As schools gear up to reopen on 1st June, an Assistant Head Teacher who became a national hero during lockdown says the government’s plans are not quite up to scratch.
Speaking on video series, Up Close And Socially Distant, Zane Powles – a teacher in a school in Grimsby who rose to national prominence during lockdown for his efforts to feed vulnerable students – said the decision to send Reception, Year One and Year Six back next week is baffling to him.
“I support the government in one way because I understand the economy – there's a fine balance and all that,” she told series host Kate Thornton. “However, they've chosen year groups that can't follow guidelines.”
He went on to say that not only have they chosen younger children who will struggle to keep away from each other, but the new guidelines to keep apart from their friends means it goes against everything they’ve been taught previously.
“What you're teaching the section is to be socially aware, to be polite children, to learn how to share,” he said. “Now I have to tell them, no, you sit at that desk. You play with that equipment. It's all yours, and don't let anyone touch it. Well, that's not normal.”
Even though the other age group, Year Six, are older and more able to understand the social distancing guidelines, Mr Powles says there are still issues with why they’re being asked to return.
“The reasons were because they can do transitions, which is a great idea,” he said talking about why Year Six were earmarked by the government.
“However, the secondary schools aren't open, so how can we do that transition when we have nowhere to transition to? I don't get it. I just don't understand it. I understand the reason, but I think they've chosen the wrong year groups.”
One group he does think should be made to return are those more vulnerable children, who have been able to come to school during lockdown. Unfortunately, many children from his school have stayed at home, which he believes is not the best option.
“Unfortunately, the parents have been given that choice to bring in their children or not,” he explained.
“It wasn't forced, so it's been quite difficult. I don't think it's a great idea, the government giving parents the option to keep them at home. I think there should have been a lot of pressure applied to these families. Their home lives, most of them are unsafe.”
To ensure their mental health and safety, Mr Powles has been hand delivering food to over 100 pupils at his school who qualify for free school meals. To date, he has walked over 300 miles and carried 2.5 tonnes of food to underprivileged children and says it’s more than just delivering food.
“The face-to-face with it is really important, not just for those extremely vulnerable children – it's so essential that I see them,” he told Kate.
“Because if we just call them and say, ‘How are things at home?’ It's too easy to say, ‘Yeah, it's fine’. And that's not good enough.”
“When I'm going around and seeing, having face-to-face conversations, I can actually gage how the parents are coping as well. And if need be, you know, make some phone calls so there's extra support given to those families.”
While Mr Powles and his colleagues are looking forward to seeing their pupils again, the Assistant Head says it’s taking some forward planning to ensure everyone stays safe.
“It's going to be tough,” he admitted. “I have a plan of the school and I've drawn one-way loops in the school, and I've plotted certain areas in the playgrounds where certain children can play.
“I don't have any equipment outside. They can't play on the climbing frames. They've just sort of, I guess, got to run about on their own. That's so alien. I don't know how that works.”
All the hard work, he says, is worth it though as like other teachers, he loves his job.
“Teachers definitely are doing it because they love the job, they love being with the children,” he told Kate. “It is definitely a vocation. We don't go into teaching for the money!”
Up Close And Socially Distant is hosted by Kate Thornton and features weekly video catch-ups with people who are all doing whatever they can to help those around them get through lockdown.
This week Kate speaks to Adil Ray, OBE, about co-presenting BBC One’s Eid special Celebration Kitchen Live, to teacher and free school meal delivery hero, Zane Powles, and to the founder of Run For Heroes, Olivia Strong.