Published: 06:00, 15 November 2020
| Updated: 07:31, 15 November 2020
Pupil ‘bubbles’, marquee classrooms and gallons of sanitiser - Ken Moffat, head teacher of Langton Boys in Canterbury, describes the reality, and cost, of school life under Covid...
Question: How do you make a school Covid-secure? Answer: You can’t.
But you are responsible for the health of the community and you have to follow government guidance at the risk of incurring legal challenge and parental outcry. We’ve already had one spot visit from the Health and Safety Executive to check that we were Covid compliant - we were congratulated for our efforts - proving there will be consequences for dissent.
Parents are very keen for schools to remain open; the government is desperate to keep them open. I am strongly in favour of keeping schools open but am keenly aware that we have to do things very differently in order to make this happen safely.
The biggest challenge for all schools has been introducing measures to try and contain year groups in their own “bubbles” to aim to prevent the spread of the disease. This has required each year group having its own break and lunch times and, to allow us to clean down between breaks and keep students separate, we have had to create more space.
The easiest way of doing this has been by hiring marquees to effectively expand the school. Drama lessons are taught outdoors in a specially-lit marquee, the quad has another marquee, which makes it look oddly like a wedding venue, and the sixth form canteen now looks like an extension of the Ashford Retail Outlet. Whilst we got these at a bargain price, considering, the outlay for the school is not inconsiderable.
In order to supervise students in their bubbles and maintain their isolation we have had to take on more lunchtime supervisors and, to clean down dining areas as soon as one canteen service is ended, we have had to hire more cleaners. This is on top of classroom teachers cleaning and re-sanitising their own classrooms after every lesson.
We are now required to provide hand sanitising solution and surface sanitising solution and this has tied us into a three-year contract - the best deal we could get - and you will not be able to guess how many gallons of the stuff a community of just under 1,500 gets through in an average week.
We have installed wooden and perspex screens to protect vulnerable staff and bought Covid signage to highlight the new one-way travelling system around the school.
Our bins have been replaced by new secure-lidded versions.
All in all, we estimate that the total cost of introducing new measures to keep our community safe, in line with government instruction, is approximately £20,000 and the government, at the moment, is not prepared to reimburse us a penny of that.
It is all coming from an already over-stretched and under-funded budget, which has been further straitened by the loss of all revenue from school lettings.
"Ultimately, the fact that we have only had four confirmed Covid cases in school since the pandemic struck suggests what we have put in place is both worth it and as robust as can be."
You will be surprised at how much schools rely on the money they generate themselves to keep the core function going.
Any additional money promised to schools by the government has already been swallowed up by the pay rise offered to teachers, which we were told to fund from existing budgets. We have not been profligate in our spending in any way but the cost has been hard for the school.
Ultimately, the fact that we have only had four confirmed Covid cases in school since the pandemic struck suggests what we have put in place is both worth it and as robust as can be.
Schools, and those who work in them, have done their bit for the country during this crisis and I think it is time for the government to stop ignoring pleas for financial help from head teacher unions and other organisations and to properly recognise what I’m sure everyone sees as a crucial effort for society as a whole.