The return to school has been largely positive and successful for schools across the North East despite ongoing issues with the track and trace system and process for reporting to Public Health England.
In feedback about the experience of returning to the new school year with significant extra measures in place due to the current circumstances, schools across the North East have reported a positive start for staff and students. While the media had widespread reports in advance of the new term around the anxiety that students and parents were feeling about the full opening of schools for the first time since March, it appears that most schools have had very good levels of attendance.
Equally, despite extensive measures to allow for the full return from staggered starts, breaks and lunches, to use of facemasks and increased hygiene procedures, most schools have reported a really positive start to the school year. Feedback suggested that students are very happy to be back, that for many schools there had been no or few problems and that students have settled in well and are keen to learn.
Though some schools did acknowledge the extent of the learning loss due to lockdown, with students being significantly behind, this was anticipated due to the missed months of learning and lack of engagement with home learning that had been reported. While the Government has pledged a ‘catch up scheme’ involving tutoring, there are significant issues around this scheme which has been seen as a quick fix, and does not allow for schools to plan for ‘catch up’ in a way that is relevant to their context.
While our schools have worked hard to ensure that everything was in place to facilitate a positive and successful return many feel let down by the system, with multiple reports of the difficulty of reporting cases to Public Health England. The requirement to report possible cases rather than confirmed ones has resulted in a time consuming process, exacerbated by huge issues with wait times. Equally, issues with test and trace have proved difficult for school leaders to navigate, creating further work and a drain on time, as well as delays which can have an impact on staffing.
Finally a crucial aspect for many schools is the increased cost of measures taken to implement the guidance and ensure schools are safe, which is resulting in overstretched budgets, and means money has had to be reallocated, further damaging the experience of students. As funding has been a perennial issue, particularly for schools in disadvantaged areas, this further exacerbates a significant problem for many schools.
Despite these problems, our school leaders and staff have taken the challenge to return to school with full opening in their stride and their hard work has ensured a successful start to the new year for students under very difficult circumstances.
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