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Inside new-look 'stark and shocking' coronavirus classrooms at Minster Primary School, Sheppey

Youngsters are in for a shock when they return to school.

To comply with strict government safety guidelines, primary school head teachers are stripping out carpets, soft furnishings and toys.

Debbie Wheeler on KMTV

Communal pots of pens and pencils are outlawed. Pupils must take their own.

Their familiar surroundings will be replaced by stark coronavirus classrooms with one chair to a desk.

Debbie Wheeler, the chief executive officer of the Island Learning Trust which runs two schools on Sheppey and one in Sittingbourne, said: "It will be very much a return to chalk and talk traditional teaching. It's going to be a massive culture shock."

Her trust is refusing to reopen for reception classes and the eldest Year 6 pupils on June 1.

Instead, it will reopen for Year 5 pupils from Monday, June 15 - two weeks later.

The classroom before and after the lockdown refurb

Mrs Wheeler said: "We want to see how the back-to-work call affects the number of cases of coronavirus. If the R rate (infection rate) is under one, we will open. If not, we won't."

Her teachers will be issued with face masks, gloves and aprons if they want to wear them.

But the most difficult test they are facing is stripping back the classrooms and removing all the notices and pictures from the walls.

Timothy Pye, assistant head at Minster Primary School in Brecon Chase, admitted: "We are looking forward to seeing the children again but it has been really hard taking down everything which inspires them.

"We will do the best we can. But as a father, I am somewhat hesitant. And it must be scary for some families."

Oliver Jeffery starts stripping the walls in Kookaburra Class at Minster Primary School
Oliver Jeffery starts stripping the walls in Kookaburra Class at Minster Primary School

The government says it will be safe to teach up to 15 children in a classroom.

Mrs Wheeler disputes this, so her schools - Minster, Halfway Houses and Sunny Bank at Murston - will be teaching pods of up to eight.

She said: "Five-year-olds can't possibly keep to social distancing. They enjoy some rough and tumble and are tactile. They want a cuddle. To expect our youngest children to sit on a chair and not move for five hours a day is morally wrong.

"Besides, they will find the classrooms stark and shocking. And the quality of learning on offer will be very static and traumatic for them which could give them a phobia about coming back to school. The needs of the children must be overriding.

"Year 5s are older, more mature and more spatially aware. They understand better."

Tins of pencils are outlawed in the new lockdown primary classroom
Tins of pencils are outlawed in the new lockdown primary classroom

She said there was no point bringing Year 6 pupils back as they had already said hasty farewells before the schools closed.

She said: "They should be doing nice things this term like having a sports day, creating a play for parents or going on a trip. None of those memory-building things will be on offer.

"They would be in a bubble of eight with one staff member all day who is unlikely to be their current class teacher. That's no way to end primary school."

Other years are likely to be brought back in two-week gaps.

She said: "Luckily, as an academy we can make our own choices. But I understand other Kent schools will be expected to reopen on June 1."

Debbie Wheeler, chief executive officer of the Island Learning Trust which runs Minster Primary School
Debbie Wheeler, chief executive officer of the Island Learning Trust which runs Minster Primary School

But she admitted: "It has been a nightmare. This week alone we have had 41 new documents issued by the Department of Education to describe how they expect schools to look and feel and how we can operate safely. We feel like we are constantly chasing our tail.

"It keeps changing. But it has to be right."

Children will have staggered start and finish times so there will be reduced crowding at the school gates. Changes are also being made to entry and exits in the school so there will be no mixing in corridors.

In an initial survey of parents across her three schools, 13-15% said they would send their children back. That has now increased to just under 30% in Year 5.

She added: "Lots of parents have said they will keep their children home and have welcomed our decision."

Locked: Minster Primary School in Brecon Chase, Sheppey
Locked: Minster Primary School in Brecon Chase, Sheppey

She is hoping school will return to 'normal' in September.

Read more: Latest news from the Isle of Sheppey here

Read more: Latest Sittingbourne news here


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