CAPTION: Ellacombe school has been working hard to care for its pupils and their families

A summer term like no other in one of Devon’s CofE schools

Posted: 24th July, 2020

Evie Semmens is the head of Ellacombe Church of England Academy in Torquay, part of The Learning Academy Partnership, a Trust with a Christian Foundation, with schools across Devon.

Ellacombe is a medium-sized primary school in an area of high deprivation.

Here, she shares an insight into what school life has been like for teachers during the coronavirus pandemic and the measures she and her staff had to take before the school could welcome back some more of its pupils in mid-June.

“The school has been open all the way through for the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils,” she says.

Twice weekly food deliveries

“Staff have been working either at home or school, on a rota, in order to minimise the number of staff gathering on site at any one time..

“We have also been working closely with local community interest groups to organise twice weekly food deliveries  to families in particular need, as well as giving out stationary and making phone calls home.”

“That’s about 46 to 50 children. We have also been handing out nappies and wet wipes for younger children.”

Over half the pupils in the school are classed as vulnerable, which has led to anxiety for teachers concerned about the effect of the lockdown on those children.

“They have been worried about vulnerable pupils. Torbay has a high instance of domestic abuse as well as  issues with drug and alcohol addiction and homelessness. We have seen an increase in these challenges.

“These are all things our staff worry about for our children and not being able to see them has been hard, it is the biggest thing that has kept them awake at night.”

“Morally we want to be doing everything possible for our families but we also need to work at supporting the well-being and safety of staff.

“Large and robust risk assessment”

She said connectivity had been really important and the school had been using social media a lot to reach families, posting videos, challenges, riddles and “Silly Friday” things to do.

In terms of the immediate future, she said “all the learning the children will have missed is an issue, plus the question of how to keep them safe in terms of coronavirus.

Evie says the school had to carry out a large and robust risk assessment before being able to open for more pupils, this risk assessment is  kept under constant review and updated regularly.

She says being part of a trust has been a huge support, The different school head teachers and the Trust Executive Team meet regularly and Evie says working together has been incredibly reassuring.

The school has been operating a one-way system for parents dropping off and collecting children, with different groups of children using different entrances and at staggered times.

Prayers for wellbeing

Children have been put into groups known as “pods”, with a maximum of 15 in each and no mixing between groups.

“There is an enhanced cleaning regime, for example bins have to be double-bagged and we are closing on Friday afternoons for a deep clean.”

There is also a rota for the toilets as well use of social areas, such as the playground to ensure that pods do not mix.

Like many schools, Ellacombe is effectively operating a dual school at the moment, preparing work for pupils learning at home and supporting them, while also teaching those who are able to come to school.

The school has now broken-up for the summer holidays with the hope that all year groups will be able to return in September in line with Government planning.

Evie says she and her colleagues would appreciate prayers for the well-being of all involved in school communities at this time – children, families, staff and trustees.

The Diocese of Exeter worked with Year Six pupils from a number of schools to produce a ‘Leavers’ Assembly’ for anyone moving on from primary school this year. Most of it was presented and filmed by the children themselves. You can view it here:

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