The children of Brentwood and Ongar have returned to school this week amid a genuine feeling of excitement having been out of the classroom since before Christmas.
After a difficult end to the Christmas term when Brentwood was hit by the highly contagious Kent variant of the coronavirus and children and school staff were getting ill, or having to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone with the virus, a return to face-to-face teaching after three months is a huge relief.
I know some teachers are concerned about returning to the classroom without having been offered a COVID-19 vaccine. The decision on who is vaccinated when is entirely in the hands of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). They have decided that rapid vaccine deployment to groups based on age and clinical vulnerability is the most important way of reducing deaths and hospital admissions.
Last week I caught up with Jody Gee, co headteacher at the Anglo European School in Ingatestone, to find out how she and her fellow secondary heads in Essex have been preparing for a full return to school, including a two week in-school testing regime for staff and students.
It was wonderful to hear of the extensive work that has been done to get schools ready for the off. The Anglo European School has chosen to train up members of staff to carry out testing, to enable all their students to be back in face to face lessons this week. Other schools are following a community testing programme which means some pupils start this week, and the rest a week after. Masks will need to be worn in secondary classrooms and great care is being taken to enforce limited mixing of different groups of children, and increase hand-washing throughout the day.
I was hugely impressed by Jody’s positivity about the return to school. Teachers have worked incredibly hard this year and have done amazing things to keep pupils motivated and parents happy. As Jody emphasised, ‘lockdown learning’ has taught young people great resilience, IT skills and the ability to learn independently, all of which will benefit them immensely in the future.
As for other lessons learned – as a parent, even with previous teaching experience, home-schooling is hard work and it is with some pleasure, and great thanks, many of us return our children to the fully trained hands of the teaching professionals this week.