Government plans for some primary-age classes to return to school at the beginning of June have left heads grappling with the practicalities.
If the rate of coronavirus infection falls, children in reception years one and six would be able to go back to school, albeit with a maximum of 15 children in class at any one time.
But schools continue to look for more detailed guidance, with one head emphasising the need to know more about risk levels.
Michael Woolf, head of North Cheshire Jewish Primary School, said: “If there is to be an increase in the number of children attending school, we need to make sure children and all staff are kept safe and that everything possible can be done to reduce risk. Also, we need to know the risk to parents and the wider community.”
Kirsten Jowett, chief executive of the United Synagogue-run Jewish Community Academy Trust, a consortium of five primaries, said they were planning to open when it was “safe and practicable”.
Some schools had small buildings “which mean it is hard to accommodate the groups named. We also have staff shielding or unable to work for health reasons,” she explained.
“We are also working with the unions on whether or not it is safe for us to return. This is a very complex arrangement and not something we can confirm quickly.”
Dr Alan Shaw, headteacher of Hasmonean Primary in Hendon, highlighted a number of difficulties.
“Younger children cannot socially distance and will not understand why they cannot play with their friends or go to their teachers. What are staff supposed to do when a younger child needs comforting or when the child wants help doing up their buttons and then sneezes over the teacher?
“Many schools do not have classrooms that are large enough to sit even 15 children at a distance of two metres apart — or corridors that are wide enough for social distancing.”
Schools that had been looking after a small number of key workers’ and vulnerable children in recent weeks had found it challenging to keep pupils apart, he pointed out.
Claire Simon of Bury and Whitefield Primary in Manchester said it would have to consider “staggered entry and exits for the year groups; how parents can enter the playground, the frequent washing of hands and not mixing the different classes.”
Classrooms would need to be deep-cleaned at the end of the day. “It is certainly going to be a challenge as safety for all is paramount.”
Jonathan Bloom, a governor at Clore Tikva Primary in Ilford, said it was “keen to return to some form of normality” but would welcome further guidance from the government and local authority.
Juliette Lipshaw of Sinai School in Kenton was “excited to bring education back to the classroom. There will be many challenges to overcome but we are lucky to be set on a large campus with plenty of outdoor space.”