A SCHOOL which told parents “there is no social distancing here” has seen a huge number of its younger years pupils return this week.
Oakfield Primary School in Totton has brought in safety measures including teaching children in strictly separated groups, one-way systems and staggered drop-offs and pick-ups.
But headteacher Haydn Mitton told the A&T: “I have told parents there will be no social distancing here, it is just not possible.
“We have put all the measures we can in place, but we are not going to tell children they cannot mix, cannot share things like crayons, or help each other if they fall over.
“That would go against everything we stand for as a school. We believe in compassion and caring for each other.
“We have very clear values as a school and to keep telling children off for wanting to share or help each other would be wrong.”
Mr Mitton said the school is taking all the precautions it can to keep pupils safe, including cleaning equipment every night and frequent handwashing for all.
But he added: “We will not stop children from behaving as children. How wrong would that be?”
The response from parents there has been overwhelmingly positive with more than three-quarters of eligible children returning. Nationally some schools have reported attendance as low as 40%.
Mr Mitton said pupils were being taught in separate “bubbles” and were free to play within that group.
But in a message to parents on the school’s Facebook page he told them: “If a child comes to hug us, we won’t push them away, scramble for a measuring stick or shout for help.
“Socially distancing does not and will not exist in primary schools, not between staff and certainly not between children. Snotty tissues – and sometimes sleeves – ice-packs, plastic toys, maths equipment, lunch boxes, carpets, computers and books are all part of primary school life.”
Other schools in Hampshire and Dorset are taking a tougher line with sharing of equipment banned and children deterred from mixing together too closely.
At New Milton Infant School headteacher Kate Stanton said it had taken “quite stringent measures” including social distancing with no more than 10 children in each class.
At present only Reception year pupils have been able to return as Ms Stanton said the school did not have room for more with class sizes being reduced so much.
She said: “Out of 90 children who could have returned, 36 have. They are being taught in bubbles and stay within that bubble for play and lunch times.
“We have a one-way system and two-metre spaced waiting areas outside classrooms.
“There are no soft furnishings so children cannot sit on mats together like they normally would. They each have individual tables and a wallet with their own equipment like a white board and crayons.”
Ms Stanton said pupils had “settled in well” to the new regime, but admitted: “It is quite quiet in school. We are just looking forward to the time we can welcome all the pupils back.”
At Priory Primary School in Christchurch headteacher Paul Ruffle said a “great deal of work has been undertaken” to ensure pupils and staff felt safe.
But he said he hoped it would still maintain a “welcoming and fun atmosphere”.
Children are being taught in pods of up to eight and will attend only two days a week to begin with. Teachers are working from “safe spaces” while pupils sit at desks set apart from each other. The school is expecting 65% of Reception and Year 6 to return.
Mr Ruffle said: “So far, the children returning to school are happy and have adjusted to their significantly altered surroundings extremely well given the circumstances.
“It is early days with an ever-changing national picture, but we remain committed to continue making the Priory School a welcoming, enjoyable and safe learning environment for our whole school community.”