Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Schools feels pressure of coping with virus effects

CHILDREN in Watlington who are missing school because they are waiting for covid-19 tests or results are learning remotely.

Watlington Primary School says it recognised that this term was likely to be disrupted with pupils absent for long periods due to problems with the testing system.

Headteacher Yvonne Hammerton-Jackson said the re-integration of children who had been off school was important with swift teaching catch-ups.

She said that since the start of term last month 25 children had been off school for varying periods of time as they waited for covid-19 tests.

These were up to a week at the beginning of term but she said test results were now coming back within about 48 hours.

Another 12 children have been off school as they have had to isolate either because they have siblings at the primary or another school who have needed to be tested. All the results so far have been negative.

In a letter to parents last month Mrs Hammerton-Jackson said it was no secret that the national testing regime was “woefully inadequate”.

She said that in the first few weeks of the new academic year, the system was shown to be both “under-resourced and unprepared”.

As a result, parents had initially found it nearly impossible to secure tests, which had resulted in children missing school for longer periods of time than they should have been.

Speaking this week, Mrs Hammerton-Jackson  said the situation had improved and that only four of its pupils were currently waiting for tests, whereas in the early part of term the school had an average of about eight pupils at home at once.

She thanked parents who had “persevered” with getting a test and for keeping the school informed about their children’s waiting times and results.

However, she said that having children out of school had put a “significant” strain on her staff.

As well as conducting face-to-face teaching with pupils in the classroom, the school has had to ensure those at home had access to learning resources.

Mrs Hammerton-Jackson said that although the teaching wasn’t live, work was still being putting on the school’s website so pupils could learn remotely.  She said: “As part of our covid continuity plan, the teaching staff have been working extremely hard on planning for absences.

“We pre-empted the disruption and with that we put these things in place for this interim remote learning, albeit watered down, while we’re still running a school.

“I think the bit that goes unreported is the impact on your day-to-day life as a teacher.

“On the surface, schools can appear as if everything is back to normal. But what is actually happening is you’re placing a burden on the teaching staff who are doing face-to-face, monitoring and supporting those working at home and doing support work for special educational needs children.”

Reintegrating pupils depended on how long they had been off school for. If it was a short time they could have a simple catch-up session with a teaching assistant but if it was longer their teacher would complete a brief assessment on what skills and knowledge they had missed.

Mrs Hammerton-Jackson has also appealed to parents to abide by the latest coronavirus guidelines. 

She said the rule of six applied to children when they were out of school and was enforceable by law.

She had been concerned by large groups of parents at the beginning and end of day and asked them to find a safe space away from other groups.

Her letter said the school was considering splitting collection and drop off times into more staggered stages if this continued but Mrs Hammerton-Jackson said this week that the situation had improved.

The school was due to hold parents’ evenings on October 21 and 22 but these have been cancelled.

Instead the school will issue two reports this academic year. Parents will receive the first one before the Christmas holidays as well as the usual end-of-year report in July.

The school will hold face-to-face meetings in the spring term if it is able to do so by then.

Meanwhile, all schools are also having to prepare for the eventuality of another lockdown.

Mrs Hammerton-Jackson said: “What schools are being asked to do by the Government is, with the flick of a switch, to provide a full remote learning package. That’s a huge burden going on behind the scenes.”

She said many hours were spent evaluating the risks and planning a range of mitigating controls. The school also carried out a risk assessment, which was reviewed weekly.

In her letter to parents, she said: “The single largest barrier to remaining open is the health and availability of our staff, so please do not break the 2m rule when approaching them.”

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