Why Harrogate schools say it is 'essential' children go back to class in September - and how they are making sure it will be safe

Getting pupils back in schools in September is 'essential' to ensure Harrogate's children are not left behind after lockdown.

Wednesday, 19th August 2020, 4:45 pm

That is the message from headteachers, education bosses and school transport providers as the government gets ready to launch a major campaign aimed at reassuring parents it will be safe to send youngsters back after the summer holidays.

It comes after North Yorkshire County Council last week announced attendance will be mandatory for all pupils, in all year groups, unless they or a close contact develop symptoms or test positive for coronavirus.

And with just over two weeks to go until classrooms reopen, school leaders are now putting into the practice the big changes they have had to make to manage social distancing.

It is just over two weeks to go until classrooms reopen fully for the first time since March.

Carl Sugden, headteacher of King James’s School in Knaresborough, said he fully supports the message that it is safe for children to return and set out some of the changes they can expect to see.

He said: "We have invested considerable time and energy into applying the risk assessment process and the advice from Public Health England.

"It will be a challenge having 1,500 students back in school with control measures in place but we have done everything we can to improve hygiene and to limit contact between year groups.

"We have screens to protect staff in key areas, we have set up separate dining rooms and students can sanitise every time they leave a classroom and enter another one.

"Practical activities such as PE and design technology have been completely reviewed and students will come and go through separate entrances."

The majority of pupils have been away from the classroom since March and getting schools back up and running is a key priority for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who is already under pressure after thousands of students had their A-levels downgraded.

The government's back to school campaign, which will involve newspaper, digital, radio and billboard adverts, will strive to emphasise the importance of learning to children's development.

It is a message which Connexions buses in Harrogate will get behind as they get ready to restart services to St John Fisher and St Aidans schools, as well as King James School in Knaresborough.

The bus company's managing director Craig Temple said: "We run 34 vehicles and 19 of those are school buses, so it is a huge part of our business and we are doing everything we can to make sure they are safe in line with government guidance.

"We have a good database of parents who we have been communicating with and in the weeks before school we will be in touch to let them know exactly what to expect.

"We already have protective screens and hand sanitising stations installed, and it will be nice to have some kind of normality again when we welcome children back with us."

North Yorkshire County Council has offered reassurances to parents and pupils that classrooms have been well prepared for the return and that all necessary precautions have been taken.

It said safety measures have been drawn up by teaching unions and Public Health teams, but schools have planned individually as to how they will arrange children in small, consistent teaching groups to minimise contact.

The executive headteacher at Harrogate Grammar School said teachers are excited to welcome pupils back and added it is essential that they do so for the sake of their education.

Richard Sheriff said: "Everybody in school from teachers to support staff are desperate to get back to normal and see children playing and learning once again, and we all want to do it in the safest way we possibly can.

"We are doing all we can to make sure every child is as safe at school following government guidance and I am confident they will be better off at school than continuing to learn from home for any longer."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter