Ideas from a Primary Teacher

I’ve made a few videos on Twitter proposing solutions to the issue of pupils returning to school. From every child wearing a 4m wide circle around them in the playground, to applying plasters for cut knees but catapult, to training pupils remotely how to be teachers before sending them in to teach their peers.

Of course, all the above were satire.

Working at a Hub school in Edinburgh, I can safely assure everyone that even the best behaved class of 8 children fail to social distance. It’s just not possible. They forget, they fall over, they don’t look behind themselves. They rarely wash their hands once they have been to the toilet, regardless of the number of posters, washing hand dance routines and verbal reminders we as teachers give to them.

If social distancing is to remain in place, there is no forseeable way to re-open schools to more than 6/8 pupils per class.

Moreover, what we do in Primary is vastly different to what many adults perceive. Gone are the days of sitting in rows. Kids are up and moving, working in pairs or small groups, sharing ideas, providing feedback in one another’s jotters, using blocks in maths, balls in geography and creating models in STEM. Reopening with social distancing in place greatly curbs the effectiveness of teachers and the opportunities for pupils to learn. They are not used to sitting at their desk for 6 hours a day. Moreover, we don’t want them to be sitting at their desk for lengthy periods of time.

Remote Learning is working for those that have access to reliable devices and adequate WiFi. I have a class of 33 and have 23/24 online daily completing a range of tasks via paper, video and PowerPoint - sharing their incredible learning online. We even managed to choreograph and create a dance music video, without any tears or fall outs (well...none between the pupils at least (sorry parents of that happened!))

The Govt should first look to provide reliable internet devices (no £45 hudls - robust laptops and tablets) to ALL pupils who require them. Despite the large expense, expectations should still be lax - parents are working at home, not all children can work independently. But at least we’re giving them a fighting chance. Moreover, Glasgow rolled out iPads to all pupils (well, they’re halfway through doing so) - other councils should be following suit and Govt should be able to make that happen.

If we are to re-open, then P7 should be a priority. They NEED a meaningful transition. When it doesn’t happen, a couple in every class will really struggle.

Why the contribution is important

Frankly, because it comes from a teacher who is doing everything they can and desperately wants to go back to school and see their class again.

by Mr_Minchin on May 05, 2020 at 04:40PM

Current Rating

Average rating: 4.3
Based on: 46 votes


  • Posted by ryantravers May 05, 2020 at 16:48

    There is a disproportionality in wanting to change the environment in schools drastically when confronted with a disease that has led to so few deaths amongst the under-14s.

    So far from 1st January to 24th April only 2 people (both females) under the age of 14 have died of Covid-19:[…]/weekending24april2020

    We need to understand the risk because in the under-14 age group there is little chance of a child dying when they catch the virus. Furthermore, UCL's review of the closure of schools showed it had a statistically insignificant change to the viral spread.
  • Posted by mwsutherland May 05, 2020 at 16:53

    As a retired teacher of primary school children I agree with all of this. The way children learn in school nowadays is largely interactional and working cooperatively is a key feature. Children are very sociable and expecting them to distance socially or physically is unnatural and possibly damaging.
  • Posted by Selkie May 05, 2020 at 16:57

    All good points and I second the IPAD roll out. The way we school our children needs a big overhaul, we have already started like the OP said, less time at desks, more physical learning, but we can do more. Maybe now is the ideal time to rethink and revamp how we help children to learn. Oh and ban homework.
  • Posted by LHHa May 05, 2020 at 17:00

    I agree with everything said here. As a teacher my concern is the risk for staff in schools as students don’t understand social distancing and school buildings aren’t getting cleaned properly. We don’t have enough hand washing facilities for lots of pupils. I also want to get back to work but when it’s safe for me, my pupils and my family.
  • Posted by Rosie May 05, 2020 at 17:00

    I also agree. There is no way we can expect a child to socially distance. And teaching these day’s doesn’t allow for that. We don’t live in the dark ages any more, thanks goodness, where children sat at a desk from 9til 4 and didn’t move or speak unless they were told to.
  • Posted by LHHa May 05, 2020 at 17:02

    For online learning to be effective all pupils need access to digital technology and WiFi. I teach in a deprived area in Glasgow and we have very few pupils engaging with learning which is very concerning.
  • Posted by JackWhyte49 May 05, 2020 at 17:04

    Few deaths in under 14s completely misses the point. The issue is re-infecting - kids will pick up and spread Covid to their siblings, families and grand parents.
  • Posted by GJTorrie May 05, 2020 at 17:06

    I have to say that owing to homeschooling, my little one who is a primary 3 is very used to sitting at a desk with a laptop, a folder and a jotter from 0800-1200 then 1330-1700 and she didn’t have an Easter break. I maybe a tyrant but I cannot work if I am providing childcare. I also find that by not allowing her to become distracted she doesn’t ask to go play with her friends instead she has FaceTime with them and she sees that how she is working is no different to how I’m working. This is a great experience but to say they cannot sit at a desk is wrong, could you not adapt your learning style until we are clear of this pandemic? I think at a school desk with friends in the same room would be more socially beneficial than sitting at a desk at home.
  • Posted by Shopaholic99 May 05, 2020 at 17:07

    I agree children learn through interaction with their peers and through play. They can’t be expected to sit still all day and social distance that is not how our children learn. They learn through play.

    I would rather have good online learning which my children’s school has been providing than them return to an environment of social distancing and only seeing half their class, unable to play with their friends at break time or physically interact with them . Asking young children to social distance is going to do more damage than good in the long run.

    Schools need to not been seen as childcare. They are there to educate.
  • Posted by Hellokitty83 May 05, 2020 at 17:09

    Regarding Ryan Travers comment, I believe the restrictions are in place to reduce the spread of infection, not the severity of infection affecting children.
    Children who's parents work in care homes, sheltered housing, hospitals, etc could spread covid 19 to more vulnerable groups, more quickly.
    Mr Minchin, the original poster, is correct. Primary aged children have very little concept of social distancing when they want a cuddle or fall and hurt themselves or see their pals. As for washing hands?? It is a military operation getting a class of 30 kids in and out of 3/4 toilets while washing hands properly for 20 seconds. As for sneezing and coughing, forget hygiene!!
    On top of this, lets not forget the staff. Have they to come in with rubber gloves, aprons and masks on? What happens if a large chunk of school staff become ill with the virus? Older staff, underlying health issues, pregnancy???
    Local authorities need time to get a coordinated plan together and make sure everything is in place to ensure the safety of parents, staff and the wider community, not only children themselves.
  • Posted by geraldwiley May 05, 2020 at 17:12

    Children are hardly affected by the virus at all. If the teachers aren't in a vulnerable group and no-one in the child's home are vulnerable then why shouldn't they go to school asap whilst taking whatever sensible measures can be done.
  • Posted by Tonyretals May 05, 2020 at 17:33

    We have no where near enough information to think about returning children to school at the moment. The full impact of the disease is not know, our understanding is limited and we need more time to see how damaging this can be to our children. This is a developing situation, the below is from the BBC website but is being reported worldwide :

    “Mysterious child illness may be linked to virus
    At least 15 children in New York City hospitals have experienced symptoms of an illness which may be associated with Covid-19, according to health officials.

    The children were all admitted to hospital between 17 April and 1 May, according to an alert sent to medical providers by the New York City Health Department on Monday.

    Several of the children have since tested positive for Covid-19.

    The illness is a multi-system inflammatory syndrome, with symptoms similar to toxic shock syndrome or Kawasaki disease, the alert says.

    Kawasaki disease can cause inflammation and limit blood flow to the heart. It is often treatable but can be fatal.

    Doctors in the UK, Spain and Italy have already warned that increased cases of Kawasaki disease in children may be related to the coronavirus pandemic.”

    We need to make considered and informed decisions and for that we require data and deliberation not knee jerk reactions.

  • Posted by gmacv123 May 05, 2020 at 17:42

    Remote learning does not preclude interaction.
    Distance learning has been shown to be as effective if not better than face to face. The key is the quality. (Education Endowment Foundation )

    Key point point above is ; all pupils need reliable robust Laptops / tablets and WIFI.
    Schools, Councils and the Scottish Gov need to come together to ensure ensure this happens now.

    Schools have PEF funding to support identified vulnerable pupils. In these difficult times a lot more pupils will be classed as low income. All pupils need this access, a broad brush approach is called for.

    If we are looking to change our society for the better at the end of Covid 19, equality of access to the internet would be a great outcome for disadvantaged families.
  • Posted by slf May 05, 2020 at 17:53

    As a teacher and a mother using online learning, I know it does not work for everybody and I'm surprised you're getting as many as 23 pupils working online. That won't change by giving every child a tablet or device. Maybe using that money to buy and give pupils books would help.

    I also don't see why p7 pupils are more important than any other year group?

     I do agree that social distancing is going to be impossible. In a secondary school pupils move from class to class touching bannisters, door handles, desks and spread their germs around the school. The best that can be done is to teach half the school one week and half the school the next. That gives the weekend to carry out any cleaning. This is currently the best option and not a perfect solution.
  • Posted by Aham25 May 05, 2020 at 18:07

    Teaching primary 1 I totally agree with this....I cannot see a safe way of social distancing at all
  • Posted by gpenny May 05, 2020 at 20:23

    As a secondary school teacher I would like to point out that teenagers are no better at social distancing than their younger peers so a maximum of 6-8 per class sounds about right. This leaves secondary teachers able to have class contact with their pupils every third to fourth lesson which is insufficient for S4-6. Given that our pupils sitting exams have to be our priority I can’t see how S1-3 can return anytime soon. So although transition from primary to secondary is important it will need to be delayed as will the transitions into nursery and between nursery and between nursery and primary. Hardly ideal but needs must.

    As for online learning the majority of my pupils in my classes get the work done with the remainder chased up by management in the school. As always engagement in education requires parental support. I know most schools locally are working hard to get pupils without laptops or broadband access or providing printed work where they can’t (we have some extremely remote areas in our catchment where broadband and mobile data are simply not viable) and have staff delivering materials to those that need it.
  • Posted by Pandamamma May 05, 2020 at 22:35

    I agree with this, gone are the days where you sat at a desk all day with a textbook, the online learning is drastically different from what children are used to, in addition they all need positive close interaction with their peers in a learning and play environment, which is obviously not happening. I am also concerned that the focus has been on ensuring that school children are continuing learning, with little or no provision for children of nursery age, who still require to learn during this time
  • Posted by Kirklistonjohn May 06, 2020 at 02:10

    Remote teaching should be increased but be more focused and teacher led - especially crate the opportunity for one to one video links for tutorials between teacher and pupil.
    This would take the weight of parents especially key workers and those working at home and tap in to the vast teacher at home resource.
  • Posted by ryantravers May 06, 2020 at 14:40

    In response to Hellokitty83's reply. I think you haven't read what I wrote about the main review article by UCL which looked at whether opening schools had much affect on viral spread. They found a statistically insignificant difference to the spread of viruses with schools opened or closed so I totally disagree with your conjecture (and it is just that) that schools being open are a significant problem. If we want to "follow the science" then we need to look at the review articles on this topic because as the UCL review says there is little difference between having schools open or closed. The problem is is that you are just going by your "intuition" but this is not science.
  • Posted by Soniah May 06, 2020 at 23:44

    I agree it’s unfeasible for children in schools to social distance, especially Young children. I am a support for learning worker in a complex needs school, many of the children in the school have medical needs and (almost) all require personal intimate care. There is no way that any of the staff or children would be able to social distance from one another. I don’t think schools should return until after summer. I understand the difficulties parents are having trying to balance working at home and caring for their children and supporting their education, but I think the health of everyone involved is more important. If schools were to return there is still a possibility of spreading infection, both between children and staff members and those caring for them at home etc. I live in a household with two people who suffer from underlying conditions, if I was asked to return to work at the minute I would have to consider quitting so as to protect these members of my family. I also think about the amount of staff members who would have to travel into work everyday on public transport, I imagine social distancing would take second chair to getting to work on time during rush hour traffic. The parents/Carers would also have to travel in to schools everyday to drop children off, it is concerning to think about parents in the playground trying to social distance whilst picking up/dropping off/waiting for their children.
  • Posted by JohnA May 07, 2020 at 13:39

    The key thing is to keep R (the transmission rate) comfortably below 1. It is suggested that R is currently around 0.7. Opening schools might add 0.2 to that, to make 0.9.

    But, what would be the effect of only opening primary classes, for example? 0.05? 0.1?

    Why not gradually open up from the youngest age group first - year-by-year. This way you could slowly observe changes in R and also have time to get procedures in place before schools have to take on too many pupils at once.

    I suggest starting with the youngest for a few reasons:

    - They are the least susceptible themselves to the virus and some (Switzerland) suspect they may not even carry it in most cases.
    - They are the most time consuming to care for at home meaning the productivity of work from home parents suffer as well as the general workload of all parents.
    - They are the least able to be schooled from home as at young ages learning is more about interaction and feedback and less about self-study.
    - Their learning is the most valuable at a young age. Early education levels have huge effects on further educational attainment and life outcomes. It is harder to recover from lost education at a younger age than for older children. The lockdown is effecting them more.
    - They are the least able to interact with their peers outside of school during the lockdown as they are less familiar with social networks.

    I think by gradually opening schools from the youngest age group upwards you will be able to get the most benefit (improvements in wellbeing and education) for the least cost (increase in the transmission rate).
  • Posted by vivmiller May 07, 2020 at 15:01

    Agree with all points and comments. Worried P7 transitioning parent.
  • Posted by Pauline02 May 08, 2020 at 14:21

    Again, some advice from a primary teacher who has been working in a hub school and teaching on-line throughout...
    Young children can not social distance. This has been said several times already. Even though decks may be set up two metres apart and their teacher reminds them about it, children naturally gravitate towards one another. They need human contact from peers and their careers.

    But it is not only young children who are going back to school...what about secondary age pupils? People keep saying that there is very little evidence that children can get this - at what age do you still classify as a child? How about a returning fifteen year old to secondary? Are they more or less 'safe' from this virus than say, a pupil in primary 1? How about a pupil returning to sixth year? Have you seen the size of some of them? They are giants...they are adults...but also someone's child who deserves to finish their education in safety.

    Then there are all the adults who work in schools. Schools are not made up of children. How are they to be kept safe? If we go with the rhetoric that 'children' can't get the virus but can be spreaders of it, how are we protecting all staff?

    Back to the primary school - children share pencils, they suck on the end if them. They share coloured owns, calculators, textbooks, reading books, LEGO and sand... is this to stop? How can it be managed?

    My school is not the tardis - where will all the extra space come from to accommodate socially distanced pupils? Will we need extra mobile classrooms? A school is a community and this will not happen with no parents assemblies, school wide or school and community events.

    Then there are the teachers working flat out just now to adjust to online teaching and getting to grips with Microsoft teams or SeeSaw and other platforms. This is all new and we are not experts in this - yet! We will get there.

    In the end, I don't want to be sent back to school because children don't get it. I'm not a child and I think my health matters too. I also worry about those not accessing online learning g from one reason or another. When we do manage to go back to school, I know that the number one priority will need to be the health and well-being g of my pupils, not catching them up on maths they have missed. Goodness knows how they have been affected by loneliness, poverty, unemployment, bereavement, illness, abuse...

    Please consider this before opening schools.
  • Posted by Eleanormullan May 09, 2020 at 07:22

    Wholeheartedly agree that children cannot socially distance. However online learning is not ideal either. I have a six year old and three year old to look after while also trying to work from home and with a key worker partner. Education is not happening except in very short bursts and this is not for a lack of trying and arguing. It probably would help if there was a live Google classroom type element as this would focus the oldest but I would have to occupy the little one, i.e. not work. So great that 23/24 of your 33 are doing it. I worry for the other 10. And it's not necessarily because their parents don't care about their education
  • Posted by Eleanormullan May 09, 2020 at 07:31

    This may sound harsh but for the teachers saying "I don't want to go back, my health is important too". Of course it is but so is that of doctors, nurses, etc and they're still working in environments in which social distancing is not possible. There'd be an outcry if they claimed they didn't want to. Teachers are key workers. They are absolutely essential. They need PPE. But they need to work
  • Posted by lw1710 May 09, 2020 at 11:42

    Schools are wonderful places for pupils and teachers are not finding it easy working from home, but reopening should be measured, planned and safe. School buildings are closed- school communities are not, and teachers are working very hard to keep learning going on for all pupils.
    A lot of justification for full and quick opening of BUILDINGS on different ideas threads are about parents who are finding it difficult to work at home with children, or are struggling with being at home with children in such restricted situations . This is AN issue which needs addressed but not THE issue in terms of reopening- if social distancing has to apply to all, these same parents will continue to work from home as part of government guidelines even when schools begin to return. Are we saying everyone is going back to workplaces? We need to stop seeing education as childcare - it is not that! It is about developing and growing young people's knowledge, skills and talents. Teachers and other education staff are providing childcare to key workers in hubs already.
  • Posted by Pauline02 May 09, 2020 at 12:01

    To the poster above who misquoted me... I said that 'my health matters too'. Of course teachers health matters! Everyone's health matters. And doctors and nurses health matters too! They have also been making an outcry about the lack of PPE and testing. Who wouldn't? They are in close contact with COVID patients and teachers could potentially be in close contact with Covid spreaders (our lovely pupils). This is not okay.

    We're working on the thin basis of 'children don't get it', when some in fact do.

    Of course I want to go back - I miss seeing my pupils, seeing them interact and learn in the class, I miss my class, my friends and school life. I miss my job. All of which I outlined in my original post.

    I also said in my post that I am still working in a hub school and online (with hand sanitiser) But above all I want to return to my class when it is deemed safe for ALL. I want proper consideration and PPE given to adults working in schools ( much the same as doctors and nurses have asked for). I don't think that is too much to ask so that we can continue to EDUCATE children.
  • Posted by jmcbirnie May 09, 2020 at 20:33

    I agree with the original post.

    As a primary teacher and a mum, it worries me greatly about the schools going back. I’m currently on maternity leave but would keep my current P3 and current pre-schooler home if I didn’t think it was safe.

    Children are used to working in groups. Even a tiny reduced class would be a nightmare to teach well. They couldn’t use the computers as the germ risk would be massive. No sharing musical instruments. They’d all need their own pencils, pens, glue sticks etc which are all currently shared.

    “Can you open my snack please?” ...sadly not.

    “My zip is stuck.” We can’t help.

    “Can you help with my work?” *tries to see hotter from 2m away and then help?

    What happens when a child is sick? What happens if they need a plaster? Door handles? Chairs? Someone needs the toilet and the whole class need to rotate to let them out (whilst desks get cleaned in between?!). We can’t leave the class to check they’re washing their hands properly. Staff photocopier would need cleaned between each use. Evidence based play learning wouldn’t work- one pupil could play with the blocks until they’re deep cleaned, sand would be a germ fest, painting table with individual sets of paintbrushes... Can’t play tig, don’t share the basketball/football.

    How about job shares? Deep clean at different points in the week needed. What about shielding members of staff or shielding members of their family. Key workers should still have a space for their children in school.

    The only answer I have is to keep the current hubs until it’s completely safe. Lives are too important.
  • Posted by bstrata May 10, 2020 at 12:51

    Firstly, I want to say that this is a high quality discussion thread and I am glad that the moderator has kept this open.

    Suffice to say that while I understand that Hill Walking and Golfing and HangGliding is important to some individuals, collectively Education is absolutely critical in this crisis on multiple fronts.

    - Education
    - Mental Health
    - Economy (Schools going back is critical to getting people back to work)

    If we accept that we cannot remain in total lockdown indefinitely and start to look at what we can open up first it is abundantly clear that some movement on the Education front should come in the early waves.

    We need to look at the possibilty of phased returns or rotational teaching.

    For Primary Schools...
    I like the suggestion of bringing back classes 1 year group at a time. To compartmentalize, the children could then be spread across multiple teachers and classrooms. Break times could be rotated too.

    If lunchtimes are a risk, why not have the children attend for half a day - my understanding is that the school day is front loaded anyway.

    Why do the schools need to have summer holidays in the circumstances? Nobody is going anywhere. If the situation has markedly improved by July are we going to write 7 weeks off just for the sake of it. I would be happy to send my kid to July and give the teachers an extra time off in August, September, Christmas etc.

    Now some thoughts on what we may need to do in the interim...
    We need to be smarter about the the purpose of a "No Child left behind" philosophy. In the current setting this seems to be acting as a constraint, when it should be about supporting disadvantaged kids.

    The adoption of technology needs to be more consistent, different schools are taking vastly different approaches. Some are using video conferencing, other teachers are demoted to glorified bloggers.

    Direct contact between teachers and pupils/parents seems to be incredibly limited.
    A rough calculation of 5 hours teaching time a day spread across 30 kids suggests that a teacher has 10 mins per kid per week. Would it be such a big ask for teachers to have a call/Facetime with kids even if just to say hello?
    Likewise, our school like many was meant to have a parents evening in mid March.

    So, in summary we need to start gradually working towards getting our kids and teachers back in school. Until then there is much that could be done to improve remote education methods.
  • Posted by Elyse79 May 10, 2020 at 15:47

    Let's see what's happening in Germany - the numbers are going up because they opened the schools.

    Children dying in New York.

    Children struggle to follow social distancing measures.

    We aren't ready to open the schools.
  • Posted by Stefi May 11, 2020 at 17:45

    As a teacher, I agree with everything you say.

    The days of children learning passively are long gone. Active learning means that children need to be moving, exploring and working collaboratively.

    Social distancing is impossible in school. I volunteer at the hub and despite all best efforts, it just does not happen.
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