"We don't want to have created a double disadvantage" - Leeds headteacher on going back to school after coronavirus lockdown

A secondary school headteacher says he worries about the most disadvantaged children and how much lockdown will have affected them.

Monday, 24th August 2020, 6:00 am

Ahead of schools re-opening fully in September, Chris Stokes, principal at the GORSE Trust managed Farnley Academy, said there is a need to get children back in school to support them.

Pupils across the city will have all had different experiences of home tuition and won't be returning on a level playing field - as well as the chunk of curriculum that has been missed since schools were ordered to close back in March.

He has called on more clarity from the government about how pupils and schools will be assessed going forward.

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Chris Stokes, principal at Farnley Academy.

His comments come just a fortnight after national controversy surrounding the way A Level results were calculated after students were down-graded based upon a model which used social back drop as a key factor.

Mr Stokes said: "If Leeds went into a local lockdown and children have to work from home, they are disadvantaged, therefore I fail to see how fairly accurate league tables can be. If you had a significant time extension, like Leicester, and it is not back to school they would have the right to say they did not get the same start. The government does need to consider how it can fairly have an exams system that does not disadvantage anybody."

Back in his own school he also worries about the pupils that won't have had a positive home schooling experience.

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When they do get back to school, he said September will be "getting used to the new normal" after having to implement guidelines, changes to the structure of the school day and also a different way of teaching.

At Farnley, where there are 1500 pupils, there will be a staggered start to the school day so different year groups arrive at different times - starting with Year 11 who will spend the longest in school so they can catch up ahead of GCSE preparation. Years 7 and 8 will stay in the same groups and pupils will stay in the same classroom for most of the school day with different subject teachers coming to them rather than a mass movement of pupils from one lesson to another.

For English, maths and science pupils will work in ability groups and only for option subjects will students move to other classrooms.

Students will have to wash their hands before entering the building and hand sanitiser will be dotted around school, which will also be subject to a one way system.

Mr Stokes said keeping up with the latest information and guidance had on occasions taken him til 2am the next morning but he was confident that staff and students at Farnley will be returning to a safe school environment.

He said: "At the beginning of lockdown guidelines came out and we were required to pretty much just implement it. With this, we have had more time to consider it and are quite experienced with it now.

"We are in a position where we know what works and does not and we can adapt what worked for smaller numbers and upscale it. The way that we have set up makes me feel confident that we can safely do it. As an employer and colleagues we have to look after safety and safety is achieved by reducing the amount of movement.

"In terms of returning to school to teach - that is what everybody wants to do. But the thing people are anxious about is the change of routine, as teachers we are so embedded in what we do and being in our classroom. I understand that and it is something we have taken into account and they will manage and cope.

"We came into education because we love working with children and I feel immensely privileged and looking forward to coming back and doing that again."

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Laura Collins