Many pupils across the country are returning to classrooms as lockdown begins to ease, with secondary schools now welcoming year 10 and 12 pupils back with strict hygiene and social distancing measures in place to keep them safe.
Getting back to school has been vital for pupils, who’ve found it hard to keep up at home.
And that’s something that Principal and Director of Education for Thinking Schools Academy Trust Mandy Gage, 48, has had ‘massive concerns’ about.
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“The biggest fear for myself – and I know for many head teachers – is the gap, which is widening for disadvantaged peers against their more advantaged peers and that’s a massive concern,” she said.
“When they’re in school, we’re able to do the physical check and intervention to support their learning and their welfare.”
Some people have called for schools to stay closed until September – but this isn’t something Ms Gage agrees with.
She explained: “If we’d waited to reopen the school until September, it would have created untold anxieties.
“For staff, of course, but for the students because of the barriers that I can’t control like IT access.”
Ms Gage’s Victory Academy in Chatham, Kent, has created a raft of ‘family bubbles’, treating groups of up to 15 like one household and these are set out to make sure pupils can spend time with their friends. It’s just one of the ways the school has supported them.
“Our priority is safety first,” stresses Ms Gage. “Their academic progress is extremely important to us, but we know that students need to feel safe and supported in order to learn effectively.
“So much work has gone into this, but I feel better seeing children. It’s reminded me why I’m doing the job I am. The reason I do this job, especially in a deprived area, is because I’m passionate about transforming life chances.”
On the first day, around 60% of eligible pupils returned and the school benefits from having a large site, meaning there’s plenty of room for each bubble. Communication with parents has been vital and if they’re worried about their child’s return Ms Gage has invited them in to see the safety measures for themselves.
“I want more students here, obviously, but we will only do what is safe for these children, regardless of what other people are doing,” she says.
“It’s quite a strict regime that we have put in place, it’s quite tight. I’m very aware that students who have been at home, much like the rest of us, can get out of habits so we know that some students haven’t done any work – and if they have, we don’t know how much.”