Safest possible environment key to getting children back to school – headteacher

Schools have a responsibility for creating the “safest possible environment” to get children back into the classroom, according to an academy headteacher.

Fiona Chapman, executive principal of Ark Charter Academy and Ark Dickens Primary Academy schools in Portsmouth, Hampshire, has said that keeping parents and pupils informed of measures being taken to prevent Covid-19 was key to providing reassurance.

She explained that at the Charter Academy secondary school, students would be kept in year bubbles and spend their days learning in ‘home’ rooms except for key stage four pupils who would move between subject rooms which would be regularly cleaned.

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The 900-pupil school is using antiviral fogging machines to disinfectant classrooms between different groups with hand-sanitising stations set up around the school.

A fogging machine, which can disinfect a whole classroom, is set up in a classroom at Ark Charter Academy in Portsmouth, as preparations are made before the start of the new term.

And all children and staff will be required to wear face masks in school corridors but not classrooms despite Government guidance only requiring this of schools in local lockdown areas.

Ms Chapman said: “We are very lucky, to date we have had no Covid-19 incidents on site and we are keen to keep it that way.

“What you need to do in any setting like this is provide the safest possible environment, our job is to stay open and provide a school and an education for our pupils and it seems to us only a minor step to ask our pupils to wear masks when transiting.

“We are very keen to make sure that we mitigate as much risk as possible, we also want to embed it, it’s part of the everyday, it’s the new normal now.

“So if that Government guidance does change or we become a local lockdown area, which I hope Portsmouth doesn’t, the pupils will be well used to putting on their face mask.”

Ms Chapman said that the staff had been involved in the risk assessment to ensure they felt safe to return to school..

She said: “We are expecting 100% of staff back, they are excited to be back, they are looking forward to being back on site collectively, there’s a level of excitement about that.

“There is the knowledge that things are different, social distancing of staff is important but it’s important to provide as much normality for the children as we can, get them back into the classes, get them back into learning as this is potentially going to be long term.”

She explained that parents had been kept informed through school visits, video chats and newsletters.

Ms Chapman said: “Parents feel empowered and they feel ownership of their children coming back and I think a lot of the problems in other areas are because they haven’t been informed.”

She added: “Having children on site throughout lockdown was great, going up to full capacity is going to be very exciting and bring that energy back to school and for children to some extent life can return to normal, because they need that because the longer they stay out of school, the more opportunity they miss.”