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Schools prepare for September ‘return to normality’, albeit with new measures

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

All schools in Gibraltar are set to open in September, in a return to “normality in an abnormal” situation, the Minister for Education said.

Despite a return to “in person” teaching, school life will be different for both pupils and teaches alike.

New measures will be introduced to avoid large groups, including a “classroom bubble” and one-way circulation through the schools, and teachers will ensure strict hygiene.

Staggered entry, exits, breaks and lunch times will also aim to guarantee that students do not mingle in large groups. Anyone entering schools will be temperature scanned.

“The important message we are sending out is that schools will be returning to normality in September within an abnormal situation,” the Minister for Education Gilbert Licudi said.

“We are opening up all schools and all children are expected to go back to school as from the beginning of September with a full curriculum.”

Mr Licudi confirmed that the class sizes will remain the same, resulting in “normality” for the students, but “abnormality” due to new measures to curb a potential spread.

In primary schools, children will be kept in their form classes with the same teacher throughout the day.

“This is much more difficult or almost impossible in Bayside and Westside where children have different options depending on the subjects they are doing and they are required to go to different classes,” Mr Licudi said.

“A ‘classroom bubble’ will be kept as much as possible.”

“Normality will reign as far as children back to school, teachers back at school, curriculum resumed.”

Mr Licudi added the staggered entry and exit will be minimal at around 15 minutes difference, meaning that it would not greatly change pick up and drop off times for parents.

“Essentially what we want is there to be flow, rather than people gathering and waiting at the school entrance or exit,” Mr Licudi said.

The Director of Education Jacqueline Mason added that many schools have multiple exits and entries that can be used as drop off and pick up zones.

“The timings might be different because an element of staggering will have to be introduced so we will have staggered exit and staggered start of the school day, to avoid congregations outside the school and to facilitate thermal scanning as the children come in,” Ms Mason said.

“This was already in place when we had the phased reopening of the schools, and we will continue with the practices of regular supervised handwashing throughout the day, enhancing cleaning regimes, offering masks or shields for adults or any teachers of staff who which to avail themselves.”

Ms Mason explained the return to schools will follow what was already extended to pupils in years two and six before the end of the academic year.

“We are very mindful of the impact Covid will have had on these children. During Covid we have had teachers undergoing further training [in areas such as] bereavement, low attendance in schools, anxiety and self-harm.”

Ms Mason added that it is paramount for schools to re-establish routines that have been lost during the lockdown, as well as educating the children on what has taken place over the past few months.

IF COVID CASES RISE?

The Covid-19 lockdown saw students move to online learning, but Mr Licudi and Ms Mason are keen to see children return to school life as from September.

Both agree that home learning is just not the same as the face-to-face experience students have in the schools.

Socialisation, physical activities, deadlines, routine all form part of normal schooling, and much was lost in virtual teaching.

Mr Licudi said Gibraltar is now better prepared to deal with a resurgence in virus cases, stressing that increased numbers would not necessarily mean a return to lockdown.

“What happens if there are spikes? This will be a matter for the Government as a whole to consider and decide what measures are taken,” Mr Licudi said.

“Do we stay in phase six? Do we reverse to phase five or four? All of these have very different outcomes as to what we can do in schools.”

“The firm intention and the advice from the Director of Public Health is that we should restore normality from an educational point of view.”

Any changes to schooling will be a result of restrictions imposed, but that would depend on the nature of the resurgence.

Mr Licudi highlighted that there have been numerous studies and articles on the effect of lockdown on children including mental and physical issues such as trauma and obesity.

He added that there is a need for social contact which is important for children, in particular for their mental health.

“It is important from an educational perspective to get them back to normality,” he said.

Ms Mason added that in the UK there are areas that have seen spikes with schools functioning “as normal as possible for as long as possible”.

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