New co-heads at Duchess's Community High School in Alnwick say school is safe as 1,450 pupils set to return

Plans are in place for the return of 1,450 pupils to Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick.

Pupils will return to the classroom for the first time in over two months on Monday, March 8 in the first phase of the Government’s roadmap to recovery.

Nearly 1,000 pupils will come into school over the next three days, starting from today.

They will take a Covid-19 lateral flow test in the transformed sports hall with results returned in half an hour.

James Wilson and Alan Rogers, co-heads of Duchess's Community High School in Alnwick.

Next week, pupils will get two tests at school before they are given seven test kits to do at home. Family members and staff can also get tests.

It is a baptism of fire for the school’s new co-heads, James Wilson and Alan Rogers, who took over from retiring head teacher Maurice Hall after the Christmas break.

They admit it will be a challenging period but are confident that as many measures as possible are in place to ensure the safety of students and staff and are happy that a staggered start has enabled testing to begin.

Mr Rogers said: “The difficulty was that it changed so quickly. The plan was that schools were going to return in January with a member of the military to come in and support us with the effort to get everyone tested and then the next day the kids weren’t coming back until March so it’s been challenging.

The sports hall has been transformed into a Covid-19 test centre.

"Children will be back into their full-time school life from Monday which will mirror what they had prior to Christmas so there will still be year group bubbles for the track and trace element and there will still be staggered breaks and lunchtimes so they aren’t gathering in mass numbers in the same areas.”

Around 150-130 pupils have been attending school in recent weeks with the rest home schooling.

Mr Wilson said: “Parents have done an incredible job in supporting students and we believe our offer has been very different since Christmas to what it was in the last lockdown, but we think it’s really important our students are back in the building.

"It’s safe, the measures we have in place follow all the guidance and you can’t replicate the magic that happens inside the classroom anywhere else so we can’t wait to get students back.”

Mr Rogers added: “Children need to get back to seeing people and socialising. Our focus will be on that when they come back in on Monday. We’re very conscious that there will be children with huge anxieties about coming back and families who are anxious about sending their children back in and we’ve got all of that to be very sympathetic towards because we’re all in it together.”

They are reluctant to give their views on the timing of the return but are relieved that full testing procedures are in place and heartened by the low number of Covid-19 cases in the local area.

The school had a number of cases from the October half-term to the middle of November, although it never reached the point of having to send a full year group home.

Mr Rogers said: “We know the children returning, at least at the point of testing, are negative and we know the rates in the local area are low and falling.”

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