What is it like to attend school when all your friends are at home?
To be one of only a handful of students in a big secondary school, getting used to a new timetable, a new routine, but remaining at least two metres away from your new ‘classmates’.
That was the situation facing 12-year-old Tilly Greening, one of the minority of students who continued to attend a very different type of school setting as her parents worked at West Suffolk Hospital.
Just two weeks ago, Sybil Andrews Academy was a bustling and vibrant secondary school in the heart of Bury St Edmunds’ Moreton Hall estate.
Then, following the decision of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to close all schools due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tilly was suddenly one of the 1.5% of pupils still attending school within the Unity Schools Partnership and its 11,000 pupils across West Suffolk and Romford.
Amid these startling statistics, which have been replicated across the country, Tilly shows the same resilience that we often attribute to young people.
Tilly, who lives in Thorpe Morieux, said: “It has been a little strange but also quite fun. Each student who still goes into school has made their own timetable around the traditional subjects – and I have done things like art and dance.
“We usually work in the library, but on different desks, or we take turns in the computer room.
“We have different teachers with different specialities, but they have all supported us whenever we need it.”
When we spoke to Tilly, there were just five students at Sybil Andrews Academy with the school, like many others, committed to remaining open to support key workers.
But what does her friends think of the new educational environment?
Tilly explained: “I speak to my friends after school and we talk about our day. They are working from home, but I think I can concentrate better being at school.”
It is not only students who have had to quickly adapt to a different environment.
In whistle-stop time, school leaders and staff had to formulate an action plan to bring learning into homes up and down the country – with the Easter holidays bringing a welcome break to pause, reflect and then devise more new ways of working.
Stephanie Hugill, Head of Performing Arts at Sybil Andrews Academy, said: “It has been surreal coming into the school and teaching such a small number of students.
“As a teacher, I think I miss the daily contact the most. It has been a strange feeling not coming into school, saying hello to students and having lots of different little conversations with them.
“But we have still had fun and it’s so important to stimulate the students in every way possible. The Joe Wicks morning workout, involving students and staff, has been hilarious.”
As a performing arts teacher, Mrs Hugill admitted the new way of schooling has been a challenge.
But bringing her creativity to the fore, she is planning some practical activities – including a virtual performance using any five items from your kitchen.
With Tilly now having two weeks off from school, with her father having some well-earned planned annual leave, Mrs Hugill commended the decision to remain open during the holidays for other children who still need to attend.
She explained: “I think it is so important that schools do everything they can for our key workers.
“While schools are not frontline in the same way as our NHS or shop workers for instance, we feel it is crucial to provide some stability in these unprecedented times.”