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Thousands of children return to school in Kent after Covid lockdown but headteacher explains easing them back in is biggest task


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A longer lunch break and extra snacks - it's a return to school but not as we know it.

Thousands of children across Kent will return to classrooms today after the longest Christmas break in history - although admittedly some did return for one day before the government performed a screeching u-turn.

Tiger Primary head teacher, Hayley King, speaks on preparing to welcome children back

For two-and-a-half months the vast majority of pupils have been learning from their living rooms in an effort to get a grip on spiralling Covid-19 cases.

Thanks to a combination of a third lockdown and a world-leading vaccine programme cases are now dropping at a rate which has allowed today's planned return to go ahead.

But while the 'big bang' approach of opening all schools on the same day has caused significant debate, with school leaders and scientists worried it could see a spike in cases, one thing which seems to be universally accepted is the transition back to learning in school will take time.

Hayley King is over-the-moon to see all her pupils back.

The head teacher of Tiger Primary, in Loose, Maidstone, thinks it is the right time to return but says it will take time for children to reacquaint themselves with more traditional learning.

They'll be back in uniform and sat at desks next to classmates as opposed to wearing comfortable clothes while working from their sofas.

As a result staff at the school have spent the past weeks devising a re-structured day and altered curriculum in order to ease youngsters in.

"Lunch will be slightly longer," she explained, "and parents have been asked to send a few snacks in and we've stocked up on milk and fruit as they will be used to eating at different times."

There will be a focus on language-based study to boost communication skills in recognition of the fact for many, some as young as four, have not interacted with their friends face to face for weeks.

She said: "Language-rich study is essential. They need to reacquaint themselves with verbal and communication skills."

A recent wellbeing survey sent to pupils revealed their number one anxiety on returning is that the school may shut again.

Alan Brookes is chair of the Kent Association of Headteachers

While nothing is certain in terms of transmission she thinks a return now is a good.

"It's four weeks until Easter," she said, "and that's a good amount of time to ease them back in."

"That also gives us two weeks to assess any impact opening schools has had during the holidays."

For chairman of the Kent Association of Headteachers Alan Brookes the 'big bang' mentioned earlier is of some concern.

He said: "We're going back when the rates are higher than they were in September.

"Yes we need children back but we think more could have been done around staging of return for example."

But while those concerns persist his overriding feeling is that schools are as prepared as possible

"Give headteachers something to do and they'll get it done," he added.

He also urged as many parents as possible to agree to schools new testing regimes, some of which had to begin last week.

He described the system as a "porous membrane" which could never be 100% effective but stressed the only way to get as close to that as possible is by testing the maximum amount of children.

A teacher in front of class of children. Stock picture: Ryan McVay/Think Stock
A teacher in front of class of children. Stock picture: Ryan McVay/Think Stock

Everything you need to know about the school return

The government's approach to schooling in lockdown has been one of the most controversial aspects of its response to the pandemic.

After initially refusing to close classrooms last March it then did, except for children of essential workers, and in the summer there were major issues with the controversial exam algorithm which saw another u-turn.

Then schools returned as planned in September but this year's exams were then pushed back - by just three weeks despite hundreds of thousands of children continuing to be sent home due to exposure to the virus.

They broke up for Christmas as planned, but some wrapped up early. Then in January another u-turn at the 11th hour saw many pupils, depending on where they lived, told they would not be returning to the classroom just days before they were due to go back.

A day into the start of term, another u-turn saw the same policy extended to all schools, the majority of which had returned for just a day. GCSEs, AS and A-levels were then called off.

Students' GCSEs, AS and A Level exams were called off for this year because of the pandemic. Stock picture
Students' GCSEs, AS and A Level exams were called off for this year because of the pandemic. Stock picture

Schools, as always remained open during the pandemic for children of essential workers and, later due to a change in policy, this included vulnerable children.

But Boris Johnson set out his plans to reopen schools,in an address to the House of Commons on January 28.

The Prime Minister told MPs: "Reopening schools must be our national priority."

When will my child return to school?

All primary school pupils should attend school from Monday and so should secondary school pupils, but secondary aged youngsters and college and other students will be offered testing from March 8.

However, to allow the testing of pupils to be carried out, secondary schools in Kent are allowed to stagger the return over the week, so your child may not have to go in at the beginning of the week and your child's school will inform you about the time of their return.

Students will be tested three times in the first two weeks and then will be given two rapid tests to use each week at home. Stock picture
Students will be tested three times in the first two weeks and then will be given two rapid tests to use each week at home. Stock picture

How often will my child be tested?

All secondary aged youngsters and college students will be offered testing from Monday.

Secondary schools in Kent are allowed to stagger the return over the week, to allow testing to be carried out.

Students will be tested three times in the first two weeks and then will be given two rapid tests to use each week at home.

Young students will also be asked to continue using home testing kits twice a week.

School staff will also be required to take twice-weekly tests using home testing kits.

Secondary school pupils will be given Covid home test kits. Stock picture
Secondary school pupils will be given Covid home test kits. Stock picture

Asymptomatic testing sites will remain at schools and colleges for students unable to test at home.

Those who consent to testing will be allowed to return to face-to-face teaching, following their first negative Covid test result.

If your child is a student over the age of 18 and doesn't consent to a test, they will be stopped from going back into the classroom and schooling will be done in line with their school's or college's arrangements.

Will my child have to wear a mask in class?

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has made clear that the majority of children and young people still have no symptoms or very mild coronavirus illness only and returning to class is also deemed vital for youngsters' educational progress, wellbeing, and wider development.

Secondary and college students will be asked to wear face coverings indoors, including classrooms. Stock picture
Secondary and college students will be asked to wear face coverings indoors, including classrooms. Stock picture

Secondary schools will also continue to implement a range of protective measures, like wearing masks and not shields, to ensure the virus causes less disruption to youngsters' education.

The government says for a 'limited period' young people and staff in higher education, further education and secondary schools will be asked to wear face coverings indoors, including classrooms, unless 2m social distancing can be preserved.

Face coverings for staff and adult visitors are also recommended in early years and primary schools when social distancing between adults is not possible - for example, when moving around corridors and communal areas.

Your child's school will give you more information about other measures they have in place.

Will bubbles and social distancing still be used in schools?

Public Health England has advised schools on the continuation of existing controls, like bubbles and social distancing, but these will also be enhanced by additional precautionary measures.

Desks in classrooms will still be socially distanced to allow pupils back into the class on Monday
Desks in classrooms will still be socially distanced to allow pupils back into the class on Monday

These included minimising contact with students or staff who are required to self-isolate by ensuring they do not attend school.

Advising everyone to clean their hands thoroughly and more often than usual.

Ensuring good hygiene by promoting the 'catch it, bin it, kill it' approach and maintaining enhanced cleaning on school and college sites.

School staff must also minimise contact across sites and and maintain social distancing where possible, including creating bubbles and asking pupils and staff to avoiding public transport.

Staff and pupils must also continue to wear PPE where necessary and sites like classrooms have to be kept well ventilated, so it may be an idea to send your child in with extra layers to keep warm as windows in classrooms will probably be open during lessons.

Has my child's teacher been vaccinated yet?

Some teachers who fall into the first four priority categories for the Covid jab will have been given the vaccine already, but those who were are not will have to wait in line for their age group to be called up during the national rollout.

Teachers have to wait in line for their age group to be called up for the vaccine
Teachers have to wait in line for their age group to be called up for the vaccine

The government is sticking to prioritising people by age and not their occupation to avoid slowing down the jab rollout.

People aged 40-49 will be the next in line to get a vaccine after all vulnerable groups and the over-50s are covered.

Will after school activities and sports be allowed?

Clubs for children in school buildings, both before and after normal school hours, will also be permitted to start from Monday.

And other school activates like sports can also resume.

School activates like sports can also resume from Monday
School activates like sports can also resume from Monday

And Kent doctor and children's television presenter Dr Ranj has been reassuring pupilsthat schools will be safe when they return next week.

He had been to visit a secondary school in London to see how measures are working and how secondary children feel about the testing regime.

He described them as 'incredibly resilient and adaptable' and said: "Youngsters have been amazing."

He also said staff had been doing their best to make it "as safe as possible" to return and added: "This is our chance now to try and get back to normal."

Watch what Dr Ranj has to say about children returning to school

News from our universities, local primary and secondary schools including Ofsted inspections and league tables can be found here.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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