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Coronavirus Kent: Pupils and staff gear up for school closures

Thousands of pupils across Kent are having to say an emotional goodbye to friends as they begin an enforced period of home schooling for what could be months.

It comes as some head teachers urge the Government to make clear what will happen with exams and exactly how pupils will get their qualifications.

Lily Morgan and Skye Witte were sent home at short notice yesterday
Lily Morgan and Skye Witte were sent home at short notice yesterday

Many schools have held events today normally reserved for the end of term - which, under usual conditions, would be in two weeks' time.

But for some youngsters the change has been sudden.

Lily Morgan, 15, from Sir Roger Manwoods in Sandwich was unable to say a proper farewell to her friends as they were sent home at short notice, yesterday.

She said: "Our last day of school was hectic. We weren’t aware that it was our last day of school until it was announced that we were to leave the school immediately , two hours into the day.

"We weren’t allowed to sign shirts or have a leavers party or celebrate in any way.

Danya Taha (right) pictured with fellow Simon Langton Girls pupil Rachal Limbu
Danya Taha (right) pictured with fellow Simon Langton Girls pupil Rachal Limbu

"We are all devastated about it."

Kent’s largest secondary school did not let pupils in Years 11 and 13 in today because it fears that pupils who are away self-isolating will return to say goodbye to their friends.

Homewood School in Tenterden told parents last night via text about its decision not to admit GCSE and A-level students.

The 11th hour announcement dismayed pupils who would have been taking GCSEs and A levels. For some, it would have been their last day and so some were unable to say goodbye.

Pupils at a Canterbury grammar say they have been feeling like “they are stuck in limbo” as they ready themselves to leave school with little idea of when they will sit their final exams.

Richard Owen head teacher at Maplesden Noakes School, in Maidstone
Richard Owen head teacher at Maplesden Noakes School, in Maidstone

Simon Langton Girls pupil Danya Taha says this has left many pupils dejected as even their teachers are unsure of what will happen.

“I think a lot of people were quite heartbroken and angry finding out about the uncertainty about exams,” the 17-year-old from Canterbury said.

“On the one hand we’re excited to be leaving and trying to have a fun last day, but at the same time everyone is quite sombre as we realise we are stuck in limbo.

“Normally, you look up to the teachers for answers, but we had in assembly and they said, ‘Look, we can’t give you the answers to the questions you probably all have’.”

Boris Johnson said yesterday that exams will not take place in May and June, but gave little indication of contingency options.

Speculation has swirled that exams could be postponed to September, when many will have planned to move onto university or employment.

Despite being given access to lessons online, Danya fears this could hamper her chances of gaining the three As she needs to study medicine at Edinburgh University.

“Teaching yourself subjects like maths can be really difficult – I think that’s what people are stressing about,” she added.

Richard Owen, head of Mapleseden Noakes school in Maidstone, today visited every Year 11 pupil and wished goodbye to each of them. He's also encouraging all students to remain as positive as possible.

He said: "I have tried to re-assure them and I very much see my role as being there to offer support at this time.

Tanya Kelvie, head teacher at Aylesford School
Tanya Kelvie, head teacher at Aylesford School

"There are, naturally, some students who feel very emotional and it is such an unusual situation for them. Many staff also feel anxious too."

He said staff have tried to guide pupils on the best way of approaching what would have been exam season from mid May to mid June.

He added: "It is so, so important the Government doesn't leave it much longer before giving us its proposals for exam grades.

"We've said to students there is an element of their courses called the non examinable assessment (formerly coursework) which we encourage them to have up to as good a standard as possible, in case the Government relies on that. Staff are also ensuring predicted grades are the rights ones too. But we just don't know what the Government will do."

Mr Owen, who pledged Year 11 would have a rescheduled prom night, when the Covid-19 situation calms down, also said his school was having to do a lot of administration over what constitutes a keyworker.

Sienna and Etta, both five, with their rainbows at Vigo Village School
Sienna and Etta, both five, with their rainbows at Vigo Village School

Boris Johnson announced vulnerable children, or those of keyworkers, could continue to go to school sites, but the list was only revealed last night.

Mr Owen said: "We're approaching it that the fairest way is for us to see keyworker ID. We have to balance this directive with also not allowing too many people to socialise together, so seeing ID is the way of making it fair."

Teachers at Vigo Village School near Gravesend hugged their pupils goodbye.

Children in Year 6 emerged from the school gates with shirts scribbled with their friend's messages.

Roger Barber, head teacher, said: "We are trying to keep things as normal as we can to be honest but it's not the same because we have got a lot less children but we are still teaching them, so we are trying to keep things going.

Easter egg hunt at Roseacre Junior School
Easter egg hunt at Roseacre Junior School

"I think they are really anxious which is another reason we just want to keep things going as it is.

"They are aware of it, we try no to embellish it too much but they hear from parents and brothers and sisters, so there is a level of anxiety.

On the last day, the school's attendance was down 40% and it will be open to 20 children of key workers whilst the schools closure is enforced.

Sian Bailey, a mother to two pupils in Years 1 and 4 said: "This school has been particularly lovely. We have got homeschooling from Monday.

"None of it's ideal, I am still working but remotely. which is fine. It's a different way of working, it's much more fluid because at the moment I have just been on the computer the whole time."

Pupils from Temple Mill Primary School, in Strood,held a bold and bright dress day for charity (32293526)
Pupils from Temple Mill Primary School, in Strood,held a bold and bright dress day for charity (32293526)

Children from Temple Mill Primary school, in Cliffe Road, Strood, held a bright and bold dress uniform day on Friday to raise money for foodbanks.

Admin assistant Ann Gee said: "The children held a dress down day on the last day of term in return for a donation of a food item that could then be passed onto the local food bank.

"We had lots of donations from the children and families, all of which were gratefully received at this very testing time for everyone.

"The donations are due to be passed onto the food bank this week."

Pupils from Temple Mill Primary School, in Strood,held a bold and bright dress day for charity (32293538)
Pupils from Temple Mill Primary School, in Strood,held a bold and bright dress day for charity (32293538)

Tanya Kelvie, head teacher at Aylesford School said staff and students had been in tears today.

She added: "It's just been an emotional day and we've promised Year 11 students they will have their prom, but it may have to be at Christmas."

She said her students were being advised to stay ready for their exams in case of any last minute change, adding: "I realise the Government has so much on, and schools is just one aspect of keeping the country safe, but there needs to be some information soon on the detail behind the announcements."

On Sheppey, Year 6 pupils at Thistle Hill Academy in Minster and Richmond Academy in Sheerness, both part of the Stour Academy Trust, have been told they will be invited back to school for the usual leavers' event when it can take place.

Pupils who go to all schools run by the trust, which also includes Lansdowne Primary School in Sittingbourne, Adisham Primary School, Chilmington Green Primary School, Finberry Primary School, Sturry Primary School and Water Meadows Primary School in Canterbury, will also be given home learning packs and have access to a home-learning webpage.

After Easter, Stour pupils will receive daily online lessons in maths and English and weekly sessions for science via a home learning video page - a total of 84 lessons for children each week.

St George's Primary School in Minster, Sheppey, exercised their vocal chords. Head teacher Howard Fisher said: "The school had a lovely singalong assembly this afternoon to say goodbye. We wish all our families well and hope to see you all soon."

Some schools decided to use their last day being fully open to have some fun.

Roseacre Junior School, in Bearsted, held an Easter egg hunt, which would have normally been done at the end of term.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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