Hundreds of Jewish pupils were welcomed back this week, as primary schools across England opened their doors for the first time since lockdown began 10 weeks ago.
Headteachers reported varying levels of attendance from eligible children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, as well as vulnerable children and those of keyworkers, according to Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJes), the umbrella organisation for Jewish schools in the UK.
While London schools saw “very good attendance”, doors remain closed in Manchester where the R number, also known as the ‘reproduction rate’ of the virus, remains high.
Sinai reported 56% of its pupils attending on Monday, while Yavneh said the “vast majority” of eligible pupils had returned and Hertsmere Jewish Primary School (HJPS) planned for a return of around 180 children, or roughly half of its full intake.
North West London Jewish Day School said 14 out of 16 children in Year 6 and 11 out of 14 children in reception have returned, with the classes split into two groups, which will attend on different days.
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Those figures fall slightly higher than the national picture, which suggests 50% of the two million eligible children across the UK would return, according to the National Foundation for Educational Research.
In preparation for reopening, the schools have taken a raft of measures, including smaller class sizes, differing break times and staggered drop-off and collection times, while also maintaining the regular hygiene and social distancing measures recommended by government guidelines.
PaJeS executive director, Rabbi David Meyer said: “Primary schools across the community have been opening this week after taking exceptional measures to ensure the safety of the children and staff.
“It is to the credit of the leadership of the schools that they have yet again risen to this challenge and are managing this exceptionally challenging process.
“The next few weeks will be critical and PaJeS continues to liaise with the doctors in order to assist schools in the provision of a safe and protected learning environment.”
Rita Alak-Levi, headteacher of HJPS in Radlett said: “We planned for the return of 15 ‘bubbles’ with an average of 12 pupils per bubble. Planning of the bubbles took a huge amount of time as we considered all aspects of the children’s safety and well-being as a primary concern. Parents were also understandably concerned about committing their children to return.
“We have been delighted to receive positive feedback from parents, who have clearly been impressed by our planning and organisation.”
Meanwhile, Caroline Field, headteacher at Yavneh Primary School said students, “have happily returned to school this week with great excitement and enthusiasm. We have missed seeing them and are looking forward to teaching them at school.”
Juliette Lipshaw, headteacher at Sinai, added: “It is such a pleasure to have reopened our doors. We welcomed 56% of the children on day one and we expect this to rise when the children return home to share their news about how happy they have been. I am delighted that after weeks of strategising our action plan is working well.”