ON FRIDAY March 20, 2020 we pressed the pause button at Ingleton Primary School.

Following the government announcement on the Wednesday that all schools would close indefinitely due to the Coronavirus epidemic, children enjoyed an ice cream in the blustery, early spring sunshine on their last day in school for what would turn out to be three and a half months for most and almost six months for a few.

THE week leading up to the closure was one of concerned anticipation and preparation.

We knew school closures would be inevitable and we needed to be as ready as we could be for the challenge that lay ahead, both for us as teachers, but also for all the families of the children in our community.

We needed to have provision in place for our key worker families to use as a last resort, as everyone was very aware that the safest place at this time was in the home. From the very first day of closure we had a small group of children in school most days in what came to be known as our ‘keyworker bubble.’ They enjoyed many a sunny day in the school grounds building dens in the woods and swinging on ropes from the trees, as well as completing their home-schooling tasks of course!

WE HAD no idea how long the closure would last in these early days.

For the first two weeks leading up to the Easter holidays, teachers gave children a list of things to practice that they could ‘get better at’ such as spelling, handwriting and times tables. We soon realised that we were not going to ride this storm quickly, that everyone had different challenges to face and that keeping children safe, happy, positive and optimistic had to be the main priority.

Many parents were juggling their key worker roles with sharing childcare and home education, many parents were continuing to work from home, getting up at the crack of dawn to get a head start before their children awoke. Other parents were furloughed, some no longer had a job, but all had to keep their children occupied at home.

PARTNERSHIP with parents has always been a strength of Ingleton Primary and never has this been as important as during this period. Regular email contact between teachers, parents and pupils started on day one of closure.

As a team of teachers, we had a duty to provide daily core curriculum lessons for our pupils. As the weeks went by, we added family projects and weekly themes to the menu. There were competitions, certificates and ‘weekly round-up’ videos. We tried to keep the pressure off families as we knew everyone’s circumstances were different, but what we did keep doing was reassuring parents that they were doing a brilliant job home-schooling.

No one was having an easy time, some faced greater challenges than others, but everyone struggled to some degree, including the children. Kitchen tables weren’t intended for day in day out schoolwork! Trying to download zip files on a mobile phone is no mean feat either. Never mind print out worksheets.

Our families have embraced the term ‘home schooling’ and given their children the opportunity to develop skills to last a lifetime. The children of Ingleton have become better cooks, gardeners, builders, painters, knitters, cyclists, washer-uppers, and dog walkers. Who says they have missed out, are behind? Maybe they are even ahead?

SO, WHEN it was declared that schools would re-open for some groups of children on June 1st how could we possibly have justified only offering children in Y6, Y1 and Reception the opportunity to return to the classroom?

September was a long time to wait for, children needed to be able to come back to ‘touch base,’ to see friends, to meet with teachers, to finish this very strange school year. But everything needed to be done very cautiously, within the constraints of our detailed and lengthy risk assessments. Classrooms needed to be reorganised, furniture removed, outside taps installed. Our spacious building and expansive grounds meant that we could accommodate pupils safely. We contacted parents and asked them if they felt reassured by our plans. They did.

FROM June 1 every child at Ingleton Primary was given the opportunity to return to school part time for a block of 3 or 4 weeks. Children were taught in ‘bubbles’ of up to 11, some as small as 5. They all had the chance to rekindle friendships after many weeks at home, to play together again, to chat and laugh. They enjoyed picnics, sports days, and stories.

Some spent time with their new teacher for September, others said goodbye to life-long friends before moving on to different secondary schools. All of them have had a taste of what school will be like in September, with different spaces and routines, but fundamentally the same. It’s the people that make a place what it is.

ALL of us at Ingleton Primary School have been immensely grateful for the overwhelming support from our school community during the past few months.

Just for a few days this summer, our families in Ingleton and the surrounding area were given the chance to taste a little bit of normality, which was the least we could do to say a huge ‘thank you.’ We are all looking forward to pressing the play button in September, let’s just recharge our batteries first.