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How a Dundee school transformed gym into classroom to accommodate pupils with physical distancing

Head caretaker Brian Smith puts down the social distance tape in the gym hall.
Head caretaker Brian Smith puts down the social distance tape in the gym hall.

A Dundee secondary school has transformed its gym hall into a large classroom to overcome setbacks created by physical distancing.

Harris Academy’s back to school preparations have proven to be an enormous task and head teacher Barry Millar said the school is now on version seven of its timetable.

Physical distancing has been the biggest challenge in their plans and they can fit only around a third of a class into a room at each time.

But staff have been creative in utilising the vast space available in the state-of-the-art building and have turned the sports hall and dance studio into classrooms in the hope of offering pupils more school time.

Socially distanced desks set up in the gym hall.

As the gym remained unused because of Covid-19, Dundee Indoor Bowling Club loaned the school carpets to turn it into a spacious classroom that can easily accommodate up to 30 pupils.

Classrooms in maths, English and modern languages departments also have collapsible walls to expand the areas.

Pupils in S1-S3 will be in school for two afternoons per week until Easter, while seniors will be allocated additional time to complete coursework.

The gym has been transformed into a socially distanced classroom thanks to a carpet from Dundee Indoor Bowling Club.

Mr Millar said: “The overall message from me is that this is great news, this is our young people getting back into the building.

“Yes in a slow and gradual fashion and it’s not going to be a lot of time, particularly for our young people, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“Staff can’t wait to get the young people back into their classrooms. It’s a real positive and I’m glad because the amount of work it’s taken to get it to that point is then worthwhile.”

Head teacher Barry Millar.

The school is hoping to strike a balance between seniors working towards national qualifications and giving junior pupils a “quality experience”.

He added: “They’re not just coming into the building to be in the building in a tokenistic way. It’s with their own teacher in classes that are in their timetable.

“It has to be in a two metre physical distanced capacity which is one of the major blocks for us – and I’m talking from a school which is a state-of-the-art building with phenomenally wide corridors and massive open spaces that we can use creatively.

“But even then we cannot fit half a class into a classroom and that’s one of the big restrictions on how many people we can have in the building.”

Desks have been spaced two metres apart meaning only a third of pupils can enter a class.

The school day has been split into a morning and afternoon slot and pupils will also be unable to congregate in the dining area, to minimise the number of people in the building at one time.

An important part of the preparations has also been communicating the new rules to families.

A team of staff have volunteered their own time to send send more than 1,000 bespoke emails to pupils setting out their new timetable.

Head caretaker Brian Smith checks the desks are the proper distance.

Despite the challenges, Mr Millar said it has been worthwhile to guarantee face-to-face lessons.

“There is a really good feel at Harris of people rallying, yet again, to do what they need to do.”

He added: “Pupils can’t wait to start that journey towards normality again. We know it will be different over these 14 days and they clearly understand they are not getting back to their normal class but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Phased return to school will help Dundee pupils gain confidence despite limited class time, education chiefs claim

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