Back to school: Headteachers take different approaches as Covid-19 guidelines relaxed for autumn term

HEADTEACHERS have outlined how they will keep children safe from Covid-19 as pupils return to classrooms amid loosened restrictions.

On Thursday, September 2, schools in Hampshire will reopen after the summer holidays - though some may use inset days to return next week instead.

But with government guidelines around Covid-19 changing in the past few months, the rules for nurseries, schools, colleges and universities have also changed.

Year group bubbles and other limited groups have become a thing of the past for most, with pupils of different year groups allowed to mix once again.

Horndean Technology College headteacher, Julie Summerfield. Picture: Malcolm Wells (180823-1199)

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Face coverings are no longer required for pupils and staff in school, which means a return to singing and playing brass instruments in school settings. However, face coverings are still recommended when using public transport to and from school.

At the start of term, schools will carry out two rapid flow tests on the school premises for each person; after this, regular testing can just continue at home.

But some schools are keeping restrictions in place.

Headteacher Stewart Vaughan of Priory School in Southsea. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Julie Summerfield, headteacher at Horndean Technology College in Horndean, said the school is testing all pupils before the autumn term begins.

She said: 'I do like that the first thing the government said in its directive is that we're expected to provide quality face-to-face learning. That's the crucial thing for us, doing in-person education while also keeping students safe.

'Testing everyone over the next few days ensures nobody slips through the net. After that, taking all the guideline changes into account, the main thing for us is going to be promoting good hygiene.

'In any close community, whether that's a school, college or university, that's the greatest thing you can control, and the thing that will have the greatest impact.'

Crofton School's headteacher, Simon Harrison. Picture: Loughlan Campbell

Herne Junior School in Petersfield is also lifting most restrictions - although a one-way system will be kept in place.

Headteacher Tony Markham said: ‘We are optimistic about what we're doing, and intend to run the school as normally as possible.

‘There has been a shift in people's attitudes to Covid-19 since the vaccine roll-out, so we're staying in line with government guidance while also giving staff the choice to wear face coverings if they still wish to do so.

‘We had to ask ourselves if we were waiting for this to all go away, or if we were happier getting to a point where we instead live with it and manage it accordingly.’

At Cowplain Community School in Waterlooville, some restrictions will remain in place for the start of term - but headteacher Ian Gates said schools will inevitably lift all restrictions eventually.

He said: ‘We’ll still have a one-way system in place and be adhering to social distancing rules to keep everyone safe.

‘But schools have to reflect society, and as the rest of the world returns to normal it's important that we do the same.

‘At the end of the day, the top priority is getting children back into school, and as long as that can be done safely I'm in favour of it.’

Anyone aged 16 or 17 can now be vaccinated, as well as those aged 12-15 who have underlying health conditions.

Youngsters are also being urged to stay at home if they feel unwell, regardless of whether it is Covid-19 or not.

Some schools are taking a more cautious approach, with plans to instead review restrictions as the academic year progresses.

At Priory School in Southsea, last year's restrictions will remain in place for the start of the new term.

Headteacher Stewart Vaughan said: ‘For the time being we will be retaining masks, bubbles and having separate break times for different year groups.

‘We've looked at what's happened in Scotland and further afield and want to err on the side of caution.

‘If the facts change then we will review our position - but this arrangement puts us in the best position to deal with any potential outbreak.’

Simon Harrison, headteacher at Crofton School, added: ‘We are keeping many of the restrictions, such as year group bubbles and cleaning classrooms at the end of each lesson.

‘We think that's a proportionate approach. The guidance doesn't require it but we want to start the term in this way, because we might see some positive cases as children return to school.

‘We want things to be back to normal as soon as possible, but we also have a duty to protect students, staff, parents and the wider community.’

Hampshire County Council's executive lead member for children’s services, Cllr Roz Chadd, said: ‘We know that children and young people are looking forward to the new academic year and that education staff are eager to start welcoming them back.

‘For the autumn term, the priority for the county council and all education settings is to ensure that pupils and students can safely and effectively return to learning in the classroom, in a way that keeps any possible Covid-19 risks to the absolute minimum.

‘It has been an especially challenging 18 months for children and young people and we want their lives to return to normal as much as possible.’

Cllr Suzy Horton, deputy council leader and executive lead member for children, families and education for Portsmouth City Council, added: ‘Things might look a little different in school as restrictions have eased, and each school will have their own plans for testing, return dates and infection control and it is very important to follow the guidance.

‘Please check out your child's school website for details and continue to keep each other safe.

‘With restrictions easing it may seem as if coronavirus has gone away, but we can all still take actions to stop the spread.

‘I would encourage people of all ages to do their part by using tissues to catch and bin coughs and sneezes, continuing frequent hand washing, and using twice weekly lateral flow tests if they are eligible.

‘If you are a parent or carer of a 16 or 17-year-old, please urge them to take up the jab. Vaccines are safe, effective and vital in helping to limit the spread of the virus.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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