I know a lot of you are anxious about your children returning to full time education over the following weeks, but I think everyone feels there is great benefit to doing so.
To try and give you an honest picture of what we have in place, I wanted to respond publicly to some of the frequently asked questions we have had over the past week, from parents and carers, and the questions we have been asking ourselves.
The guidance we have been given is fairly generic, and to be fair it had to be as there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to getting schools open again. Some areas of it are open to interpretation, and as Ulidia IC is a unique school, our plans will be bespoke to us.
It does not make any sense, nor is it fair, to compare what other schools are doing and suggest one is better than the other. We are very much in the area here of doing as best we can in an imperfect situation. We are all constrained by the sizes and shapes of our buildings, playground facilities, staffing, budgets, curriculum and by the levels of responsibility of our parents/carers and young people themselves.
These are straight to the point answers to help give you an overview – greater detail on arrangements specific to particular groups are to be found in previous parentmails and on the website.
We need your help, co-operation and support. I hope you find this helpful, in some ways reassuring, and also useful as a way to talk to your child or young person about returning to school.
M Houston, Principal
Is the school 100% safe for a full return?
Frankly, there is no 100%. This is a global pandemic, and whilst we are doing our best to mitigate and reduce risk, I cannot 100% guarantee Covid-19 will not enter the school. It IS however a low risk, and that will be vastly reduced by parents and young people sharing our responsibility for our own and everyone else’s care and safety by doing their part.
What is a high risk contact?
This is defined as “A High Risk Contact is a person having had face-to-face contact with a [confirmed] COVID-19 Case within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes, or sharing a small enclosed space (such as a car) for a shorter period.”
Are the staff concerned?
Of course, we are apprehensive. It is such an unknown, and we worry for ourselves and what we will bring home to our own families as well. However, having been in work this week, it has definitely eased as the week has gone on, and we feel confident that we have done as much as we can in our own context.
What is your biggest worry?
As principal, I have two. The first is complacency – Human Nature is that as time goes on and old habits come back, the vigilance and cautiousness that we will all have initially will ebb away with familiarity. We must resist that. The second is education itself – our young people missed so much, and particularly those with Special Educational Needs who need so much support. The guidance around curriculum delivery post 2020 lockdown is still evolving, and nothing specific has been delivered by examination boards as yet. Our priorities will remain ‘Care and Learning’.
Are all of the supports, benefits, ‘niceties’ and entitlements that my child had before lockdown still going to be delivered?
Unfortunately, no. We have had to sacrifice some of the things that we enjoyed before Covid-19 to meet PHA requirements and DENI advice to reopen the school at all. This is going to be a tough year, and I ask your patience with us.
What should I do each day before sending my child out to Ulidia IC?
1. Take your child’s temperature every day. If they have a temperature, new persistent cough (even if you are 90% sure it’s just a cold) or change in senses of smell or taste, they MUST stay home for ten days. If they have a COVID-19 test they may return to school earlier on producing written confirmation of a negative test. DO NOT take a chance. DO NOT say ‘see how you go’ and send them in. DO NOT say after a few days, ‘you seem fine, head on in.’ They will be refused entry and sent home for a further 10 days and we may have to quarantine some rooms which we can’t afford to do. We expect attendance to be down this year – safety of the school community comes first. PLEASE do not jeopardise the operation or opened status of the school by not heeding the advice. To be blunt, we cannot afford to be selfish or casual about staff or other pupils and their families’ safety.
This applies to staff and pupils alike. We will check our temperature every day.
2. EVERY DAY check your child has:
A) Basic school equipment like pens, pencils, calculator, PE kit etc– don’t assume (they are teenagers after all!) as it cannot be lent out or shared.
C) Hand sanitiser (soap and water is better, but still a must have)
D) A PLAIN face covering.
What if it’s a cold or other common illness?
Highly likely it will be, but we have to be cautious all the same. I could equally ask, what if it’s not just a cold? Follow the advice, safety first.
What safeguards are in place to reduce the risk?
There is a long detailed list, but in brief:
- separate entrance gates and toilets for year groups
- sanitation stations around the school
- a sophisticated facial recognition temperature check station in the foyer for all adults and visitors
- visors or face coverings strongly encouraged
- classes in y8-10 in social bubbles where possible, sanitation of desks at end of every class
- amended canteen offer and socially distanced seating
- seating plans in every room with all desks facing forward where possible
- staggered arrival and end to the day
- reduced access to the site
- break extended by 5 minutes to allow more hand washing time
- enhanced and stricter cleaning regime in place
- 2M social distancing from adults marked in all classrooms
- one way systems in place around high traffic areas such as the large toilet block
- homework to be frequently set via Google Classroom online to maintain online learning habits in case of a local lockdown
- strict protocols in place should a suspected case of Covid-19 occur in school.
And lots more – but we remain open to stealing a good idea from anyone, please get in contact if you think we have missed something, or you see a good idea elsewhere we could emulate.
Will social distancing be enforced?
Strongly encouraged, Yes. Enforced through sanctions, No.
The only exception to this will be a case where there is clear evidence someone deliberately and frequently encroaches someone’s personal space for the purposes of intimidation or putting health and safety at risk. This will be robustly dealt with.
What will happen in the playground at break and lunch?
We only have one playground, so it will be impossible to zone for all year groups. Social distancing has been ‘relaxed’ between pupils, and they will have to take some responsibility for their own health and safety and remain 1m apart as best they can. Regretfully, this means no ball games at break and lunch without exception.
My child or a household member were shielding as they were considered extremely clinically vulnerable – what is in place for them, and do I need a risk assessment to be carried out?
We have tried to set our precautions to cover everyone, including those clinically and extremely clinically vulnerable, but if you or someone in your household might benefit from a risk assessment, we are pleased to carry one out. Please contact the school office and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Are all of the staff available for work?
Some of our staff had been shielding, and I have a duty of care to all staff as much as to all our pupils. The vast majority of staff are available for work, so there should be very little disruption. However, I anticipate some changes as we go along as staff, like pupils, will have household members advised to self-isolate to protect the school community. This will apply to myself as much as anyone else – the safety of the community comes first.
What about Practical subjects such as HE, Science or Technology?
Advice is that they will go ahead as planned, with enhanced hand sanitation protocols in place.
How will PE operate?
PE is a compulsory part of the curriculum and is to go ahead as planned. Pupils will not have to change, but instead will be allowed to come to school in Official PE kits only. Only the school tracksuit will be permitted, no alternatives, so bear this in mind in colder weather, and plan accordingly. The time not used for changing will be used for hand washing.
How will computers be cleaned?
Computers, screens and mice will be wiped down regularly, but all staff and pupils should clean their hands before touching one.
What happens in the case of someone in the school having symptoms of COVID-19?
There is a detailed response protocol in place that is displayed in every classroom. Essentially, the unwell person will be isolated and they and any siblings will be sent home. Anyone in close contact with them will be informed (this is the importance of the seating plans) to watch for symptoms, but no one else will need to go home. This will be followed up with enhanced cleaning and disinfection.
What happens if I do not send my child to school because of my concerns about myself, my household or their safety?
In light of the Minister’s statement 6th August 2020, clarifying “that having taken account of the scientific and medical evidence, it is now appropriate for all pupils to return to school during the week commencing 31 August 2020” we [Government, not Ulidia IC] would consider attendance to be mandatory.
The DENI guidance says:
Pupils Who Are Clinically Vulnerable
All schools should follow the latest guidance on attendance for children and young people who have health conditions or who live with individuals who have health conditions or are pregnant. Current guidance on these categories is published on NI Direct and by PHA here. If in doubt, specific advice should be sought from a Hospital Consultant or GP.
There will be a small number of children where medical guidance would be to refrain from school. The school should satisfy themselves, through evidence provided by the family that the pupil is shielding due to underlying medical conditions. If this is not possible then an unauthorised absence should be recorded.
Pupils Who Live with Someone Who is Clinically Vulnerable
If a child or young person lives with someone who is clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable as above), including those who are pregnant, they can attend their education or childcare setting. If in doubt, advice should be sought from the Hospital Consultant or GP of the clinically vulnerable person.
How will books be marked?
This will be different from department to department. All staff will be able to mark work electronically, but there is concern about cross contamination from taking books in, and certainly staff have been told not to take books in their car to their home. If books are collected in, they may have to remain untouched for 72 hours before hand sanitation and marking by the teacher. This will inevitably result in delays for return of books, and so we ask your patience as we try to keep our staff safe and get feedback to pupils in a meaningful way.
Can I collect or drop my children off at school by car?
Not at the gates. We are operating a ‘Park and Stride’ policy – please drop them off or meet them a bit further away from the school and either walk with them to the gates, or allow them to walk the rest on foot. (I recommend the coffee in the Circle K filling station on Prince Andrew Way, other coffee and filling stations are available…). PLEASE be considerate of our neighbours and Acorn Primary by parking further away. You will NOT be permitted to bring your car on site without a prior appointment letter, and there is very little room to turn or wait. Remember you are not IN traffic, you ARE traffic. This will only become a problem if YOU ignore the advice. Park and stride please!
How will school transport work?
“It is mandatory for all pupils aged 13 and over to wear a face covering on public transport. It is also strongly recommended that all pupils regardless of age should wear a face covering on all buses, trains or taxis for the journey to school where it is appropriate for them to do so and they are able to handle them as directed.
Good hand hygiene practices must be adhered to at all times and these are detailed on the PHA website. “
PLEASE NOTE: YOU MUST CHECK WITH TRANSLINK TO SEE IF THEY ARE RUNNING NORMAL TRAIN AND BUS TIMETABLES – WE HAVE HEARD THAT IN SOME CASES SATURDAY TIMETABLES MAY BE IN OPERATION DURING THE SCHOOL WEEK.
How will homework be set?
As normal, but with an emphasis on Google Classroom. Return of work may take longer than usual due to hygiene measures.
Are pupils required to wear PPE?
No. PPE and face coverings are not the same thing.
Do pupil have to have a face covering?
All pupils must have a face covering for travel to and from school, calling into shops and in case someone displays symptoms of Covid-19 in their class, but this will be unusual and in the main face coverings will not be compulsory in lessons. However, they are welcome to do so if they wish, but they must be donned before entering the classroom and not removed until after leaving again.
Will teachers be wearing face covering?
Like pupils, all staff are welcome to do so if they will feel safer. Visors are also available for them. We will just have to find a way around communication problems.
Are uniform and appearance polices going to be relaxed?
No. Full school uniform and appearance policies are firmly in place – this includes uniform, shoes, PE kit, ties, blazers, jumpers, piercings and haircuts. We will have enough to deal with, so please do not challenge us in this area. Regular washing is essential.
How will discipline be managed?
There will be the same very high standards as always, but sanctions may be higher than before. We will display a very low tolerance to lesson disruption or defiance.
Pupils who are repeat offenders will find they will escalate through the sanctions more rapidly than before and will be more likely to be suspended. There will be no ‘chances’. We have missed enough learning and are in a vulnerable enough situation without having to lose time and energy to antisocial behaviour. Any health and safety breach could result in a pupil having to self isolate at home for up to 10 days as a precaution.
Are the classes going to be kept in ‘bubbles’ all day?
In years 8-10, yes, they will be in teaching group bubbles where possible for any activity lasting longer than 15 minutes. (Registration has been reduced to 15 minutes max, so form classes will remain the same.) Unlike some other schools though, our bubbles will move round the school to lessons as normal, it will just be the mixing of those classes that will be minimised. In years 11-14, pupils will observe social distancing where possible and are not recommended to be in bubbles.
Why are Ulidia IC not keeping the y8-10 in the same room all day the way other schools are?
For the first time, not having any interior corridors has been a good thing for us! The worry about movement makes sense where pupils travel from class to class inside corridors, but as Ulidia IC is an ‘’outside” campus design school, we do not have this constraint. Further, keeping teaching staff in one place means they have more control over their environment as much as possible. It also critically allows normal learning and teaching to take place in practical subjects. This is one of the reasons for wiping down the desks after each class.
How will the canteen work?
Reduced menu focussing on ‘grab and go’, queues will be outside, no seating at break, limited seating at lunch, sanitation stations in place.
How will cleaning operate?
There is an enhanced cleaning programme in place, and against minimum requirement advice we have decided to increase cleaners’ hours and are seeking to employ an additional cleaner. All surfaces have been cleared in all classrooms and offices and wipes are available throughout the campus.
How will toilets operate?
Pupils will only have a single set of toilets (depending on their year group) that they are permitted to use in order to help with Track and Trace protocols.
What happens if there is a local lockdown?
We follow PHA advice and if instructed to close, we will switch to online learning through Google Classroom.