Gugsy Ahmed, who is headteacher at Parkinson Lane Community Primary School in Halifax, was among those handling questions at Calderdale Council’s latest Covid-19 online public question and answer session, which was chaired by the borough’s Director of Public Health, Debs Harkins.
Mr Ahmed said that despite the difficult circumstances he was very much looking forward to pupils returning.
“Schools have been horrible, horrible places without the children,” he said.
“It’s like someone pulled the soul out of schools.
“I am really looking forward to see the staff regularly, the parents regularly – and the children. I can’t wait to start seeing everybody.”
Mr Ahmed said it would not be easy but detailed preparations had been made for schools’ return.
A full 2m social distancing was difficult in some areas such as classrooms but other measures had been put in place including frequent hand-washing routines, desks being forward facing and teachers equipped with sanitisers to wipe down desks and chairs.
“On entering and leaving, children will be asked to wash their hands and surgical wipes will be available,” Mr Ahmed said.
“There is a whole raft of things we have brought in to stop infection in school.”
Mr Ahmed said that was not a 100 per cent guarantee that a school could stop everything.
But every school had undergone risk assessments with public health staff and extra measures had been put in place.
Year or class groups would make up a “bubble” including in communal areas, for example, when dining.
Mr Ahmed said there were wipes placed in every classroom at Parkinson Lane and teachers had been given a regime of wiping down things like desks and chairs after every session.
All exits and entrances and corridors would be sanitised, the doors wiped down regularly, with a similar routine for the toilets and the school’s cleaners would be undertaking deeper cleans in the morning and evening.
At Parkinson Lane, the dining area had been split into areas and lunchtimes altered to accommodate children safely, with anti-bacterial wipes used to wipe down after each sitting.
Mr Ahmed said, from school’s perspective, useful partnerships had been established with schools placed in a cluster group, usually geographically, in which ideas were exchanged, and with the local authority through a series of briefings, particularly the health and safety team who had visited schools advising on risk assessments.
A hotline had also been established with the public health team.
“More than that a lot of schools (this) week will have inset days, coming together as a staff to look at the nitty gritty of bringing children back to school in a safe way,” he said.
The council’s Senior School Effectiveness Officer, Lesley Bowyer, said a rumour had circulated that if a child tested positive, their school could detain them.
This was certainly not the case and schools had no powers to take children away from their families, she said.
Mr Ahmed said in the case of his schoo,l if symptoms appeared during the day for a child they would get the child to a Covid room.
“What’s likely to happen is we will be taking the children out into a shelter, sit with them at a distance, and give them a book to read a story with them until their parents arrive,” he said.
In general terms, schools had been concerned about social distancing between parents at pick-up and drop-off times but had looked at using different exits for different groups of children – at Parkinson Lane three separate exits would be in use.
“Most schools have taken precautions like that,” said Mr Ahmed.