More pupils at Long Wittenham and Clifton Hampden Primary schools are returning to the classroom. Clifton Hampden is taking reception Year 1 pupils and Year 6 including pupils from the families of key workers including vulnerable children.
Long Wittenham school is however taking only Year 1 children at the moment along with the children of key workers but is reviewing the position to ensure the safety of all children and staff.
The government has had to do a U-turn on plans for all primary schools to return before the end of term because they were “not feasible”. The practical difficulties for old schools like Long Wittenham and Clifton Hampden – built in Victorian times – make schooling difficult under the new emergency guidelines.
Schools face challenges in re-arranging classrooms for small groups of no more than 15 pupils, setting up one-way systems and arranging segregated breaks and lunch-times. Drop-off and pick up times are staggered. Children are encouraged to wash their hands regularly but keeping early years children the recommended two-metre social distancing is difficult.
To ease the problems for schools facing capacity problems, education authorities may have to consider hiring outside facilities such as town, village halls, sports centres and libraries. Nationally there was a fragmented return for primary school children. Parents have concerns about the danger of children being exposed to the virus although children are considered to be at a reduced risk.
Parents have been told that returning children to school was not compulsory and that education authorities would not fine them for keeping children at home. There are fears too that secondary schools facing capacity problems may not be able to return in September. Some children are being educated at home but not all families have or can afford computers.
The head teacher of Long Wittenham primary school Alison Bellingham said a plan was in place to gradually open for other year groups but this would be under constant review to ensure the health and safety of all staff and pupils.
She said: “My plan to welcome pupils back is in place and the health and safety of everyone lies at the heart of any decisions made. Teaching staff are not in school because we are operating a rota system, Parents are at liberty to make their own minds up at this stage and I fully respect that. It is a difficult time for everyone.”
The head of Clifton Hampden School Lisa Horton said: “We like many schools are finding it difficult to accommodate all pupils because we have an old building and space is at a premium. Parents have responded well to the return and as confidence grows we expect more children to return.”
Speaking about the pandemic at the government’s daily briefing on June 10 the chief medical adviser Chris Whitty warned: “We are not at the end but in the middle of it.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The pandemic figures in the UK are improving but we have a long way to go.”