STAGGERED start, finish and play times, hand washing, one-way systems and percussion-based music lessons are just some changes North-East pupils should expect as they head back to school today and through to next week.
Schools in the region are sticking with guidance issued by public bodies on how to keep students safe as doors reopen.
Peter King, head teacher of Mowden Infant and Junior Schools, in Darlington, joined an online meeting yesterday with other local school leaders and Darlington Public Health, which has been a “very helpful additional source of expertise and guidance”.
While keeping primary school children in class bubbles is “probably the easiest part”, Mowden youngsters will be sat in pairs, side by side. The move is in line with advice, which says not to have pupils facing each other or too close to a teacher.
Mr King said: “It is the other parts of the school day which require most thought.
“We devised a system for the start and end of day back in June and this worked well. Instead of a very specific time, parents are given a twenty minute window to bring in their children and then to collect them later.
“We have a one way system through school grounds and parents bring their child to the classroom fire door and let them go inside, before exiting via a different gate.
“This helps with congestion and avoids queuing. At the end of the day, the parent waits by the classroom window for their child to be released.”
Additional school staff will also wait exit gates to monitor the situation.
“Another potentially tricky time is lunch,” Mr King said.
“All of our meals are cooked at the infant school, so our new system, again to avoid congestion, sees the lunchtime supervisors serve the junior school children their dinners in their classrooms.”
Lunchtimes are being shortened to thirty minutes to help the new system run smoothly, but classes will have an extra, staggered, afternoon break time. The 600 school children must wash their hands after each playtime.
While curriculum changes were also anticipated to help children catch up with missed school, Mowden’s will feel “quite normal” with the exception of music.
The head, who will welcome students back on September 7, said: “The guidance states that it isn’t safe yet for children to sing in whole class groups or to play wind instruments. Working with Durham Music Service, we will therefore have a percussion-based music curriculum for those classes who would normally learn a brass instrument.
“It involves body sounds apparently.”
Mowden teachers are also meeting new students online this week to help with the transition.
Also reopening on September 7 is Teesside High School, which caters to three to 18-year-olds across three buildings and is set on full-time classroom teaching.
Kirsty Mackenzie, head at Teesside High School said: “It has been a tumultuous year and we appreciate the return to school will bring about a lot of mixed feelings. Our parents have been supportive throughout the pandemic and we hope the measures we have introduced will go a long way to reassure them of their child’s safety.
“As a three to 18 school, we have seen first-hand how the coronavirus pandemic has affected children of all ages.
“Our intention is to provide a sensible balance between health and safety guidelines and the ethos and day-to-day experiences our parents value so highly.
“We will be teaching our full curriculum in small classes, and using year group bubbles. Our class sizes have always been small – around 15 on average – which has helped greatly during our planning.
“Although desks have been moved to maintain social distancing as far as possible, we have been careful not to lose friendliness.”
Hand sanitizing and personal hygiene are at the centre of the school’s safety measures, but Mrs Mackenzie has also implemented staggered drop-off and pick-up arrangements and a one way system in the school building.
Face coverings will not be compulsory in corridors or classrooms but Senior School and Sixth Form pupils are expected to have a mask on their person, to then use at their discretion or where social distancing is difficult.
Wolsingham School, in Weardale, has developed its plan following consultation and feedback from staff, parents and Health and Safety authorities at Durham County Council.
Within the classroom, furniture has been rearranged so no two students face each other and non-necessary materials have been removed while hand sanitisers, antibacterial wipes, tissues and pedal bins can be found in every classroom.
Students are being encouraged to walk unless travelling by their own car and must wear a mask if coming by school bus. Inside the school, which will be cleaned throughout the day, they must follow a one-way system.
Each year group also has its own bubble, including dedicated toilets and entrance and exits.
East Durham College has implemented similar measures, with the addition of some screens, and face masks or visors for staff in close proximity to students.
While the college says things inside the classroom are not “vastly different”, for those unable to attend due to shielding or self-isolation, we are implementing remote teaching of lessons and providing video content.