On Monday (March 8) Nene Park Academy, on Oundle Road, was able to start welcoming its full student cohort for the first time since December as lockdown restrictions were eased.
The academy, which is part of the Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust (CMAT), put a staggered start in place, starting with children of the vulnerable and critical workers on Monday and by Thursday, with the return of years 8 and 9, the school was back at capacity.
Students had to provide a negative result from a lateral flow test at first before being able to return to school to reconnect with their friends and teachers.
Marley (Year 11) said: “I have missed the teachers the most, as having lessons in the classroom with the teacher really does make such a difference to your learning. It is so much better to have them there in front of you to ask questions of you need to.
Thomas (Year 11) added: “As well as missing the teachers and being in an actual classroom, I have also missed taking part in the active, sport/physical side of life in school.”
George (Year 11) said: “I have missed human contact every day, both with my mates and my teachers.”
Students also added that they are not enjoying having to wear a face mask as it makes communication harder, but that they do appreciate how important it is for everyone to wear them.
It has been decided by the government that Year 11 and Sixth Form students will not sit exams this year but will instead return to the classroom to complete work designed to allow teachers the opportunity to assess their knowledge and award them a fair grade.
Inside the school, a number of measures have been put in place to ensure maximum safety. Masks must be worn in all academy buildings where maintaining a 2m social distance is not possible and year groups have been given their own zones for lessons and staggered break, lunch and finish times to ensure that mix only with students in the same bubble.
Following the first lateral flow test, the school has kept its own testing station in action to give each student a further two tests. Once three tests have been completed, home testing kits will be handed out with pupils asked to report their results, to the school and NHS result service, twice a week, with tests being between three and five days apart.
Staff are also conscious of mental wellbeing and have been provided with resources by Nene Park Academy’s PSHE and Student Mental Health/Wellbeing Team to use at their discretion.
Prior to returning, two ‘no-screen days’ took place which encouraged students to go out and engage with activities to support good physical and mental health through the school’s pledges scheme. This saw a number of students take part in litter picks out in their communities.
Principal Rob Grover said: “The general mood is brilliant. The last few days have been a delight.
“The gradual testing and staggered return plan has worked really well to aid a positive transition back to school for staff and students.
“It has allowed us a little more time to reconnect with the students as well as restart our face to face teaching and learning. Relationships are key to the success of any school and it has been a pleasure to welcome students back and see how enthusiastic they are about returning.
“Staff have been really positive about the students’ return and commended how well they have coped with the additional demands that we have placed upon them. They really have made us proud and it is great to have them back in front of us again.
“We are lucky that our building has wide corridors and a design that lends itself to doing this really effectively, but we are looking forward to returning to our normal vertical tutoring approach within our six houses as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so. Everyone is on heightened alertness to ensure that we do everything we can to avoid another prolonged period of time away from school.
“I was pleased with the huge success of our ‘no screen days,’ supporting good physical and mental health is a significant area of our curriculum which we cater for through our wider-curricular/enrichment programme and PLEDGES system.
“I would like to say thank you to the staff that have volunteered to undertake the huge testing task over the last two and half months. We are very grateful to them for the work they have done and what they have achieved as a result.
“Great people achieve great things and we are lucky to have great staff and great students who have worked together to make a logistically complicated operation go ahead smoothly and without any significant issues.
“It has been a real community effort to ensure students have remained educated and safe throughout the last lockdown and then successfully transition back to learning on the academy site. I would like to thank the parents too for their continued support and understanding.”