming the relaxation of measures for September.

Sarah Godden, CEO of the TrustEd Schools' Partnership
Sarah Godden, CEO of the TrustEd Schools' Partnership

Headteachers and school staff across the county are preparing for a well-earned break after working through some of the strangest conditions in recent history.

Students were brought back into school – putting an end to the majority of home learning – over a staggered period in March, when classrooms were transformed into testing stations capable of seeing hundreds of pupils per day.

Since then young people have adapted to a new way of learning, with a focus on hygiene, social distancing and safety.

Sarah Godden, CEO of TrustEd Schools' Partnership, which runs two secondary and four primary schools across Shropshire, said staff having to isolate had been an issue.

"It has been a difficult term, especially more recently as I think many schools locally have struggled with the impact of Test & Trace and the number of staff and families having to isolate," she said.

"We've had quite a lot of cases of this throughout Shropshire schools so bubbles have had to go home and continue distant learning, which upsets us but that's what we've got to do.

"On the whole the pupils have responded brilliantly and accepted the way it is, but I expect they'll be happier next academic year if the system changes."

Sarah Godden, CEO of the TrustEd Schools' Partnership

A number of measures implemented due to coronavirus are set to stay.

Mrs Godden said: "All of our schools have looked at the systems in place this year and picked bits that have worked well.

"Schools have worked with parents to talk about staggered starts and work out what needs changing.

"A big focus has been on distant learning, particularly with staff across different schools. It's fundamentally changed how we work together, and I can imagine staff continue to train and meet virtually.

"The one-way system at Oldbury Wells School has worked well and that will be kept. Similarly at Church Stretton School the way children are organised by year groups on the bus will also remain."

Sarah Godden, CEO of the TrustEd Schools' Partnership, with Kay Ferriday, headteacher of St Leonard's Primary School

Mrs Godden said restrictions had led to a more "old fashioned" style of teaching, with less opportunities for music, sport and school trips.

"Rules and regulations have restricted the sport and music we do," she said.

"It's meant children have experienced a more traditional, old fashioned style of teaching – we haven't been able to do sports clubs with mixed year groups, we've had very few matches and few school trips.

"We learn best when we're interested in something, so all of our headteachers have been talking about the opportunity to bring that enjoyment back into learning from September. Depending on ever-changing restrictions, in many ways we're looking forward to a much more open, enjoyable and engaging school life."

Mrs Godden added: "I'd like to thank parents for their support and flexibility, and how great they've been in helping schools with the education of young people. Likewise, teachers and all people in schools have worked really hard to educate young people."

The TrustEd Schools' Partnership includes Church Stretton School, Oldbury Wells School, Alveley Primary School, Castlefields Primary School, St Leonard's Church of England Primary School and Stokesay Primary School.

Julie Johnson, head of school at Shrewsbury Academy, said she felt coronavirus restrictions had changed the way schools will operate in the future.

She oversaw the academy's testing facility enabling students to return in March, which was capable of testing 800 pupils per day.

"We were delighted with the way pupils, parents and staff reacted to the changes in place," she said.

"What we're looking at now is the positive changes that have come from Covid restrictions during this academic year. There are some we're taking forward even when they are lawfully relaxed.

"They have changed school and the way we look at education and some of these things have made a massive difference.

"For example, we want to continue to use different gates on entrance and exit for Key Stages three and four, and we're maintaining our one-way system which enables a calmer feel when people move around the school.

"We also want to maintain social areas for year groups as it enables students to socialise with their peer groups and enables friendships to re-establish."

Julie Johnson, head of school at Shrewsbury Academy

Miss Johnson praised teachers and staff, who will have the choice moving forward of wearing a mask, using protective screens and using zoned teaching in classrooms.

She added: "Parents have been incredible. They've been working with us and made contact with the school whenever necessary.

"We've tried to encourage them to ensure lateral flow testing takes place twice a week at home – this will change when students have to be tested upon returning to school in September and we're just looking at how we will implement that."

Miss Johnson said the school had been "lucky", with a relatively low number of cases affecting the school setting.

"We've been very lucky, with very few cases," she said.

"We had a Year 8 group bubble out for a few days last week, which returned to school on Tuesday, but we've had such few cases.

Wendie Tolhurst-Jones conducting lateral flow tests at Shrewsbury Academy

"I'm aware other schools have had to close completely so we've been very lucky in that sense."

With current staff, parents and students used to the 'new normal' in schools, Miss Johnson said the biggest challenge will be teaching those new to the academy.

"I think everything is more or less already in place for September," she said.

"A challenge will be teaching the new Year 7 intake the system of procedures, but the students have been amazing and I don't think this will be a problem."

Shrewsbury Academy is running a summer camp, funded by the Department for Education in response to the coronavirus pandemic, for new students to make new friends, enjoy activities and learn the way the school runs.

Out of the 180 Year 7 students joining the academy in September, so far more than 120 have signed up.

Miss Johnson said: "The staff have been so excited about this summer camp. It's a week off their holidays but they want to be here to support the new pupils."

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