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BSAK Back To School


As we emerge from what has been a tumultuous period as a result of the global pandemic, what will the new school environment look like?

BSAK, with its 50-year heritage, is well placed and ready to welcome students back to school. However, there will inevitably be some changes…Yalla spoke with Mike Mason, the School’s new Bursar, to find out what is in store when BSAK re-opens on August 30th

Yes, under the current ADEK private school reopen policies and guidelines, our plan is to fully open for all year groups. We are 100% committed to opening and we are confident that we can do so.

Our relations with ADEK during my time here at the School have been excellent and I believe the way ADEK has reacted from the start of this pandemic has been first class. They have given us extremely clear guidelines in order to open for the start of the new school year and their decision to keep the school closed last year was absolutely correct. The provision and inspection they put in place during this period were exemplary. The audit of our distance learning delivery was very thorough, well constructed and they analyzed exactly what was going on in the virtual classrooms. As part of their audit, they joined a number of our classes.

We have also been fortunate to have such a great parent community and we have had excellent support from the parents. Our Governors have given clear direction and guidance and have gone above and beyond what is normally expected of a school Governor.

We are talking with other British schools in Abu Dhabi regarding their reopening plans. A collaborative approach is the best way forward so that we can help each other over the next few months.

Around about 1,875 – 1,900 students, which is in line with this year’s intake, however, we are mindful that this is a fluid situation. We are a community school and are very aware that families’ personal situations might change. We are supporting these families as best as we can and are very empathetic of their individual circumstances.

Michael Mason – Bursar, The British School Al Khubairat

Not all year groups will start on day one. Some year groups will start on the 30th August, and we will then roll them through and we are aiming to have the whole school back within four days.

We will need to orientate students to the new one-way systems, the social distancing measures, the hand hygiene stations and the new protocols that we’re putting in place around the classrooms and rest areas. We can’t do that for the whole school at once so it’ll be in year groups, across primary and secondary, who will come in on different days for this exercise.

The start and the end of the school day will also be staggered to ensure a smooth drop-off and pick-up, allowing for social distancing. Only parents of children in the early years will be allowed to enter the School, the remainder will drop off their children in safe and controlled areas around the School.

The school buses will also be running at 50% capacity and we are in discussions with our service provider to ensure that they are able to operate within the guidelines set out by ADEK.

For Nursery, FS1 & FS2, only one parent will be allowed on campus and we have established a separate nursery entrance. As a parent, I understand separation anxiety in a normal context, let alone in the days where we’ve had isolation for many months. The drop-off for Nursery, FS1, FS2 and Year One will have a system where the children will be met by the teacher. The parents will stay outside in the Nursery play area. Then the teacher will take the child into the classroom, so the parents won’t actually go into the classroom at all. We are very aware of the need to have a controlled goodbye and are focusing on the pastoral care for each child.

For the older years, we are working with the Municipality and the Police to ensure the pick-up and drop-off traffic moves freely around the campus.

The classroom size is not changing – we’ll maintain 24 students per class. However, we’ve had to remove a lot of furniture from the classrooms so the room will basically consist of desks, chairs and a teaching station at the front for the teacher.

We are very keen to ensure we deliver the teaching in a very similar manner to before COVID. Realistically, we know, it’s not going to be possible for the teacher to wander around the class as before however. Regarding the students, we’re keeping as many year groups up until Year Nine together. The class’s movements will be limited and the teachers will move wherever possible, so that means we’re keeping the students in bubbles. We’re fortunate in the way BSAK was designed in that our classrooms allow us to have 24 students who can easily keep 1.5 metres apart.

Actually, the screening and preparation starts at home so we’re asking parents that before the student leaves home in the morning, they have their temperature and general wellness checked. A digital thermometer is the most accurate way to take a temperature. That way, if a student isn’t well, he/she should not be sent to school. Any sign of symptoms – such as a high temperature, a cough, lack of taste, lack of sense of smell, general lethargy – we will want the child to be kept at home. If they are well enough, we will then set up that student with home learning for the day.

Every student will come through the temperature screening area, where an audible and visual alarm will alert our staff that a student’s temperature is too high, and in this instance, they’ll be asked to sit, wait and re-test. We’ll give them 3 to 4 minutes to cool off as we’re conscious of the high humidity and temperature in late August and September, when the students will be returning to school. The equipment that we have will take into account the ambient external temperature and will monitor any temperature peaks throughout the day.

And if, for instance, a student was tested two or three times and their temperature was still too high, what then happens?

The student will be put in the isolation room where they can sit and wait and to be collected by their parents in accordance with the ADEK Guidelines.  We have a set protocol that will be followed to protect the students and staff within the School.

We have introduced one-way systems which students will need to orientate themselves within some of the narrow corridors. On the wider corridors, we can have a two-way system, and this will be marked on the floor, also adhering to the 1.5m social distancing rules.

We have also introduced a set of hygiene protocols. There will be hand cleansing and sanitizing stations outside each classroom that students will have to use every time they enter, so door handles and frequent touch areas are not contaminated. There will be hand gels available in each classroom. We are also installing new soap and towel dispensing units across the school and we’ve also put in some mobile hand hygiene stations around the school, the playgrounds and the playground entrances.

It will be compulsory to wear masks at all times apart from when eating.

Under the current plan, breaktime will take place by putting the students into groups within their classes, staying within their existing class and going out to break as a class. So, for instance, you might not find the whole Year 6 out at break at once.

For now, as per ADEK guidelines, there will be no sport within school, however, the PE programme will still continue online at the end of the day. During the lockdown, I’ve seen some wonderful innovative PE sessions going on. I’ve been dressed as Luke Skywalker doing high impact training with my 11-year old and it’s been great fun! So, we’ll encourage students to go for a walk or bike ride or swim if they have access to a swimming pool. It’s still important for students to continue physical exercise and our Director of Sport has been very proactive by putting together online PE lessons for students to attend. We will continue to teach theoretical PE in class because there’s a lot of school science involved in PE nowadays.

There will be strict controls on musical instruments particularly in terms of the sharing of wind instruments. Where the student has a wind instrument lesson happening, there will be a screen between the teacher. For the choir, for instance, obviously, we can’t sing with masks on, so each student will have a visor and will adhere to appropriate social distancing.

If a student has displayed any COVID signs and symptoms, then they will be immediately taken to one of three isolation areas that we’ve set up within the school, enabling us to isolate that student from the bubble. We will immediately phone the parents and ask for the student to be taken to the hospital. Our directive from ADEK is we should point them in the direction of the nearest COVID testing centre and the nearest hospital. For BSAK, this is Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC).

 

What about the students who might have been in the same classroom as a student who tests positive?

We will follow the guidelines, however, the class group will remain in that bubble under observation. If there are positive outbreaks then we have a set procedure following ADEK guidelines. If necessary, we have procedures for partial and full closure and we are very well set up for distance learning. Every school has a COVID response team that have clear guidelines as to what to do.

Every teacher coming back to school has to be back in the UAE by 8th August. This ensures teachers are able to quarantine for 14 days before the staff inset week begins.  All staff are required to have a COVID Test before the School reopens and the result will be registered on the government’s Al Hosn app. We can then monitor all staff through the app.

All our support staff, including administration, housekeeping, facilities management etc. will also be tested to ensure they are COVID free.

We have two questionnaires ready to go out in August, one for parents and the other for teachers. The questionnaire will ask ten medical questions about their vulnerability to COVID. WE will then work with parents and staff to ensure that we are able to provide appropriate PPE or set up remote learning for them.

 

And who do you class as vulnerable?  Is it asthma related, diabetes related?

Yes, and the important point is how we manage and mitigate any particular issues. Certainly, diabetes and other ailments, such as chest conditions, that they may have had, may make them vulnerable. There is a list provided by SEHA which is quite clear. So, we’ll go through the responses to the questions and will put in place additional PPE, or other necessary additional measures for those students or teachers who may be vulnerable. And, if we still can’t mitigate fully, then we will revert back to distance learning for that student and the teacher can deliver their lessons online into a classroom. We have this set up in each class year.

 

Do you know how many vulnerable staff and students you have at the moment?

We have an estimate, the main concern is for those who have not been out of the house due to their vulnerability.  We will be conducting a full individual risk assessment for all staff who we believe are vulnerable. This will be carried out on an individual basis and we will try to mitigate any risk through PPE or a revised procedure within the classroom. In this instance we have to be agile and improvise to protect our staff and students alike.

No parents are allowed onto site at present, even if the school is closed, so there will be no school tours for the time being.

Well, As a parent myself, I fully understand and have sympathy and empathy with parents who do have those concerns. So one thing we are asking concerned parents is to contact the School before we re-open and have that conversation with us.  We will try our best to reassure them and put in place whatever measures we can to meet their concerns. We believe the ADEK guidelines are very thorough and we have created a 285-point audit check sheet for the School.  We will not be happy to open the School until we comply with every single one of those.  We have built in contingencies and we have sufficient plans and policies in place so that we can adapt to change very quickly. From my own personal perspective, I think we’ve done all we can to safeguard all the staff and the students.

As a school, we cannot wait for our corridors and classrooms to buzz with the chatter and laughter of our students and we know from the recent ADEK survey, that our parents and children cannot wait for us to welcome them all back.

To learn more about The British School – Al Khubairat, please visit britishschool.sch.ae

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CONTACT INFO

+971 2 2040200
The British School Al Khubairat
registrar@britishschool.sch.ae

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