The Government closed all schools in March to stem the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus, with the exception of children considered vulnerable and those with keyworker parents.
With restrictions slowly lifting, schools are starting to re-open to the wider school community, following the Government‘s safety guidance to keep pupils as safe as possible.
Cllr Bob Standley, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for education, said: “Schools in East Sussex have been doing an amazing job under extremely difficult circumstances throughout lockdown and my thanks go to all those involved.
“With restrictions beginning to ease headteachers, teachers, support staff and governors continue to work incredibly hard to get children back to a school which is as safe as it can possibly be.”
He added: “It is incredibly important that parents feel confident enough to send their children back to school.
“Having missed three months of learning and with the summer holidays fast approaching, it is so important for those in the identified year groups to be able to start to get back on track with their education and begin to prepare for the new academic year.”
Jeremy Meek, Headteacher at Hawkes Farm Academy in Hailsham said: “Children are coming in with smiles on their faces, and it’s good to have them back.”
When schools closed in March, Hawkes Farm open to children of keyworkers and those considered vulnerable, with anywhere up to 40 children within this group attending each day. For the remainder of children, work continued at home, focussed on reinforcing what they had been learning prior to lockdown.
Since the Government announced the reopening of schools, staff have been working hard to establish processes in line with the Department for Education’s guidance, introducing one-way systems for drop off and pick up, hand washing stations, hand sanitisers and an increased cleaning regime.
Mr Meek added: “We have staggered timetables and the children stay within the same bubble all day. They use the same classroom and they have their own section of the playground or field to use.
“It is very different for them, but these children have been home for three months and are just happy to return to some degree of normality and see their teachers and their friends.”
Currently, 50 per cent of the children who are permitted to return to school have done so. Like council leaders, Mr Meek is keen to encourage the Government to explore ways to enable others to come back, to allow the school to implement a curriculum to support all children to get back on track with their learning.
“We are set up for all children in Year 1, Year 6 and Reception to return, with bubbles organised and ready to go. We have put in place all measures outlined within the Government guidelines to keep children and staff as safe as possible, as well as some additional measures which have been possible thanks to our site team and the wider team from STEP Academy Trust.”
He added: “It’s really important that we get education started again. For every day that children are not in school, there is a further delay in us being able to put in place our recovery curriculum and start to return to some sort of normality.”
Those not in the year groups currently able to return to school continue to be supported with home learning.
Following the return of some of the pupils at Hawkes Farm, the school has received positive feedback with one parent commenting that “the kids came out happy and smiling” adding that the school had been “invaluable” during the pandemic.
Hawkes Farm is part of STEP Academy Trust, which operates 17 schools in East Sussex and South London. STEP are a mission, vision and values led trust, with unity at the heart of the organisation. This One-Team approach has provided the educational and operational capacity to enable all of the schools within the Trust to open and STEP are proud to be supporting the local communities they serve.
Photo: Sam Thomas, Teaching and Learning Leader for Hawkes Farm Academy, using one of the school’s handwashing stations.