'It's relentless': Head teachers describe reopening schools mid-pandemic

“Staff are tired,” Simon Smith, a primary head teacher, says.

His school in Yorkshire has so far avoided any coronavirus cases, but that does not mean there are fewer precautions.

Mr Smith describes the new way of school life during the pandemic as “intense”.

Schools have been given guidance on how to reopen during the pandemic, including keeping children in groups — or “bubbles” — to limit mixing as much as possible, as well as staggered break times.

“There is very little respite in a day,” the East Whitby Academy head teacher tells The Independent. “Due to our building, lunch is currently in classrooms and all staff have to do a lunch duty everyday.”

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“Teachers are with a class all day,” Mr Smith says. “That is a bit relentless.”

However, the return to school has gone “really well” on the whole, with good attendance and the school remaining fully open due to no cases, he says.

In September, all students were allowed back to school for the first time since March due to coronavirus.

However, some have not been open to all pupils for the whole time since term started, with groups told to self-isolate following positive coronavirus tests.

Pepe Di’Iasio, a secondary school head teacher, tells The Independent the whole of Year 12 were recently sent home due to Covid-19 cases and have moved back to remote learning.

His school sits in Rotherham, which was upgraded to an area of concern over coronavirus rates at the start of this month.

“Although we are much better prepared for remote learning than earlier in the year,” the Wales High School head teacher tells The Independent, “I am increasingly worried about the need to isolate more students and staff as numbers of positive tests increase.”

Around 18 per cent of state-funded secondary schools were not fully open last week — a rise from the week before, according to government figures.

Kit Andrew, a headteacher of a London primary school, says he has several members of staff not able to come in following a positive test, but “thankfully no bubbles” are affected. 

“On a different note, I’m spending a whole week’s budget on cleaning materials every single day,” the headteacher of St James the Great school tells The Independent

Other special measures have had to be brought in to deal with the pandemic — with head teachers told they can mandate face masks in communal areas if they feel their school requires them after a government U-turn over advice. 

Face coverings are mandatory for students in schools with tighter local restrictions when moving around the building and in communal areas where social distancing is not possible.

Andy Byers decided to go further with face mask rules due to the nature of his secondary school in Durham.

“Face coverings are being worn in lessons,” he tells The Independent, “and students are used to them.”

The Framwellgate School Durham headteacher says things have gone well so far, with several coronavirus cases but no outbreaks.  

“We’ve settled into a pattern,” he says, adding attendance has also “recovered”.

“I’m well aware this could all change though with the number of cases in the region increasing,” Mr Byers tells The Independent.

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