Back to school – how parents, teachers and pupils are getting back to normality in Sheffield

Parents, teachers and youngsters across Sheffield have taken the first steps towards normality this week – as schools reopened following almost three months of lockdown.

Monday, 8th March 2021, 3:13 pm

Primary schools welcomed back pupils on Monday morning, with secondary schools and colleges staggering the return to maintain safety and allow for bubbling and social distancing.

From January until last week, only a select amount of pupils were allowed to attend face-to-face teaching due to the third Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, with most having to attend lessons virtually; their teachers and friends digital squares on video chat services.

For most parents of these pupils the return comes after months of home schooling. Darren Goodwin, executive chef at the Devonshire Arms in Baslow, who had four children learning virtually at home, aged from eight to 18.

Head of Valley Park Primary, Lauren Johnstone with pupils Laura Cardow, eight, and Daniel Oladede, seven.

Darren told the Sheffield Telegraph: “It has been interesting.

"Our 18-year-old is in second year of his A levels and works with his lecturers online, so he is pretty autonomous with that kind of thing.

"The challenge for him, really, was applying for universities and worrying about whether he is on schedule for the A level results he has worked so hard for, and it has been quite worrying and interesting all at the same time.

"We are yet to find out if it will affect his exams. He has done well, but I think he has just missed the full-on teaching experience that he craves, really.”

Valley Park Primary on Norton Avenue host a welcome back party. Pictured Kelly Collins with Lacey,10, Brody, 8, and Adley, five.

The youngest of Darren’s children, aged eight and 11, returned to Baslow Primary School on Monday this week, but the older two have had staggered returns to Bakewell School.

The two younger children have taken a bit more hand-on support, however, but Darren has been ‘impressed’ by both the commitment of the school and pupils.

He said: “Those are the lessons where you have to make sure they are paying attention and you are quite involved with their development work and their homework and helping them set up little science experiments, or research subjects. Some of it is beyond us sometimes because we are not teachers at the end of the day.

“Particularly in the second lockdown they are a lot more organised than the first one – the schedules are good, there’s enough time in the day to get it done and they have some homework involved.

Schools in Sheffield open again to pupils on March 8th 2021 after lockdown. Valley Park Primary on Norton Avenue. Year 4 pupils in the classroom. Picture: Chris Etchells

"I have been fairly impressed with the level of the work they have been set and have been doing.

"It has been quite eye-opening really seeing them do it, and impressive with how organised the schools have been – particularly the younger ones when they have a Zoom meeting with 10 of their friends online, because they’re eight, you know, they’re waving at their friends and can’t keep focused.

"But the teachers have been very patient and organised.”

Darren has been on furlough, but says home schooling four children is a ‘very different skill .’

Darren Goodwin will now give up homeschooling duties for his children, aged eight to 18.

"I am a chef so I on furlough so I am used to lots of hours stood up, hot, stressed so to have to sit down for school hours is hard work – a very different skill,” he said.

“Not being incredibly busy is something I’m not used to.”

What does he think about schools going back now?

"It will be good for the kids, they are excited to see their friends and teachers, I think working from has worked well but will be good to actually be in.”

Sheffield dad-of-four Rob Hollingworth, of Ecclesall, said he wasn’t sure if he or his children were happiest to be back at school.

He added: “School is so much more than a learning experience, it’s a life experience – those playground games and lunchtime squabbles are as much a part of growing up as the lessons.

“So thank goodness they’re back because there were days in January when six of us jostled for space in the house, all trying to get online and not always succeeding.”

A Sheffield headteacher congratulated pupils, parents and staff alike for their ‘amazing’ effort during the lockdown, and even orchestrated a ‘party’ to welcome them back to school on Monday, March 8.

Headteacher of Valley Park Primary in Gleadless, Lauren Johnstone, said: “I started this job at the beginning of this year and we opened on day one, and then on day two we had to close for lockdown three, so I have been so excited to meet all the children.

"They have done an amazing job working from home, and so have the teachers.

“I am so proud of the families and how hard they have worked and how resilient they have been and it is an absolute dream that they are finally back and we have a full school of 450 children again.”

The school arranged the party to ease pupils back in to the school setting – and as well as some ‘special guests’ in the shape of cartoon characters, balloons and bubbles.

The headteacher added: "We just wanted it to be really special for them when they arrived back and wanted it to feel like a party so they were skipping and running in and popping the balloons – it has been gorgeous to see their smiley faces.”

The Sheffield branch of the National Education Union said that a ‘staggered approach would be more sensible’ to protect teachers.

Simon Murch, secretary for Sheffield National Education Union, said: “Sheffield NEU wants schools open but only if it is safe for students, staff and communities.

"As a union the NEU has consistently followed the science by saying data is more important than dates.

"We think, as do SAGE and Independent SAGE, that a staggered return to education in primary and secondary schools with time to evaluate the impact of cohorts of students would be much more sensible than the ‘Big Bang’ approach that the government has opted for.

"Going straight from a national lockdown to putting 10 million people together in enclosed, often poorly ventilated, spaces risks infection rates and numbers of people being hospitalised increasing rapidly.”

He added staff at greater risk should be allowed to work from home until more have been vaccinated, to protect both teachers and pupils.