Primary school re-opening: High attendance reported amid focus on wellbeing and recovery

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

There are reports of high pupil attendance as primary schools re-opened their doors to all children this week.

Challenges reported by school leaders to Headteacher Update centred on issues such as assuring families that schools are safe and re-establishing routines.

On Monday (March 8), the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that primary school full re-opening “appears to have gone smoothly” and the union has received reports from its members that “attendance is high”

General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Teachers and school leaders have gone out of their way to make it a positive return and we are hearing that attendance is high. School leaders and their teams will be delighted to see so many pupils back in class.”

Headteacher Update spoke to a number of school leaders to gauge how things have gone.

Sarah Paul, headteacher of Wyberton Primary Academy in Boston, said: “What a joy it was to see so many smiles this morning as the children skipped into school. The school is alive again with the chatter and buzz of its most precious commodity. It’s so good to have the school family back together.”

Fiona Booth, headteacher of St Nicholas CE Primary Academy, also in Boston, said her memory of the day would be “the sound of a full school of happy, excited children drifting its way down the corridors, filling the air and making our light shine even more brightly than ever before”.

Paul Ainsworth, school improvement director at Infinity Academies Trust in Lincolnshire, to which both schools belong, added: “One of challenges for this week is all children and staff adjusting to our schools being full again and trying to find the normal routine after the year so far.

“As leaders we have to provide the support that our teachers need and part of this is determining the curriculum offer for these three weeks and for the rest of the year. A second challenge is the worry of having to close a bubble due to a positive test and we know that parents will find this so challenging.”

Further south, Anthony David, executive headteacher of St Paul’s CE Primary School and Millbrook Park Primary School in north London, saw “perfect attendance” in both schools.

His biggest challenge he said has been explaining to families that the school is safe, but now that all pupils are back work now begins on “planning for the next 18 months in terms of educational and wellbeing rehabilitation”.

Elsewhere, Yeading Infant and Nursery School in Hayes used its social media accounts to engage with families in the run-up to March 8 to ensure parents and carers were confident with the safety measures in place.

Deputy headteacher Sabah Malik said Monday’s full re-opening brought with it a “buzz at school”. Her priorities are centred on wellbeing.

She told Headteacher Update: “Priorities have to be focused on rebuilding relationships and supporting both children and staff wellbeing. We have prioritised spending to support mental health looking closely at research-based wellbeing strategies that have the best impact. PSHE and PSED in the early years will be a legitimate emphasis for the duration of this term and we will be reviewing art therapy as a means to support this, following on from the work done in the autumn.

“As part of on-going work on trauma-informed practice, we have organised staff CPD to include staff training on psychological first aid.”

Back in Lincolnshire, Mr Ainsworth said the trust’s first priority in the coming weeks will be for children to “reconnect with their class-mates and their teachers so that they are happy and confident”.

He added: “Two further priorities are providing the right pastoral care for the children. We recognise that it may be weeks in before some children communicate or disclose issues to us. Alongside this we have to work out what is the right curriculum to offer and this is likely to be an iterative approach. We teach for a few weeks and then adjust our plans according to the needs of the children.”

When asked what schools needed from the government right now, Mr Ainsworth said one thing: space.

“My message to government is to give leaders, schools and MATs the space they need to provide the right provision for their children in our care. We don’t need a top-down model demanding summer schools or longer days, instead we would like the resources to ensure the right provision is in place.”

For his part, Mr David wants to see a new style of leadership from the Department for Education: “The last six months have shown a catalogue of mis-steps and arguably dangerous decisions. This has caused unnecessary anxiety and had we acted more swiftly at Christmas rather than penalising schools for closing early we could have actually reduced infection rates and seen a swifter, nationwide return. This hackneyed style of politics has to stop. Schools deserve a dialogue, not a dictatorship.”

Mr Whiteman, meanwhile, reminded ministers that extra funding will be needed well beyond this academic year if we are to properly support the post-Covid recovery work in schools. He said: “The government needs to make sure it is doing everything to keep schools as safe as possible, and to make sure they have the resources they need to fully support pupils socially, emotionally and academically. Without doubt this will require additional funding extending well beyond the current academic year.”

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