Preparing to Reopen

The trouble with schools is we just don’t know when and how they will reopen.

This is one blog I really do need help with. Please do comment, even if it’s in total disagreement with me. Comment below, e-mail me, retweet the blog or whatever, just as long as we can all add to and explore the possible solutions and pitfalls facing us when it comes to reopening.

Schools have to open at some point, we’re all in agreement with that, but that’s about as far as any agreement seems to go at the moment. It’s Sunday 3rd May and there are four headlines this morning that have caught my eye, with regards to reopening. They’ve encouraged me to drop all other plans for the morning (what plans I ask myself) and get some thoughts down:

  • It’s likely to be primary schools from June 1st and the government will release a plan this week.
  • Schools will be given three weeks’ notice in order to plan.
  • The NASUWT want the Government to set out the agenda and guidance for reopening.
  • 1 in 5 people in the UK don’t want schools, pubs and restaurants to reopen yet. 

For the remainder of this blog, I’d like to explore some of the issues we’ll face with regards to reopening and then go on to explore possible ways we can successfully do this.  As a Head, my thoughts are becoming consumed with the reopening.  I hate not knowing when and how.

I always believe you can get through anything in life when you know there is an end date, even if it is years off.  The virus, like the flu or other big killers is with us now and the world will have to learn to live with that fact. I can cope with that, but it’s having the uncertainty around how we will do this and in particular for me as a Head, having clarity with regards to how we will go about reopening schools, is something I find hard to deal with.   Yes, I know I’m being impatient, but at the moment there are so many ideas and speculation being floated around that I’m beginning to feel a bit out of control (and I have to admit here – I am a bit of a control freak).

The problems we will face with reopening

Before we look at how we will reopen, let’s have a look at seven main issues and concerns we will have to address:

  1. I can understand the concerns the NASUWT have with regards to schools being left to their own devices, that would put a huge burden of responsibility on Headteachers and leave staff and students vulnerable. However, I think Government guidance should only go so far:
    • Provide a date for reopening
    • Stipulate the social distancing requirements e.g. no more than X amount in a standard classroom. Or no more than X students in the school is X in size
    • Stipulate PPE requirements if necessary
    • Stipulate minimum expectations for schools in terms of learning.  (This is a vague one and I don’t really want to say something like: ‘Year 10 require X hours per week direct teacher contact’, as it could prevent a school from addressing every Yr 10’s needs in the best way possible)
    • Clarity with regards to what does and doesn’t constitute fitness to work, for staff.
    • Clarity for parents with regards to their expectations, in relation ensuring attendance
    • Clarity with regards to how virus testing will take place in schools for staff and students
    • Any more suggestions, please let me know or add a comment

Personally, I think the rest should be decided at a local level, in order to enable the school to make decisions regarding the logistics of learning and meeting the needs of their particular school community.  And let’s not forget schools all serve very different communities and so a one size fits all reopening model/strategy will not work.

2. How will we maintain social distancing with young people?  That is going to be so difficult (And please – no one tell me that I have to get my students under control!). Young people obey all of Newton’s laws concerning gravitation.  They drift towards each other.  Their whole lives are centred around socialising (it’s up there as the top priority well before learning); it’s in their DNA and so all manner of lecturing, threats and supervision, will have little effect.   Break times and movement between lessons, no matter how we stagger them will particularly difficult and will require huge levels of supervision

3. How will we manage the possible reduced staffing levels we will have?  This is linked to timetabling issues mentioned below with regards to teachers but also in relation to non-teachers.  For example, catering staff or caretakers, who are vital, when it comes to opening a school.

4. Linked to this is the logistical nightmare of timetabling.  At the moment the member of staff who does the timetable at my school has about four different permeations of the timetable on the go, as we try to second guess what the authorities may stipulate.   No matter how pupils come back we will have to re-do the timetable several times over until we are all eventually back.  If it begins on June 1st, that doesn’t give us long.  

On top of this, if classes are to maintain social distancing regulations, I’m assuming the government will be hoping for classes to be broken down from groups of 30 to 10 or 15? Why else would we have reduced numbers in school?  When we look at this from a timetabling point of view, as an example of the logistical nightmare this throws up, consider the following: we have most of our English classes blocked – in other words, 8 classes may be taking English at the same time in a year group.   This may now (after we apply social distancing) be as many 24 groups.  Obviously, we don’t have that many English teachers and so we have to re-timetable.   Now consider that scenario for all the subjects we deliver and it likely to become a difficult conundrum (at least in my head it is).  More on this when I look at possible solutions

5. How will we encourage all parents to send their children back?  The government and media have done a very good job of scaring people.  I can understand their reasons and as a result the lockdown, social distancing and personal health advice have, by and large, been adhered to.  However, that 1 in 5 statistic mentioned above, whether we believe it or not, is a big issue that will fall on schools to solve.  I was discussing with a Governor the other day our staffing levels and he queried whether in the short term, I will need to employ more attendance officers. 

Now is the time for the Government to be really loud, clear and transparent with regards to the degree of fear we need have and how with certain precautions taken by the schools and young people, there will be a minimal risk of infection.  At the moment there are so many contradictory statistics and viewpoints flying around, as a Head, I’m in no position to give reassurances. 

6. Vulnerable learners need to be in schools and learning how to learn again (and for many – socialise again) and have the close supervision and nurturing environment they need.  This is not a glib statement to satisfy the liberal.  It’s a fact and huge concern for those working in deprived areas in particular.

7. How will we ensure we can maintain and improve levels of access to to IT for young people in deprived homes? In Cardiff where I work the Local Authority is currently undertaking a huge initiative to ensure every child in the city is connected. This has to be sustained if the student return process carries on well into the 2020/21 term. And to future proof us against further outbreak spikes.

Possible models for reopening

This is where I particularly want to hear from others.  How will you manage it? Here are a few thoughts I have:

  1. We have our vulnerable learners only, attending until the summer.  For the rest we continue our online learning.   In a school like ours this could be anything between quarter to a third of our cohort.  Perhaps the numbers are too big. 

My thoughts here are that as well as meeting their needs, we might have the time, space and capacity to develop new qualities in these young people, by giving them responsibility and focussing on a curriculum which is far more personalised towards their individual needs.

There would be issues with regards to encouraging them to come in and maintain their attendance, but it would be an opportunity we rarely have to work with these students as effectively as we’d like to.  It would also help narrow the rapidly growing gap between the deprived and affluent.

2. In secondary schools we have our Year 10 and Year 12 (if you have them) back in and if space allows, include all vulnerable learners also.   Initially, I’d have Yr10 in for two weeks every day as an intensive catchup time, and then look to a model which involves one-year group in each day.  For the remainder of the year.  I wouldn’t choose to do this method into September however.    

This model obviously brings about all the timetabling issues I mentioned earlier.  Not only would it become a logistical nightmare, but to make it work there would have to be a reduced curriculum offer.

3. A model we’re exploring is introducing the notion of tutorials.   I mentioned in my last blog how before this all began, we were considering allowing our motivated students next year the opportunity to fly. Rather than giving them 4 lessons of Science for example, the teacher sets them an extended piece of work or project and uses one or part of a lesson to go through and discuss fully any difficult concepts they may come across.  The students then go off (to open spaces or stay in the classroom) and work on their project.  During the other three lessons, the students are timetabled to return (either individually or in small groups) to the teacher for a short tutorial and/or feedback. 

We could apply a similar model to school-home working.  The logistics of timetabling this would still be large, but it would result in us working effectively with more learners.  It would also encourage not only us as a profession, but also our learners, to develop relevant 21st century teaching and learning skills/competencies.  In order to make it work, it might also encourage us to think more about combining subjects to form meaningful projects (especially at KS3). At present I am thinking of combined Humanities/English; STEM; and Art, Culture & Wellbeing options. 

If we carried this on into September, we would also have to consider child minding facilities for parents, as workplaces increasingly reopen out in the community.

Finally

There is so much to think about and I am only scratching the surface here.  Is there a website where all the various re-opening models are being shared?    I’d welcome any feedback and/or questions regarding this.   We need to challenge each other’s ideas to ensure we continue to refine them and cater for all eventualities. 

And a very final ‘finally’ –  a huge public thanks to all my staff who are doing an unbelievable job.   

15 thoughts on “Preparing to Reopen

  1. Thoughtful and generous. Your genuine concerns and uncertainties are widely shared. It would help if all Governments confirmed just 3 things: what’s expected of schools; guidance on what’s needed for everyone to be safe and stay well; support for those with particular needs and vulnerabilities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – I agree, with your three points with the proviso that in relation to your first point, the Government also take into account local nuances which make it difficult for a one size fits all model.

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  2. This is really helpful. My worries are very clearly shared by you, which is reassuring! Also the many questions I am constantly thinking about regarding what reopening will look like are explored in an interesting way. I too am looking for clear direction in the ‘big’ issues but would like some autonomy for what fits my school best. One thing for certain is HTs have been brilliant in providing support and discussion throughout this time.

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    1. HTs are helpful. It’s a pity there isn’t one forum people can go to share their various models/plans or concerns. Or is there one I’m missing?

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  3. Has anyone mentioned transport and the difficulties that will arise when social distances needs to be applied on school buses ?

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  4. ‘Schools will reopen when it is safe to do so.’ ‘We will be guided by the science.’ Two of the most commonly quoted mantras which tell us very little but are simply stating the truth. I liken the return to school to going through customs at an airport post 9/11; The protocol will be such an arduous task that it could very quickly relapse; this time it can’t, the high standards of sanitation must be maintained forms long as it takes. How??????? Do we take every pupil’s temperature at the school gates and throughout the day thereafter, provide them with hand sanitiser and PPE equipment, stop lessons for regular hand washing breaks, use the tenoy to remind us to social distance, to refrain from congregating or touching our face? Will each pupil be handed a labelled pencil case and assigned a computer? Will time be allowed to clean desks after each class, or will classes remain in one room and teachers move?
    One thing is certain, teachers and pupils alike will have to trust those who deem it safe to return. It is a case of having confidence in those who make the decisions. Many countries in Europe are reopening as a phased return, we will learn from them. It may never be considered 100% safe to return but we have to return sometime so why not do it now while we are most informed and willing to do what ever it takes to stay safe?

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  5. For primary’s, schools going back allows parents to go to work. However, I can’t imagine it’s possible for a teacher to keep a bunch of young children apart. However the curriculum is the same for every child so maybe be easier to plan

    For secondary’s, you’d normally put 1300 students in a building, 32 per classroom, with narrow corridors, a crowded canteen – and not to mention that secondary schools are probably further from home – and therefore more likely that students will require bus/train/tube transport to get to them.

    If you can safely get some students to school, as you say 150-200 students in year 10:

    The classroom that would normally seat 30 students – once you get our the tape measure – will seat 10, around 2 metres apart.

    The canteen tables that normally seat 15-20 will seat 3-4.

    The school bell would normally indicate everyone moving at once.

    The optional modules and freedom of choice at GCSE and A-Level that students get will likely mean that students are not in the same class – you can’t just split the school in half and say 100 year 10’s on Monday and the others on Tuesday – as that could leave some classes with no students and others still with 30.

    Teachers and Students would normally move rooms and combinations for their next lesson – so how do you clean an area.

    Support staff in schools may tend to be older than teachers – the retired person acting as a lunch time supervisor for instance.

    Each week that has gone by, parents have noticed school’s increasing their provision – week 1: “printed out booklets”, week 2: “google classroom”, week 4-5: “video conferencing lesson” – If some pupil’s are back in school, parents will expect school’s to be offering lessons etc for the year groups not in school.

    At the same time, Parent’s (whether they are teachers or not) can not be expected to be Teachers – the 15 year old son of a teacher doesn’t want mum/dad to teach them – that wouldn’t be cool right? Similarly a younger child wants their mum/dad, and not them to be a teacher – I’m sure plenty of primary school students have already informed mum/dad how they’ll do work for their real teacher only and how much better they are.

    The thing that might guide the government on this is the research coming out now about how children are spreading the infection – which seems to be a lack of spread.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is really helpful, as it highlights the extent to which we will have to go into detail. The points you have raised are relevant for all schools, and i’ll certainly be adding them to my list of things to consider once an announcement is finally made by the Government. Thanks a lot.

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  6. Another great article Armando I hope you and yours are all safe.
    As you know I work for a contractor thought needs to be given to recommissioning the school ready for use. This will include testing all services including emergency services and alarms. Chlorination of water systems as no doubt these have all been stopped during the close down.
    This will be at the same time construction projects are restarting or continuing where some didn’t stop and shortages of building services resources will be at a premium.
    Good luck to you and all teachers around the country in restarting as there is no doubt going to be some stressful times ahead as pupils young and older return to school and restart their education amongst the fear of the virus.
    Best wishes

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  7. Wonderful points – you mention vulnerable students , yet there are also members of staff that with with vulnerable people at home ( which is one of the five points brought up by the NEU) .
    Children who carry the virus have as much of a viral payload as adults – this is a very dangerous setting for members of staff .

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  8. It is and something that constantly plays on the back of my mind. I possibly had the virus at the beginning of March, following a visit to London which included picking up someone at Heathrow. After never having a day off in over 20 years, I was forced to take two weeks off and it took 6 weeks to fully recover. I still have a lingering chest condition. I was never tested and so can’t confirm if I had it. Which leaves me with two possibilities – If I didn’t have it am I now more vulnerable with a compromised chest? And if I did have it, am I resistant or immune? I think many members of staff will have their own thoughts and fears (some very real) and you are right, what might they bring back into their households. Personally, like flu, I think this will never go away. We won’t beat it, we just have to become really good at managing it. Initially while herd resistance builds up, this is going to be very difficult.

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  9. This is a fundamentally massive and complex logistical problem. Your article has described many facets in a succinct way. I kept an eye on what is happening elsewhere in the world.
    As I read your article a couple of things came to my mind and these are really what you have already alluded to. Firstly, to enable the students to help you in supervising each other and to rotate this responsibility amongst them. All under their teachers’ supervision.

    A second thought. A model: Students to attend two days to school and work three days at home. Teachers to work four days and take a day off. I am thinking of staff Leon el and extra demands on those who are actually in work.

    Whatever you do has to be tailored to your local requirements, the community, the number of students who require extra supervision, and other factors. I don’t think you can get it 100% right, and I could see that is what you would aspire to achieve, but I believe strongly that you will not go wrong. A big difference

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