Doncaster schools are prepared for dealing with coronavirus cases, says school principal
Standing at the school gate with a can of spray paint in her hand was never what Helen Broad came into teaching for.
But as she and her team at Intake Primary Academy, at Sidney Road, Intake, prepared to get back to lessons, there she was, tin in hand, daubing bright red and yellow markings on the playground.
It was part of the preparations for reopening – and after much planning, she feels she is ready for whatever the coronavirus throws her schools.
Mrs Broad has been principal at Intake Primary for 10 years, and is now also the executive head at Atlas Primary, at Hyde Park, both run by the Astrea Academies Trust.
Painting the playground had not been part of the job before, but with the need to put markings in place to show parents and children where they needed to be standing, it fell to her and her vice principal to mark out clear instructions, such as directional arrows and lines to stand behind, to supplement directional signs that were already in place.
She said: “The trickiest bit to sort on reopening this month was probably that signage. We spent a lot of time spray painting markings for parents. We had to make sure it was clear for parents. It was painted freehand, but it's clear. I certainly never expected to be in the playground with a can of paint!”
As it happens, she feels the parents have been fantastic in their response to the new arrangements that have had to be put in place at both her schools. None have kept their children away because of any concerns. They have stuck to the social distancing and waiting rules before and after school, at drop off and picking up times.
It may be six months ago, but Mrs Broad still remembers hearing that her schools were going to have to close to all but the children of essential workers and those from vulnerable families.
She was at Atlas when it was announced. But she was not surprised and had made preparations. Learning packs which the schools had already created were quickly distributed.
"It wasn’t a shock, because you could see it was going to happen,” she said. “But we stayed open for key worker children and vulnerable families, and stayed open for them all the way through the holidays."
During the summer term, opening extended to foundation, year one and year six – and the full school finally returned his month.
"These have been unprecedented times,” she said. "We have had to have a different way of thinking, but as a general rule teachers and those working in schools are adaptable and flexible, and we have adapted to changing times.”
Both schools now have signage telling pupils to distance, and hand santisations stations. Their pupils are kept in small groups or ‘bubbles’, that prevent them coming into contact with wider groups of children, with those bubbles made up of two classes.
Each are based in different parts of the school. They have different start times, and have their own play areas.
Teaching practices have also changed now. For instance, group work on the school floor has disappeared. It is now done with pupils remaining at their seats.
Some group work is done in corridors – making the most of the space available in the building.
The old fashioned assembly has gone, replaced by videos to individual classrooms, as technology sees more meetings done online, even within the school community.
Many schools are concerned about the possibility of cases of the virus on their premises. Several Doncaster schools have already had to send groups of pupils home after cases have appeared.
But Mrs Broad feels the schools are prepared for this if it happens.
"I’ve seen the news locally,” she said. “I’m not worried about what we would do if we have cases here. We are making plans in case we do have to send children home. We have learning packs that would be sent home for the children, and we’d follow the Government advice. We’re prepared to do remote learning again, and the teachers have now become very skilled about doing blogs.”
She is also aware of the concerns that have been raised over availability of testing. But she said the school has a supply of testing kits if they are needed by staff, with more ordered to make sure they have plenty.
Six months of lockdown has transformed the school at Intake – and it has also transformed its nature garden.
While pupils were away, assistant principal Danielle Carr and finance manager Jackie Taggart set to work on transforming the area, sited in the school’s quadrangle.
Its fences have been painted and its planting areas weeded, creating a learning area that also includes bird boxes and insect houses.
Work is also continuing to transform Atlas, re-launched from the former Stirling Primary School in 2017, after Stirling had been rated as inadequate by Ofsted.
Mrs Broad, who transformed Intake Primary to ‘good’ is happy with the way work is progressing at Atlas. Work is going on there to improve reading by bring more texts across the curriculum in subjects like history and geography, under school head Becky Harvey, who previously worked at Intake.
She feels the pandemic has placed both schools at the heart of their communities.
She added: “The children have been out of school for quite a long time. We are open, things are running and wer are here for the community.
"Teachers are thrilled to be back doing what they do and love. We have seen children skipping in to be greeted by staff with smiling faces, and the changes had become a habit within a week.
"It's lovely being back.”