Up to 97% of primary schools expect to fully reopen to all pupils at the start of the new term in England and Wales, though a third have no extra handwashing provision and no PPE for staff, according to a survey.
The vast majority of school leaders who took part in the poll said they expected to be open full-time for all children, most of whom will have been out of school for five months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Of those unable to fully reopen, some are planning transition periods for new pupils or a phased return to reduce anxiety for children. Others said they were dealing with staff absences, local lockdowns or difficulties implementing control measures.
The survey was conducted by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and drew responses from 4,000 members, overwhelmingly in the primary sector, including 140 responses from school leaders in Wales where ministers have allowed more flexibility for reopenings.
The NAHT general secretary, Paul Whiteman, said school leaders had worked hard over the summer to get schools ready. He appealed to parents: “Please do not let the very public political difficulties and arguments cloud your confidence in schools. School leaders and their teams have continued to do all that has been asked of them. With cooperation and understanding between home and school we can achieve the very best return possible despite the political noise.”
Asked about safety measures for the protection of pupils and staff, 69% of heads said they were installing additional handwashing or hand sanitation units, 65% were providing PPE for staff and 4% were providing PPE for pupils.
According to the survey, 96% are organising regular additional cleaning of classrooms, 96% are planning “bubbles” of pupils and 93% are staggering lunchtimes and break times.
In addition, 87% are staggering start and finish times for pupils, prompting concerns among some parents about how to manage if they have more than one child, and about lost learning time for some children.
Despite concerns about the challenges of social distancing in schools, less than a quarter (22%) of school leaders said they had created additional site space for pupils or staff, though one headteacher told the Guardian the school library had been converted into the staff room to enable teachers to socially distance from each other.
“We know that parents and families want their children to return, but we also know that confidence is a fragile thing,” said Whiteman. “The long list of government delays, U-turns and uncertainty has not helped matters in the slightest, but school leaders and their teams have stuck to their task. They are the ones providing the stability for parents right now.”
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “Getting all children back into classrooms is a national priority, and these findings shine a light on the brilliant work going on across the country to make sure our schools are ready.”
Source: The Guardian