Best of both worlds: Estelle’s journey in a pioneering role - September 20

Author: Estelle Ashman, Curriculum Content Developer

The New Normal

September 2020

As schools return to 'the new normal', I thought I'd talk a little about my experience of teaching in the times of covid.

Firstly, let me assure you, schools are doing everything they can to look after the children in their care. My school has increased the number of cleaning staff, have upped the frequency of cleaning (prior to covid you were lucky to have your room cleaned once a week - now it's surprising to have only had it cleaned once during the day) and there is hand sanitiser and extra wash stations positioned throughout the school.

All students have staggered start times to try to minimise mixing between years - this is a great idea in principle but once you factor in that most students have siblings in other years and that parents cannot split their school drop off up you begin to see the issues. Parents are also required to wear face coverings up the school drive - this has been well received and parents are on the whole supportive.

Once students arrive at school they have to wash their hands before entering the building - we've had hand washing stations plumbed into the outside of the building and actually this works really well - plus this gives students somewhere to wash their hands before eating at break and lunch which they did not have before (other than a trip to the toilets, which isn't always ideal if you just want to wash your hands). 

My school is all-through - meaning we have students from 4 to 19 in primary, secondary and sixth form. In primary and secondary, students stay in one classroom and are only allowed to mix with their own year group. Secondary students have a specific part of the school that is their allocated area. Sixth form is allowed to move rooms but they are restricted to the sixth form centre only. All years are separated for break and lunchtimes and have their own designated areas. Again, this on the surface seems great but in reality most schools have a lack of space and therefore you end up in a position were some students are designated areas which mean they cannot do any sport at break or lunch - which for many is their opportunity to let off some steam. This can be hard as this lack of opportunity to run around has a knock on effect to the lessons the students have after these times. I jokingly wonder if we need to do the whole school movement exercises sometimes associated with Eastern countries, although I can't see that working with year 9 boys. 

Students in primary are not allowed to bring any equipment in from home and are instead provided a pack of resources at their table space. Secondary and sixth form students are allowed to bring in equipment from home but secondary staff are not allowed to loan any equipment out.

If it is wet (as it is today) students have to stay in their classroom for all breaks, unless it is the break where they are allocated time in the canteen. All clubs have been suspended, which is such a shame as these clubs are often a really important outlet for students.

So what is it like as a member of staff? Well I currently do not have a room and am nomadic which means I move around different classrooms for my teaching. In some ways I don't mind this as I teach in the primary phase and am enjoying doing lots of unplugged activities with students but its difficult during breaks as I don't really have anywhere to go - lunch time is particularly hard as we have rule that there should only be 8 members of staff in the staffroom. I have no room to go to for my lunch so end up having to cross into the secondary areas to use the secondary staffroom to eat my lunch. Lots of other members of staff are in the same position.

Staff are required to wear face coverings in the corridor and if we are not eating in the staffroom. Secondary students are also required to wear face coverings in the corridors. Generally students are compliant with this, there are very few that need reminding. A couple took to wearing their masks with their noses sticking out but a change in tack to remind them that they wear the mask to protect their friends has really helped.

As a computing teacher, we also have some issues that are unique to us - we've been told that we can't use computer rooms with key stage 2 or 3. As a Digital Schoolhouse that's not a huge issue - we are definitely at the forefront of unplugged computing activities - but it has been a huge challenge to many computing colleagues and teaching forums are full of staff asking for ideas of how to deliver the subject without computers.

So there you have it, my experience of the new normal, we are living in very strange times but with a little bit of thinking outside the box and a lot of community spirit we'll reach the other side!

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