How Thornton Heath school is adjusting to classes with social distancing

By Tara O’Connor, local democracy reporter

Temperature checks on the door, smaller classes and socially distanced playtime are fast becoming the ‘new normal’ as primary schools begin to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Teachers and pupils across Croydon are having to adapt to unprecedented changes after the government allowed reception, year 1 and year 6 to return from this week.

Mary Berkeley-Agyepong is headteacher at Winterbourne Junior Girls’ School where on Monday (June 1) 25 of the 84 year six pupils returned for the first time in more than two months.

Speaking on Tuesday, she said: “It is nice to have some children back quite honestly, yesterday was a little strange but today has felt normal.

“The girls have a temperature check before they come into the building where they follow a one way system – there is a routine.

“They are really good at cleaning after themselves, when they’ve used iPads or laptops they wipe them down and we have regular hand washing.”

One of the biggest changes at the Thornton Heath school has been the dramatically different layout of classrooms.

Rather than children sitting together at tables, single desks are spaced two metres apart facing the front and lunches are now eaten in the classroom.

This means just eight to 10 pupils can be taught per room – currently the 25 pupils are split across three classrooms.

At the moment, the school is opening from Monday to Thursday to allow for a deep clean every Friday and for the teachers to prepare for the following week.

To reduce the chance of the virus spreading windows are being kept open in the classrooms and children will be inside for 45 minutes at a time followed by 15 minutes outside.

In the playground break-times are staggered and children are kept apart with the use of different zones.

“The girls went back to normal quickly, they were pleased to see their friends,” Said Mrs Berkeley-Agyepong.

“They weren’t able to hug but they were communicating with each other from two metres apart which isn’t that bad.

“The classrooms were a lot quieter because there isn’t a full class, because of the layout of the classroom they are all facing forward – that is a little bit isolating for them.”

Throughout the lockdown the school has remained open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children which has been five to 10 girls a day with eight members of staff in a day on a rota.

While the rest of the 40 members of staff have been working hard from home, teaching online and fielding up to 500 messages a day from pupils and their parents.

And because the school is a junior school teachers do not have to worry about welcoming back other classes yet.

Usually there are 280 pupils at the school, but under current social distancing guidelines a maximum of 150 can return to face-to-face teaching.

Mrs Berkeley-Agyepong added: “This is a first – we would love to have everybody back but the rules would have to change for us to have all the children back – we have to make sure everybody is safe.”

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