Although the government has shelved its ambition for all primary-age pupils to be back at school before the end of term, some Jewish schools are intent at getting all children back at their desks – for some of the week at least.
Independent Kerem, based at Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, has had all its classes in since Monday for at least two days a week.
State-aided Sacks Morasha in North Finchley plans to have all children back for two days from next Monday, while another independent school, Nancy Reuben in Hendon, aims for a full house by the beginning of next month.
Nancy Reuben had already accommodated the return of most year groups before this week.
Year-twos came back on Tuesday, Year four will follow next Monday and year three the week after.
“At this point, everyone will be in all day every day,” said headteacher of the Sephardi primary, Anthony Wolfson.
All eligible pupils have come back bar one family who have spent lockdown abroad but are due to return by September.
“We started by creating a warm and safe place for staff and once staff were confident, this cascaded to the parents and pupils,” Mr Wolfson said. “We have not compromised on the warm and nurturing nature of the school in any way. Parents are over the moon.”
While the school had prepared for anxiety among pupils, they have not shown it, he said.
“We have also found that as our children and parents were so engaged with online learning throughout lockdown, the gaps in attainment are nothing like what was predicted in the news.”
Two playgrounds have been partitioned to make four and there are now 40 breaks during the day as opposed to the normal seven.
Children have their temperature taken in the morning and afternoon.
One year-six pupil, Gaby, said: “The support from the teacher is better in school than on Zoom and it is great to socialise again with friends, even in smaller groups.”
At Kerem, 93 per cent of eligible pupils have returned for at least two days a week, while following the home-working programme for the rest.
Its headtecher Naomi Simon said, “The challenge of opening classrooms has been stressful for all school leaders, with the intrinsic desire to educate as many children as possible in school. Every headteacher recognises how vital being in school is for all children from both an academic and social perspective”.
Senior leaders, she added, recognised that “with the right forward planning, we would be able to utilise our staffing and space to be able to offer every child in the school the chance to come back in the safest possible way, once it was allowed.”
Sacks Morasha has created a timetable that will allow all children two days on site, with deep cleaning taking place in between.
Headteacher Hayley Gross said, “We firmly believe that every child has a right to return to school; to benefit from contact with our staff, their peers, and to be part of our wonderful school community.”
But the complexities of maintain social distancing remain difficult for some schools.
At North Cheshire Jewish Primary in Manchester on Monday, year-ones will join reception and year six who are already there. But as headteacher Michael Woolf explained to year-one parents, at the moment their attendance at school will be limited to three days a week for the moment.
“Due to the government’s insistence on class sizes (bubbles) of no more than 15, we have had to split year one into two groups,” he said. “ We have also split year six into three bubbles, reception into three bubbles and children of critical workers / vulnerable children into two bubbles.”
But even though schools will be able to reduce social distancing between people from two metres to one from July 4, that would not help, he said, because while it had the space to bring more classes back, it did not have the staff as long as the 15 person-limit remained.