12th June 2020
The government has recently allowed single-parent families to join a ‘social bubble’, meaning, you can form a group with another household and act as though you lived together. The possibility isn’t open to everyone, and vulnerable people still have to shield, but it shows a distinct movement towards normality.
In schools, bubbles, sometimes called ‘pods’ have been working successfully for a while. A group of students is allocated a specific teacher, completing all lessons and break times with their fellow bubble students and adults. The idea means that if a pupil falls ill, or tests positive for COVID-19, everyone that has had direct contact with can be identified and quarantined quickly and efficiently. Once a bubble is created pupils do not have contact with pupils in other bubbles. In some schools, brothers and sisters have been kept in the same bubble, but the majority of schools have opted to keep children in respective year groups.
Most schools are operating bubbles of around 15 same-age pupils. We know it’s been a tough few weeks for all of our teachers adapting to new processes but things are getting easier and will continue to do so as pupils settle into the new normal.
Previously solid and practised procedures such as fire drills, break times, lunch, behaviour management and isolation policies have had to be adapted to prevent bubbles from ‘bursting’. Teachers across the UK have been working to implement completely new strategies to deal with these high traffic times for schools and we’ve seen some creative solutions, including one-way systems and complete timetable rethinks.
One of the amazing benefits to come out of schools implementing bubbles is that smaller class sizes are suddenly the norm. More space, a more relaxed approach to the curriculum and a reduced number of pupils to focus on has actually improved some teachers day to day experience. Whilst there are massive benefits to getting everything back to normal, many school staff are calling for the Department of Education and school boards to take the opportunity to change long-interred and incumbent practises.
We know that teachers and support staff have been vital in solving many of the hidden issues involved in the school return. They are the ones taking daily decisions outside of their normal job role and coming up with creative solutions to fit ever-changing regulations – all of which has added a heavy workload of logistical planning into what was already a very busy job.
When it comes to the actual classroom, bubbles offer an opportunity to find new ways to teach. We’ve seen some great ideas on twitter from teachers in the last week including:
Of course, there are always going to teething problems and ongoing transmission risk to add an extra layer of worry to a teachers day. Smaller class sizes might mean more one on one attention for struggling pupils, but it creates it’s own array of social and behavioural problems. Many schools are utilising their spare rooms to house classes that have been split up, so there may be less options for isolating misbehaving pupils – and sending them to another teacher’s class is off the menu.
Of course, the overriding need is to keep pupils and staff safe. Bubbles only work if they are kept in isolation and don’t ‘burst’ or come into contact with another individual or group. Schools have removed all non-essential visitors and some have arranged for pupils to attend on alternating days to maintain bubble stability.
Schools can manage bubbles separately in the classroom, but at home it’s possible that a student could contract the virus and then bring it into the school environment. Some schools have seen positive tests in children that have meant the entire bubble has been asked to isolate for a period, putting pupils who may not have contracted the virus back home without daily learning support.
Despite the governments announcements, and schools best efforts to reassure parents, some children haven’t returned. This could be for many reasons, and schools are having to find new ways of keeping parents up to date and staying in touch with children, some 700,000 of which are estimated not to have access to a computer and the internet at home.
There is no solution to a school return whilst COVID is still a risk that doesn’t come with problems, but it’s great to see so many amazing positive stories coming out of the situation. We and everyone who works in Education, look forward to a time when teachers don’t have to focus so heavily on reducing virus transmission. For now, we are here to support all of our teachers and colleagues through these strange times.
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