IT WAS described as “heartbreaking” to hear that schoolchildren have regressed a year in learning due to being out of the classroom during lockdown, a Westbury community leader has declared.
But Richard Hatt, head of Westbury Junior School, said that local headteachers were working together and staff were determined to get youngsters back to where they should be. He was speaking on behalf of the cluster of Westbury schools, Westbury Infants, Dilton Marsh, Bratton, Bitham Brook, Westbury Leigh, Matravers and Westbury Juniors.
Richard Hatt told members of Westbury Area Board at an online meeting last Thursday night, “Children have lost six months of school, on average. It’s got them out of routines and habits of learning. Remote learning has taken place, but it’s not the quality of education they would get in schools.
“Children probably have regressed a year due to Coronavirus. We are trying to make them feel motivated to get them to where their education should be.”
Schools were thrown into a flurry of activity after they were notified on the Thursday before the country went into lockdown on the Monday, Richard explained.
“No schools closed during lockdown and they all worked Easter and Bank Holiday Monday,” he said. “Each school had its own set of needs and difficulties. They did their own responses to parents. Schools for younger children had different guidelines from schools for older pupils.
“It put a lot of pressure on schools, and teachers had to make difficult decisions,” he told area board members.
When schools were asked to take back Years 6 and 10 they brought in the “bubble” way of working by grouping smaller numbers together. Larger schools have year group bubbles,” he said. “We are vigilant about play, lunch, start and leave times.
“Parents have responded magnificently and it has made it a lot easier for us.”
He explained that teachers and teaching assistants who are used to working closely with children, had had to change their ways of doing things.
“We are sociable, but we can’t do any of that now,” said Richard. “We are quite dynamic in Westbury schools normally, but life is quite boring at the moment. There are no extra curricular clubs or visitors to the school – trying to enliven these situations is hard work.
“Children are a bit Coronavirus-ed out now. They just want us to get on. A lot of them aren’t interested and want to get back to the normal return of school.”
Richard said under a recovery plan devised by area headteachers working together, staff were “determined to make sure we give the best education possible with the services we’ve got.”
Tina Pagett, CEO/principal of Fairfield Farm College said she echoed what Richard said but that the college’s situation was more complex.
“We had to stay open for our young people, but they are all classed as vulnerable,” Tina told members of the area board.
“What is particularly shocking is the impact on young people’s mental health. We had some students that we had to quickly issue psychological clinical support to.”
She said there was even a hospital admission due to the effect on a student, with the shock of the situation and not being able to process what was happening.
“Fairfield is also a cafe, farm and animal farm and trying to keep up with education and commercial aspects has been really challenging,” Tina added. “At one point we were losing £10,000 a week in income, but most of the site is open now. It’s up and running and most young people are back in college and getting those experiences.”
Tina said that getting access to work experiences was the challenging issue at the moment and one that she couldn’t see a solution to. She thanked everyone for their support.
The area board also saw presentation videos from students from Fairfield Farm College and Westbury Leigh Primary School.
Fairfield recorded a virtual tour for students who could not join the college in September, with a student explaining that though socialising was difficult, “we are supporting each other and learning and smiling.” He described the situation as “eerie”.
The head and deputy head boys and girls of Westbury Leigh Primary School said they stay in bubbles and pupils come and go at different times.
“We can’t take anything into school other than our lunch, and we are washing our hands regularly,” they said. “It has been challenging and everything is different than it was.
“Home schooling was ok for some but it got boring. These changes have been hard for everyone, but it is for our safety.”
Area board chair, clllr Carole King commented “That really was heartbreaking to hear, children behind by a year.”
Cllr Gordon King said,”The effects will be wide ranging, a year behind is sobering.”
He added that it was good to hear that local headteachers were working together and Richard Hatt added, “There is a real determination of the schools in Westbury to give the best possible deal for all the children in Westbury.”