Safety is top priority for Wakefield schools as students prepare for return
After almost six months out of school, thousands of pupils across the district are preparing to return to the classroom.
For many, it will likely be a welcome break from months of home learning and virtual classes, but others, including parents, have raised concerns about potential risks and health concerns.
New safety guidelines, including maximising ventilation, forward-facing desks and one-way systems in communal areas, have been introduced in a bid to limit transmission of the virus, and schools across Wakefield and the Five Towns have reassured parents that they are taking all possible steps to protect pupils.
In a letter to parents, Pontefract Academies Trust, which runs eight schools in the town, said it was of “paramount importance” that students returned to the classroom, but reassured parents that the safety and wellbeing of the community remained the top priority.
Outwood Grange Academies Trust, which runs more than 30 schools, said they had put in place “robust risk assessments” to protect students, staff and the wider community.
In a statement, the Trust said: “At Outwood, the safety of our students and staff is of paramount importance to us.
“We have introduced a number of safety measures, including student bubbles, staggered start times, and staggered lunches and break times, and we shall continue to follow all official guidance to protect our students and staff.
“We are excited to welcome our students back and we continue to be as committed as ever to ensuring that our students are given all the academic and emotional support they need to achieve their potential.”
But Sally Kincaid, who represents the Wakefield branch of the National Education Union, said many questions were still to be answered.
Though rules are in place to protect students in the classroom, it has not yet been decided whether GCSE and A-level exams will be sat next summer.
Sally said it is too soon to make this decision, but suggested that plans should be made for teacher assessments to be used.
She said: “Obviously we want children and young people to be back in school, but we want it done safely.
“We want young people to feel safe, and the kids want to go to school desperately.
“But the whole of the world has gone through something we’ve never gone through in our lifetime.
“People keep saying they’re behind, but behind what? Behind where children may have been two tears ago, when this didn’t exist.
“We have to start looking at how we can change, using teacher assessments.”
Sally said there were a mixture of feelings among parents preparing for a return to school.
“On the one hand they want their children back socialising outside the house,” she said. “And on the other hand there is a concern.
“A lot of schools are not very well ventilated, the corridors are narrow.
“The national rates are all over the place. Therefore, the way we respond within schools and workplaces is going to be different.
“We are going to see situations where we have a local response to increasing rates, and that’s the right thing to do.”
She said there was no single answer to the problems, but small steps, such as introducing testing facilities for parents who were dropping off students and investing in spacious teaching facilities, could help protect from future outbreaks.