Dulwich College opened to pupils on Monday for the first time since the Coronavirus lockdown was imposed, writes Ben Henderson…
Throughout the school day, students will stay within their ‘bubble’ – a group of up to fifteen students and two teachers, and if anyone within that bubble contracts the virus then the entire bubble will self-isolate.
School start and finish times will be staggered, class sizes will be scaled down, the lower school playground will have footprints showing kids how far two metres apart really is, and there will be a one-way system around the campus.
There will not be a coach service, and pupils will be encouraged to car share, walk, or cycle into school, rather than using public transport.
Although headmaster Dr Spence concedes that “you can’t pretend that reception and year one children will be able to social distance”, the school’s policy will be to separate those age groups from older years.
Roughly 70 per cent of staff and teachers responded to a survey saying they supported school reopening with the safety measures already listed.
“If you balance the educational, the social, the economic and the health, I think it’s reached the stage now, with the ‘R’ number falling sufficiently in London, for us to say it’s worth going back,” Dr Spence said.
“If infections rise, we’ll close up and go back to lockdown, but we’ll never know that until we’ve tried it.”
He continued:“There are kids who need to get out of the house across the country, be it for their learning, to socialise, or for their safety. If we don’t open, we’re almost saying that we don’t support them.
“We must also let our parents get back to work. So, even if educationally we don’t have to open this week, I feel – at risk of sounding a bit pious, that we have a moral obligation to.
“Every school must look at its own situation and constraints. If you halved our campus we wouldn’t be able to come back, so I’m absolutely in sympathy for any school that says it can’t.
“I think it’s absolutely right that the government has made reopening optional, rather than giving a three-line whip, as it originally sounded like they would.”
Two hundred families receive financial bursaries from the school, and one of Dr Spence’s main concerns is supporting families whose circumstances have changed due to the impact on the economy.
The school’s leadership team has decided Dulwich College will not make a profit from this term, so any savings will be returned to parents – rather than upfront fee cuts.
This rebate will not be less than fifteen per cent of the term’s fee of £7,082 (£21,246 per year).
And, in what has already been a controversial move, eighty per cent of non-teaching staff, who couldn’t work while the campus was closed, were furloughed.
Dr Spence said a few dozen families have offered to waive their rebate in order to support the school’s new Coronavirus hardship fund.
The hardship fund is, in part, a means-tested bursary for this school term, which can be applied for by parents who won’t be able to afford the fees because of the shut-down of their industry. Around 200 families are already in receipt of a bursary.
The fund will also pay for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) the school is making for local institutions, and for putting all their learning online.
The school has produced more than 2,500 accredited medical visors using its 3D printers – currently at a rate of over 150 every day, which have been provided to local hospitals, pharmacies and care homes.
A testing centre has also been set up at the school, with the army, to carry out testing every week for keyworkers.