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Sunday, Feb 28, 2021

What can we learn from schools that have reopened?

What can we learn from schools that have reopened?

Millions of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to return to school within weeks, after months of disrupted education as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Parents and teachers where schools have already reopened tells us what they've learned from their children returning to the classroom.
Masks and digital-only homework

Masks are a big talking point in Scotland.

Colette Reilly says since her daughters, aged 12 and 14, returned to the classroom, a teacher has told them the current lack of rules about wearing masks is "likely to change" at the school in Paisley.

It comes after criticism from some pupils saying "it's not possible to social distance" inside schools. One high school in Edinburgh has already chosen to tell pupils and staff to wear face coverings while moving around between lessons.

"I've not got an issue with [my children wearing masks]," Colette tells Radio 5 Live.

"Even if it's [for a] year, in terms of a life span, it's a very short-term issue. At the end of the day, this isn't about individual families, this is about the collective. We all need to look after each other."

She says the "significant changes" her daughters have noticed about the return to school life include using hand sanitiser at stations throughout school, social distancing from other students inside classrooms, and being given digital-only homework.

The buzz of the classroom


Mike Corbett was happy to return to face-to-face teaching at his secondary school in East Dunbartonshire earlier this month.

"Just that buzz of classroom discussion that you get - that's completely impossible online - is a delight to have and one of the best things that we like about teaching," the English teacher tells Radio 5 Live.

Mike, who is national executive member for the NASUWT Scotland teaching union, thinks the pupils are "very happy to be back" too - but there's plenty of pandemic protocols for them to get used to such as regularly using hand sanitiser, not doing group work, and wiping down their desks before leaving the room.

Mike also has things to adapt to. He's frustrated by a line marking out two metres to keep him a safe distance from pupils, because it means he cannot approach individuals who are struggling with understanding his lesson.

But it's "just as well" the line is there, Mike says. On Thursday, his entire classroom had to be evacuated and cleaned as a result of a pupil displaying coronavirus symptoms.

"The only reason I was able to sleep soundly on Thursday night was because I did not cross that two-metre line," he says.

Despite comments from the UK's chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, attempting to reassure parents, pupils and teachers that schools are safe, Mike says "staff out there are very anxious still about the situation".

He said the recent increase in cases in Scotland means the virus will "inevitably" get into the classroom - "and then the fear is that there's a spread in schools".

How safe is school pick-up?

Liz Silverman helps to collect her grandchildren Jack, nine, and Betsy, five, from school

Liz Silverman wants face coverings to be made mandatory within the grounds of her grandchildren's primary schools.

"At collection time all the mums, dads and grandparents have to wait outside the classroom as the teacher will not release a child until they see the parent or grandparent. Social distancing is not possible," she says.

Liz, 69, says her daughter and daughter-in-law are both teachers, so would not be able to return to work without her help picking up her four grandchildren from their two separate primary schools, two days a week.

"I don't feel safe... I would like to say 'no' but I can't let them down," Liz says.

Liz from Northwood, London, believes making adults wear masks when dropping off or picking up schoolchildren is a "simple thing" to solve a surge in cases and assuage her worries about the safety of her husband, who has been shielding. "If I bring anything home to him, it could be devastating."

And the view from Germany

Alex Nunn lives in Berlin, where her 15-year-old step-children have been back to school for two weeks.

"There was no extra spacing or anything like that going on in the school," she says, but that's because teachers and pupils there must wear masks everywhere around the school, apart from once they're seated at their desks.

Alex, 50, tells Radio 5 Live she struggles to understand why some people in the UK see wearing a mask as "such a big problem", and hopes some anxious parents will learn lessons from her sister, who she has been visiting in London.

"My five-year-old nephew is wearing one here when he's going on public transport. Somehow my sister's managed to make it a bit of an adventure, and fun, and he understands why he's wearing it - and I simply don't get why it's being perceived as being a big deal to wear a mask here," she says.

The World Health Organization has said children aged 12 and over should wear masks in line with national recommendations, citing evidence suggesting teenagers can infect others in the same way as adults.

"As soon as they get up to move around the school, go to the loo, go in the playground, they're wearing masks the whole time," she says.


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