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Coronavirus: Teachers are isolating but still teach – by video

Mary Craghill and class by video-link
Image caption Year 3 at Heathfield Primary are in school – but their teacher is not

Imagine being in your classroom, aged seven, with your teacher being beamed in from her home by video-link.

At Heathfield Primary in Darlington that’s exactly what’s happening.

Mrs Craghill is teaching her class of seven- and eight-year-olds by video-link. Someone in her household tested positive for the virus, so she is having to self-isolate – but her lessons continue.

Darlington, unlike some other towns in north-east England, has a relatively low transmission rate of coronavirus – but even here, schools are having to be resourceful and vigilant to ensure children can at last pick up their education after months of disruption.

Snap research by the BBC late last week showed hundreds of pupils were having to self isolate when small numbers of their classmates, in schools across England, showed symptoms of the virus.

This is of course a tiny proportion out of the millions of pupils in England’s 27,000 schools – but it just shows how vigilant school communities have to be in order to contain the virus.

Image caption Year 3 teacher, Mary Craghill has been teaching by video link

For Mrs Craghill, this is not the way she wanted to start the school year, but at least the video-link ensures she can have some contact with pupils who have been out of school for so long.

“It’s been really beneficial for myself and the children to be able to have some connection each day and just to connect with maths and English and to see their faces really and for them to see me.”

‘Face-to-face’

At Heathfield, children are having recovery classes and lessons in mindfulness to help them adjust after missing months of schooling

“So I liked being back at school to be with my friends and have education, like really good education, like face to face,” Lucas told the BBC.

“I like being back at school with a team of friends and because if I’m struggling the teacher can help me because I couldn’t do that at home,” a classmate added.

Image caption ‘I like being back at school,’ says Lucas

Lingfield Educational Trust, which runs this primary and six others in north-east England, says schools are a safe place.

But its chief executive Nick Blackburn says it’s been a “challenging” first week back,

“In this school, 20 pupils have been sent home whilst we’re waiting for a test result,” Mr Blackburn told the BBC.

Another primary, run by the same trust in nearby Middlesbrough, has had to close the reception class and the nursery class.

“We’re going to see this, unfortunately, again and again.” Mr Blackburn added.

Image caption It has been a challenging week for the trust, says Nick Blackburn

He said Middlesbrough, if not Darlington, is in a part of the country where infection rates are higher than some other areas.

Cleaning costs

Social distancing and hygiene are now important parts of the school day, putting pressure on time and budgets.

Paying out for more cleaning materials, is one issue, according to Heathfield head teacher, Helen Tarokh.

“But also there’s some staffing costs as well,” she added.

“Health and safety has just taken over my life as a head teacher at the moment, which is nobody’s fault – that’s the situation that we’re in, but it’s frustrating because we want to be getting on with our usual day job of making sure that we do teaching and learning really well.”

Image caption Hand washing is now an important part of the school timetable

If there is a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus, schools have to get in touch with their local public health teams.

Parent Clare Langford has two children at the school. At the moment, her son is going in – but her daughter’s class has been sent home to self-isolate.

“She’s asymptomatic which is great,” says Claire.

Image caption Parent Clare Langford has two children at the school

“You know, I’m very happy about that – but should she get symptoms, my concern is that because my elder son is still in school, obviously if my daughter gets symptoms and does get Covid, that my son will get it and he will have moved it to Year 6.

The vast majority of children across the UK are now back in lessons – but staff and pupils are all learning to deal with disruption – the new reality of being back at school as the pandemic continues.

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