Getting ready to start learning in person once more

It’s back to school but not as we know it. Many pupils have been away since Christmas but the tentative return begins on Monday.

At Kingsmead School in Cannock where pupils are undergoing lateral flow tests in the hall. On the right is pupil Alex Mowe, 17, getting a test from staff member Fin Boylan
At Kingsmead School in Cannock where pupils are undergoing lateral flow tests in the hall. On the right is pupil Alex Mowe, 17, getting a test from staff member Fin Boylan

Sports halls, dinner halls and even classrooms will be used as makeshift coronavirus testing areas at secondary schools where pupils are required to be screened three times initially before transitioning to twice weekly at home.

During the last two weeks thousands of lateral flow tests have already been administered by staff and volunteers at schools like Kingsmead School in Hednesford ahead of the big return.

Maria Mincher, headteacher of Kingsmead School, said 3,000 tests had been carried out already adding: “The staff involved in organising testing have done a wonderful job.

“We are also grateful for the incredible support from our parents and local community.”

Simon Cope, deputy headteacher for learning and teaching said that staff recognise the potential impact that lockdown has had on the children, and are ensuring that “wellbeing is at the forefront of its thinking alongside learning and teaching.”

Gareth Lloyd, headteacher at Pedmore High School in Stourbridge, said the first three tests have been carried out on 80 per cent of students.

The test centre at the City of Wolverhampton College, Bilston, is ready for the students return. Pictured is student and test volunteer Simranjyot Khan

“Staff at Pedmore are all set to go with the Covid testing as we welcome all of our students back into school,” he added.

“To allow for a smoother restart on Monday we have already carried out the first of the three tests on 80 per cent of our students. Our parents and students have been absolutely fantastic, as always.

“Massive thanks and appreciation to all of my staff who have been so positive and professional.”

Parents and carers and anyone else living with a school age child or young person are among the priority groups being given access to free home lateral flow testing kits to test themselves.

While there won’t be testing at primary schools children will still be having to follow distancing guidelines with parents having to don masks on the school run.

Preparations are also under way as more students prepare to return to universities in the region. Following the Government’s announcement last week, staff have been working hard to ensure campuses are ready to welcome an increased number of learners through their doors.

It is hoped that all students will be able to return by the end of the academic year. Students returning this week are those on practical and creative higher education courses, in line with Government guidance. These students would be unable to complete their course if they did not return to access specialist facilities.

At Kingsmead School in Cannock: Left is parent of a pupil and volunteer Helen Humphrey and staff member Hayley Keyte

Those studying practical, critical care courses –such as healthcare – have been attending physical classes throughout lockdown, as have those who are vulnerable or do not have sufficient technology at home.

Professor Liz Barnes CBE DL, vice-chancellor and chief executive at Staffordshire University, said: “It’s important to recognise that 25 per cent of our students, on health and teaching courses, are already back on campus.

“We are now making arrangements for all students who are undertaking courses with practical components requiring access to specialist spaces such as labs, specialist computing spaces and art studios to return to campus from March 8. The return to campus for these students will be phased over a short time period.

“We will be looking closely at the government guidance and the formal review point in mid-April which should determine when the remaining students can return to campus to continue their learning and assessments.

“We hope that we will be able to bring all students back to campus before the end of the academic year”

University of Wolverhampton is taking a similar approach in regards to students returning to campus next week.

Third year paramedic students at Staffordshire University

Professor Julia Clarke, deputy vice-chancellor, said: “Students returning next week are those on practical and creative higher education courses. These students would be unable to complete their course if they did not return to access specialist facilities.

“Other students, who do not require access to specialist facilities that are on campus, are continuing to be taught and supported online.”

Regular testing is expected of those returning to universities and colleges. Mask wearing, regular hand sanitisation, one-way systems and social distancing will also be reinforced.

Louise Fall, vice principal at Wolverhampton College, said: “Since reopening, we have been doing temperature checks on entry, wearing masks at all times, social distancing and one way entrance and exits. This has supported our low level of cases.

“Students will be expected to do three tests within three to five days and we will be supporting them with home kits as well as onsite. Staff are also being tested.”

Neil Thomas, chief executive and principal at Dudley College, said: “We are adopting a phased approach to bringing students back over the next three weeks.

“This will allow us to deliver a comprehensive programme of lateral flow testing, alongside our existing Covid measures.

“We do not underestimate the challenge of delivering such a large number of lateral flow tests in such a short time frame but throughout the current crisis colleges have demonstrated a remarkable ability to transform their ways of working and I am confident that we will be able to do so again.”

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