Safest possible environment key to getting children back to school – headteacher

Schools have a responsibility for creating the “safest possible environment” to get children back into the classroom, according to an academy headteacher.

Fiona Chapman, executive principal of Ark Charter Academy and Ark Dickens Primary Academy schools in Portsmouth, Hampshire, has said that keeping parents and pupils informed of measures being taken to prevent Covid-19 was key to providing reassurance.

She explained that at the Charter Academy secondary school, students would be kept in year bubbles and spend their days learning in ‘home’ rooms except for key stage four pupils who would move between subject rooms which would be regularly cleaned.

The 900-pupil school is using antiviral fogging machines to disinfectant classrooms between different groups with hand-sanitising stations set up around the school.

And all children and staff will be required to wear face masks in school corridors but not classrooms despite Government guidance only requiring this of schools in local lockdown areas.

Schools reopening
Schools reopening

Ms Chapman said: “We are very lucky, to date we have had no Covid-19 incidents on site and we are keen to keep it that way.

“What you need to do in any setting like this is provide the safest possible environment, our job is to stay open and provide a school and an education for our pupils and it seems to us only a minor step to ask our pupils to wear masks when transiting.

“We are very keen to make sure that we mitigate as much risk as possible, we also want to embed it, it’s part of the everyday, it’s the new normal now.

“So if that Government guidance does change or we become a local lockdown area, which I hope Portsmouth doesn’t, the pupils will be well used to putting on their face mask.”

Ms Chapman said that the staff had been involved in the risk assessment to ensure they felt safe to return to school.

She said: “We are expecting 100% of staff back, they are excited to be back, they are looking forward to being back on site collectively, there’s a level of excitement about that.

“There is the knowledge that things are different, social distancing of staff is important but it’s important to provide as much normality for the children as we can, get them back into the classes, get them back into learning as this is potentially going to be long term.”

Schools reopening
Schools reopening

She explained that parents had been kept informed through school visits, video chats and newsletters.

Ms Chapman said: “Parents feel empowered and they feel ownership of their children coming back and I think a lot of the problems in other areas are because they haven’t been informed.”

She added: “Having children on site throughout lockdown was great, going up to full capacity is going to be very exciting and bring that energy back to school and for children to some extent life can return to normal, because they need that because the longer they stay out of school, the more opportunity they miss.”

Cara Ackroyd, academy principal of Outwood Academy Shafton, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, said that main measures being implemented at her school were school bubbles, additional cleaning, hand-sanitiser stations and equipment packs to avoid sharing.

The school will also be using one-way systems with two-metre chevron signing and it has also provided video introductions for pupils joining in Year 7.

She explained that the school will recommend pupils and staff wear face masks in corridors and communal areas but it was not mandatory and they would not be required in the classroom.

She said: “It would be really difficult to teach with a face mask on, we have some children who are hearing impaired and really rely on facial expressions and equally getting that back from the students as well.

“You look for the lightbulb moments, you look for the time when they are pulling a puzzled face when they might be struggling a little bit and keeping a mask on for that length of time might be difficult.”