A vital hub of activity – how teachers
● School provides crucial support for children of key workers – but it’s not without its pitfalls and challenges for staff
Everything is where it should be, from the tables in the dinner hall to the lost property basket in reception, spilling over with forgotten-about cardigans and gym shoes.
But one thing is missing at Juniper Green Primary – and that is noise.
The pictures of the hundreds of children who usually fill this Edinburgh school with chatter and laughter decorate the main reception, each child’s face smiling out from a bright green leaf that adorns a large tree on the wall.
Their little faces offer a stark reminder that school life is very much on pause right now – for them and many thousands more across the country.
But something amazing, albeit relatively quiet, is taking place at Juniper Green in their absence, as small handfuls of pupils from across the city arrive each day to make the school their temporary base asitflingsopenitsdoorsasone of eight hubs offering places to children of key workers during the pandemic. There are 49 pupils on the register, with about 25 to 35 attending each day between 8am and 6pm.
The set-up is straightforward, with groups of no more than six pupils – up to S2 level – being assigned each day to a member of staff who helps them complete home-learning set by their own school.
Siblings are placed together as they are not required to follow the 2m social distancing rule. The hub is not a school in its recognised sense, as teachers are not leading traditional classes, rather offering childcare and help with learning tasks.
“It’s a place for the children to come to be happy and safe,” says Alexa Pope, depute head at Juniper Green Primary.
On paper it sounds relaxed and do-able – and the “happy” and “safe” boxes certainly seem to be getting ticked if the positive parent feedback is anything to go by.
But the challenges facing staff are clear as one group of six is seen making its way out of the dinner hall for some time in the playground. A boy goes to give a teacher a cuddle but is told no and gently pushed away as she steps back with a regretful look.
Social distancing is without doubt the biggest challenge facing hub staff at Juniper Green and one that raises countless questions as the lifting of the lockdown and the eventual reopening of schools is discussed across Scotland.
“I find the 2m rule very hard,” says Charlotte Bennett, a P6 teacher from Clovenstone Primary based at the hub on a rota basis. “After all, teaching is a job where you do work very closely with children and I am one of those teachers who does like a cuddle.”
At Juniper Green, social distancing rules have dictated not only the sizes of groups but that only one at a time can be in certain areas of the building. Luckily this school is well served with space, meaning children rotate between time in classrooms, the main hall, the playground and the nature garden. But not all schools enjoy the luxury of size or such facilities.
“Social distancing is the biggest problem,” says Ms Pope, as discussions turn to the eventual reopening of schools. “How do you manage it? We will get there but I think it will have to be about getting it right for each school, for their pupils and their building.
“There will not be a one-sizefits-all solution.
“Much like home schooling has been approached differently by each school, each one will have to make it right for them.”
But for now at the hub – named The Kindness Club@ Juniper Green by its attendees – staff are doing all they can to ensure government advice is followed and children are safe and happy. Cleanliness is of course important, with everyone required to wash their hands before and after every activity, with janitors maintaining strict routines each day.
The hub has also welcomed a handful of children of nonkey workers since the Easter holidays, identified by education heads and social workers as youngsters who would benefit from a place.
Everyone at the hub, including members of staff, is offered lunch cooked on site by chef Herman Grijalba.
Films are often shown late in the day for some downtime for tired children, many of whom are attending the hub every day for the full 10 hours.
The school building may be quieter than usual but it feels like a happy place to be.
“Social distancing is the biggest problem. How do you manage it? We will get there but I think it will have to be about getting it right for each school.”