Covid has been hard on kids, parents and teachers alike – now we can all look forward to a new school year
Sharon Mullish was interim headteacher at Kisharon Noé School, for children with special educational needs aged four to 19, in Barnet, north London, from November 2020 until recently. She remains a consultant and trustee of the school
Sharon says: “It’s good to think that we are about to start what will hopefully feel like a more usual school year. There’s a lot to look forward to for all of us at Kisharon Noé this year. We are in a new building with a brand new headteacher, Dr Emily Haddock. I have been working side by side with her since she started work in June.
“We’re looking forward to children having more regular opportunities to meet their peers across the classroom – to young people seeing their friends again, socialising, building on the work experience they’ve been doing and feeling more confident travelling on public transport.
“It’s exciting to have a brand new curriculum, which Emily has been choosing. A lot of effort has gone into developing it over the summer, with a whole load of work being done on career opportunities and work experience.
“This year will be about implementing all the hard work that has gone into that curriculum development and seeing it come to fruition. We’re going from 49 children to 60, so we’re looking forward to welcoming all these new children and their families into our school and our community as we grow.
“Things are looking really good for us this next school year and we’re excited to be heading back. I’ve been involved with the school for the past five years – our new school building opened in September 2020 and I’ve been educational consultant to the build.
“For some of our parents, the summer holidays can be very hard work if they have children with complex needs. School is a kind of respite for them.
“We managed to keep the school open during the whole of the past academic year despite the lockdown, which was quite an achievement. That consistency was very important for our pupils, for providing respite for parents and for making sure that children with special needs had access to their peers.
“We maintained our bubbles and did on-site rapid Covid-19 tests for staff twice a week, and those pupils who were able to were encouraged to test themselves. We supported that with social stories – giving them the reason why we were testing in simplified language and using symbols.
“Because many of our children have communication difficulties, we didn’t wear masks in the classroom, but we did wear them in the corridors. We had to do assemblies and some classes remotely, so we’re very excited about being able to do whole school assemblies in person this school year.
“We will continue to be wary, of course, and mindful of local Covid rates and situations. We need to remain nimble. We’ll encourage all staff and pupils aged 11 and over to test when they head back into school. But we’ve actually had a very positive year, and we’ll be building on that with a new head, a new school and a new curriculum.”
Midwife and mother-of-four Jane Pearl, 48, lives in Edgware, north London. Her 12-year-old son Chanochi, who has a rare genetic disorder, familial dysautonomia, attends Kisharon Noé School. Jane and her husband Ian, 56, also have 15-year-old twins, Sari and Meital, and a six-year-old son, Eli
Jane says: “I’m looking forward to having the children back at school on a more regular basis so they can get back into a bit of a routine. Throughout the pandemic their learning was so disrupted. It will benefit all children – especially those with special needs – to have that structure back in their lives.
“I work part-time as a midwife and my husband Ian works in the family law firm. We were shielding as a family for three months from March to June last year and luckily my husband and I were able to work from home during that time. We didn’t leave the house for three months. Trying to work from home and help the children with their online learning was stressful, but it was our choice to keep Chanochi off school for the rest of the academic year from March 2020 because we felt he was very vulnerable.
Back in class
“I’m happy that our twins are going back to a more normal school routine. During lockdown, as well as not being able to see their friends, remote learning didn’t give them the access to teachers that they have in a school environment, where they’re able to interact and ask questions. So it will be helpful for them to be back in the classroom. Their school is setting up a new extra-curricular programme, which they’re both really excited about. They want to try drama and fencing.
“Anything sporty is fun for Eli, and he wants to play football. He joined a gymnastics class on Zoom but found it frustrating to do it remotely. He’s also looking forward to swimming lessons.
“The bubbles meant Chanochi didn’t get to see all his friends at school – they couldn’t have lunch together, for example – so he’s looking forward to being back and getting together with the whole school. We’re waiting to hear when he’ll will get his Covid vaccinations; it should be very soon as he’s just turned 12.
“Chanochi thrives on routine – he likes to know where he’s at. He’s had a brilliant teacher for the past two years and he has him again for the next academic year, so he’s excited about that. He’ll be in a new class but with some of his old classmates. The school is like a family, and they all look out for each other. Chanochi’s a very sociable little boy, so he’s looking forward to being back in the swing of it all.”
Chanochi says: “I’m looking forward to going swimming, playing football and seeing all my friends when I go back to school. I paddle my arms and kick my legs when I swim, but I can’t get water in my mouth or up my nose. I’ll be happy to go back to my school to be with my friends and my teacher.”
Sari says: “I’m hoping to do some drama at my school club – I enjoy singing and dancing – and I’d like to try fencing. I’ve missed my friends so it will be good to see them when I get back to school, and I’m excited to be learning my GCSE subjects – English and maths. I’m also studying health and social care, functional skills and RS. We’re learning Macbeth for my English GCSE so that will be interesting.”