It is essential that we seek the views of parents/carers in relation to the potential of opening to greater numbers of children. I would ask all parents/carers to complete the survey via the link below (one survey per child). However, for an understanding of the current situation please do so after reading my letter and the letter from the Local Authority. Please understand that this is an ever-changing picture (daily briefings, productions of documents at least daily) and the letters are written with the information and context we have at this point.
Firstly, from everyone at Harlow Green, we hope that everybody within your family is safe and well. These challenging times have meant that our school community has been physically fragmented leading to us not being able to be together and support each other in the way that we are used to. However, there has been a clear strength as a community shown throughout this period, which has been emotional to be a part of but has demonstrated how strong we are when we work together with a shared vision for our children .
What is the current situation?
As you will know, the government has provided information to the nation in relation to their ‘road map’ for moving out of lockdown. Ultimately, this is what we are all aiming for as everybody wants things to get back to normal as soon as it is safe to do so. There are many aspects to this plan but, realistically, it is driven by the wish to get people back to work and support the economy.
To ensure that people are/feel safe to go back to their places of employment, the government are stating that there will be high standards of health and safety within these environments with an expectation that employers will make work ‘COVID Secure’. I am sure that many parents/carers will be reassured by this and that these measures will support them to return to work safely.
Currently, schools are open to the children of critical key workers and priority children (vulnerable or with Education Health Care Plans). We have cared for this relatively small number over the last two months to ensure that we can provide support to society during these worrying times, meaning that staff have been working in a situation which has increased their potential exposure to the virus. To ensure that people with children can go back to work, primary schools have now been instructed to open Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from June 1st before, potentially, opening up for all year groups by the end of June. This has, understandably, been met with a mixed response with many concerns from various areas of society but, particularly, parents and carers.
From a school perspective, we are working closely with the Local Authority to identify what we can do to follow national expectations in order to manage the many complexities of returning greater numbers of pupils safely whilst also supporting others who remain at home.
It is important for me to be very clear with families about what school will be like if we open during the next few weeks in order that an informed decision can be made. We will do all we can to reduce the risk of virus transmission by changing routines and systems as well as reducing pupil numbers and limiting who they come into contact with. What cannot happen in school, because we are dealing with large numbers of young children, is to create the same robust social distancing environment that can be followed by adults. The government knows this and that is why schools are not expected to make themselves ‘COVID Secure’ as other work environments must. This is also why it has been made clear that parents/carers will not be penalised for lack of attendance if they choose not to access school because of their concerns.
What does this mean for how school will be organised?
To attempt to reduce risk for staff and higher numbers of children who return to school before the summer, the school organisation will be very different. We will be implementing a range of measures (following government advice) in which everyone will have to accept their part. Some of the measures will include:
- A staggered entry and exit for year groups to reduce the numbers of people on site at the same time. This will result in reducing the length of the school day.
- A set route in and out of the school site for children and adults.
- Children organised into classes of no more than 15 to create a controlled ‘bubble’. Each ‘bubble’ will not be able to interact with another ‘bubble’ during the school day, including at break and lunchtimes.
- Children in classrooms being required to keep apart by having designated seating areas with assigned stationery.
- A simplified curriculum that can be accessed at school but also by those at home.
- Staggered break times and lunch times which will reduce the number of children in the same areas at the same time (e.g. not all children from the same year group will have the chance to be together). Children will have assigned play areas.
- Teachers will keep their distance within the classroom so feedback will be verbal rather than marking.
- All children will have to wash their hands at least 3 times a day (as was in place before lockdown).
- Creating separate groups for Key Worker children who do not fit into the year groups identified for return.
- Having zero tolerance for the breaking of school protocols which will mean that children who fail to adhere to them will be sent home.
- Any child displaying symptoms will be sent home after being isolated in school.
How will this work for children in Early Years?
The challenge for Early Years is particularly high. Although we will be able to implement some measures for older children, all parents and carers know that this is virtually impossible for children in Nursery and Reception. We are unable to use other rooms for children who are as small as they are, and we cannot sit these children at desks for days on end. With increased numbers, children in Early Years will come into close contact with each other and with staff; this is the nature of 3-5 year olds who do not understand the situation. For these children we will:
- Reduce the amount of resources available and to be shared.
- Refrain from using certain resources which would not be possible to clean.
- Wash/sterilise resources daily.
- Be unable to change children who soil themselves.
I apologise for the length of this letter even though this is actually a short overview of some of the logistics involved in organising school under the current climate. There are many other aspects which we cannot list on this letter but will be essential for us to organise and share with you when appropriate.
As I am sure you will understand, this is not the education that Harlow Green believes in or has ever delivered. We are a school that supports children to explore, create and experience – all as a community. Unfortunately, in the next few weeks these are the measures which are necessary to reduce risk in a school as much as is feasible.
How can I inform school of my intentions?
Although things could change, for us to move forward we now need to identify which families will wish to access Harlow Green for the final few weeks before the summer break, for each specific group.
This information will be essential as we are only able to take 15 children per room which means that we can take a maximum of half the children we normally would (this would still be up to 240 pupils in the building).
To do this, we require you to complete the online survey as soon as possible. If you are unable to access the survey, please call the office with your response on Monday 18th May.
The efforts and sacrifices that our community have taken to support the national aim of reducing the number of infections has been fantastic. We know that those who chose to access our offer will do so with an understanding of why all aspects must be complied with in order to reduce the risk for themselves, their children and our staff.
Mr M. Malik