Coronavirus: How a ‘skeleton school’ keeps going during lockdown

Pupils at St Peter's and St Gildas', pictured before lockdown. Picture: St Peter's and St Gildas'

Pupils at St Peter's and St Gildas', pictured before lockdown. Picture: St Peter's and St Gildas' - Credit: St Peter's and St Gildas'

Primary teacher Hayley Clarke discusses how her school, St Peter’s and St Gildas’, in Crouch End, is getting on when most pupils are staying at home.

Primary teacher Hayley Clarke.

Primary teacher Hayley Clarke. - Credit: Hayley Clarke

It’s a strange time to be a teacher.

On March 20 our school locked its gate for the majority of children, for an indefinite period of time. The day was emotional. Goodbyes are never easy, particularly when you can’t tell the children if and when you are going to see them again this academic year.

Despite the prime minister’s announcement of closures, most schools remain open. Our ‘Skeleton School’ offers a haven for our most vulnerable children, and vital childcare for the children of key workers.

Working with the children of NHS staff makes us vulnerable ourselves, without the protection of fitted masks and gloves. This highlights the willingness of our teachers, and teachers around the country, to continue to dedicate themselves to the children in this time of crisis.

I am lucky to have a supportive and compassionate headteacher. Throughout this crisis, she has encouraged all staff to consider the needs of themselves and their family, and to keep themselves safe. She has said no one would be forced to do anything that they were uncomfortable with, and nor would they be judged on any personal decision that they made.

Parents and governors have been equally supportive and thankful. As a result, every teacher (medically able to) immediately volunteered for the rota.

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Unfortunately, I contracted the virus, meaning I’m currently unable to volunteer myself to help, but I hope to be back as soon as my symptoms subside. Friends of mine at other schools have not had the same experience, with threats of disciplinary action if they were unwilling to go into school, further adding to their stresses during the pandemic.

Days at the Skeleton School are spent trying to keep the children 2m apart, and teach a variety of children from years 1 to 6 simultaneously. This is a challenge. The little ones naturally want to be close to you as you read with them, and obviously the children are at different levels developmentally. At lunch they sit three chairs apart, and play times are staggered between the attendees.

But there are many positives. The days offer opportunities for one-to-one reading and teaching – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the most vulnerable children to close gaps in their learning and receive this level of personalised support from their teachers.

Another direction we are being pulled in is creating home learning opportunities for the majority of children who are staying at home. Devising a home learning plan is a challenge for a teacher, as interacting with children is so vital to our job. Luckily, many educational companies are offering free access to their resources, allowing us to point children and parents towards valuable and comprehensive learning opportunities.

The worry I have is the level to which each child and each family can access these. I feel terrible that I am unable to better help children whose parents are unable to properly support them, as I cannot be with them myself.

I hope to launch the YouTube channel I set up before the schools closed, once my symptoms have abated. I will read a chapter of a story to them each day. I feel that this is important – to ensure that our sense of school community remains, and that no child feels completely alone.

It’s an uncertain time as we teachers navigate our way through this new uncharted territory. But my main worry is the possibility that there are some children around the country who go home each night to situations we do not know of, and are now unable to escape to school. I worry that there may be children sitting at home unsupported, without any social interaction, staring at a screen. I worry about the vulnerable children who are isolating at home, but I am grateful that our school, social workers and families are working together to ensure that they remain supported. I worry upon hearing news that calls to Childline have rocketed during the crisis, and that domestic violence cases have spiked. I worry about all of our children’s mental health during and after the crisis. I hope that our children are safe. I hope that we can go back to school soon.