03:13PM, Friday 10 September 2021
Students across Maidenhead are back in their classrooms with the hope that this academic year will face less coronavirus disruption.
The past two years has seen exams cancelled, student and staff numbers decimated by self-isolation and significant changes to how schools operate on a day-to-day basis.
The Government has now scrapped the ‘bubble’ system which meant children could only mix in a set year or class group, while mask wearing is no longer compulsory.
Secondary school pupils had to undertake two lateral flow tests on their return to the classroom and will be asked to test themselves twice a week at home.
Maggie Callaghan, principal at Desborough College, said the experience for students has been ‘completely different’ over the past 18 months.
She said: “The difficulty with bubbles last year was some of our children, like the new Year 7s, hadn’t had the opportunity to go across the school site.
“They hadn’t been to the school hall, everything was ordered on an app for food and they had most of their lessons in five classrooms.”
At one stage last year Desborough had 95 people self-isolating and Ms Callaghan said this had a ‘massive impact’ on everybody at the school.
From September, students will no longer need to self-isolate if they are in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 but they will have to stay at home if they get the virus themselves.
The school’s principal said the focus will be continuing to offer support to students who are self-isolating this year to safeguard their mental health.
She added: “For us it’s very much about making sure that the boys feel well-supported if they get COVID, the work is available for them and they have someone to touch base with every day.
“When you’re feeling rubbish and feeling isolated, it’s more your mental health that becomes an issue with the anxiety of not being in school and falling behind.”
Claires Court’s executive headteacher and designated safeguarding lead Justin Spanswick said that the school was no longer required to ‘bubble’ year groups but has maintained running year-specific buses to transport children to and from school.
He added that the school had kept a number of measures, including frequent hand-washing, a ‘rigorous’ cleaning programme and asymptomatic testing sites on the premises because it made ‘good sense’ to do so.
But he said that it was ‘really difficult’ for situations where a child’s parents contracted the virus whilst the child tested negative.
“The guidance isn’t too clear; it would have been the case that the child has to isolate and isn’t allowed to come in, good sense would dictate that,” he said.
“However, the Department for Education’s (DfE) latest update has stipulated that children can come in if there’s a member of their house who has tested positive as long as their lateral flow test and PCR test is negative. We are not sure we agree with that, to be honest, it doesn’t sound quite right to us.”