Making schools 'Covid secure' in the Bi-borough

​Sarah Newman
Tuesday, August 25, 2020

We all know children are resilient and can adapt with a swiftness many adults struggle to achieve. So, as rules and regulations around lockdown have changed, young people too have had to keep up with the constant shifting and reworking of the way we can and cannot interact in order to keep each other safe.

Across the Bi-Boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster, schools were seeing a peak of almost 45 per cent of children attending before the summer holidays, as they ‘blended’ their learning models to offer on-site lessons, online learning and work sent home. It was soon acknowledged that teaching facts and figures was easier than new concepts using remote methods, and that the level of emotional support required by the children – at home and at school – was such that a lot of activities were focused on wellbeing… and rightly so!

Our primary schools have become key hubs for family support; providing foodbanks, newsletters and maintaining regular contact. They were the connection to the outside world for many of our families who have been shielding or feeling too anxious to go out.

We are now recognising that everyone has their own experience of Covid-19 and it will be important for children to speak about it. We have been receiving lots of pictures, poems and stories from young people, and we are planning an exhibition to showcase this work. It seems to me that children lost a voice during lockdown and many became invisible; it is vital for us to hear their tales so that we ensure we respond better in the months ahead. 

So what is ahead? I think that is the question everyone would love to answer. As lockdown measures are eased and our city reopens, fluctuations in cases of coronavirus are likely and we all have a role to play in stopping the spread of coronavirus and returning life to as close to normal as possible. All schools have a risk assessment and a Covid secure plan; and we have an outbreak control process that will allow schools to shut down temporarily, should that be necessary. Most schools will be able to move from face-to-face teaching to digital classrooms in the stroke of a key – which is pretty impressive and reflects both the care and determination but also some of the very best leadership from our headteachers who, in my mind, have been the great entrepreneurs of the new landscape we find ourselves in.

Will all our children go back to school in September? We are trying our best to make that happen; running local publicity campaigns to support children ‘going back to their futures’ – back to routine, structure, classrooms, friends – and hopefully having fun! There will be some parents who are worried about their child’s wellbeing, worried that their child will become infected and spread the virus through the family. We will keep talking about the safety measures in place – the staggered start times, the movement strategy around schools keeping classes and year groups separate, the lunchtime arrangements and the use of the playground, and regular handwashing. We will continue to talk about the benefits of going back to school – the importance of face-to-face teaching to understand new concepts and being able to interact socially with other children and with staff - but most of all, and I think we can all relate to this; our children need to get back to having fun!

Our social care staff have been considering the real dilemma faced during lockdown – how to encourage vulnerable children to attend school. We have run webinars for our own staff to increase their confidence about children being able to return to school safely. Everyone understands the rationality of this but emotionally it’s still tough. Using our systemic skills we will try to connect with this, we will give the fear and the anxiety a name and a voice and we will confront it with a stronger story of childhood and play, of learning and laughter.  We will use every part of our system to listen, respond and ultimately to work together to support our children being safe, healthy and being able to learn – at school.

​Sarah Newman is Bi-borough DCS

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