Thousands of pupils across North Lincolnshire will be returning to school from next week, with many entering a classroom for the first time in almost six months.
And public health bosses and head teachers have issued advice and reassurance for parents as they prepare to send their children back to school.
A variety of new measures have been put in place at schools to protect staff and pupils as they return after the summer holidays and following the Covid-19 outbreak.
Among them are staggered start and finish times, which are designed to allow staged drop off and pick-up by parents.
This will also give the schools greater flexibility with break times to ensure less mixing between classes and year groups by reducing the number of people in canteens, corridors and through doorways.
Children are being encouraged to walk or cycle to school if possible and if traveling on public transport, to wear a mask if they are aged 11 and older.
And parents transporting their children to school in cars are being asked to park at least five minutes’ walk from the school gates to improve safety.
In many cases classes, or whole years, will be kept apart in separate “bubbles”, with primary and secondary schools developing bespoke solutions to cater for the needs of individual pupils.
Older children are being encouraged to keep their distance within pupil groups and from staff, while schools will be avoiding large gatherings, such as assemblies, and classrooms have been re-configured to only include forward-facing desks rather than face-to-face or circular tables.
The North Lincolnshire Health and Wellbeing Board has teamed up with Scunthorpe Live for the Stop Covid, Prevent Local Outbreaks campaign, which urges everybody to do their bit to help keep the spread of coronavirus under control in the region.
Penny Spring, director of public health for North Lincolnshire, said: “The teaching profession in North Lincolnshire has risen to the many challenges presented to them across the last few months.
“Throughout, the single intention has been to protect and strengthen the education, wellbeing and ultimately, the future of the children and young people across the area.
“The public health team has worked closely with schools and the wider support network to ensure the processes and procedures in place enable Covid-secure positive learning environments.
“The Covid-19 situation is closely monitored and I am confident it is safe for local schools to re-open so long as the guidance for maintaining safety is followed.
“The classroom might feel a little different and there will certainly be a period of bedding in as staff and students alike become accustomed to the changes.
“What has not changed is the commitment and dedication to providing the best possible learning environment and outcomes for children.”
All of North Lincolnshire’s near-80 schools – the vast majority of which are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted – will be opening.
The four junior schools, five infant schools, 53 primary schools, 13 secondary schools and two schools for children with special education needs and disabilities, will all open their doors to a full-cohort, with the first schools opening from Tuesday, September 1.
Many remained open to a small number of pupils through the Covid-19 lockdown to ensure key workers – those in health care and emergency services, local authority staff and essential retail workers – could continue working and that the most vulnerable pupils could continue to attend.
Dr Phil Smith, executive principal of the Outwood Grange Academies Trust’s southern region, which includes Outwood Academy Brumby and Outwood Academy Foxhills in Scunthorpe, said the trust was looking forward to safely reopening its schools.
He said: “At Outwood, the safety of our students and staff is of paramount importance to us.
“Rest assured we have put in place robust risk assessments in order to protect students, staff and the wider community, while still providing our students with a rounded educational experience.
“We have introduced a number of safety measures, including student bubbles, staggered start times and staggered lunch and break times and we shall continue to follow all official guidance to protect our students and staff.
“We are excited to welcome our students back and we continue to be as committed as ever to ensuring that our students are given all the academic and emotional support they need to achieve their potential.”
Mrs Spring said the return of pupils to school was a large step back towards normality but added that people should continue to be cautious, remember Covid-19 remains in circulation and follow the Government rules and guidance to help stop its spread.
She said: “Many children will be able to see friends they have not seen for many months – that is a real positive and I am certain will make a significant contribution to the wellbeing of our children.
“Many teachers from across the region worked hard to ensure education continued, delivering classes and homework remotely.
“This is a big step forward towards normality and while we should be grasping it with both hands, we should do so with caution.
“Covid-19 does remain in circulation across North Lincolnshire, though the number of new infections is very low and our aim is to have a zero infection rate.
“It remains low because we are diligent and determined in our efforts to stop Covid and prevent local outbreaks.
“We must continue to follow the national guidance, keep a safe distance when out and continue to wash our hands often.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“The need to maintain social distancing and good infection control inside and outside classroom settings, particularly between staff members and between older children and adults, is critically important.”