How quickly can Sheffield's schools recover from Covid?

Plus, the rest of our weekly briefing

Good afternoon — and welcome to this week’s Tribune briefing.

Today we have a look at the return of schools in Sheffield, and how quickly they might be able to get back to something like normality. We also have all our usual updates and recommendations including some great outdoor cinema at Kenwood Hall in Nether Edge.

Firstly, we’re sorry we didn’t manage to bring you a weekend read. We had one planned but it needed a bit more work which, for one reason and another, wasn’t possible over the weekend. We’ll make it up to you with an extra members’ story this week.

This week we’ll have a piece about the magnificent Medieval tapestries currently on display at Chatsworth House, an in-depth look at what it’s like to be an estranged student in Sheffield and a story about a legendary city ice cream institution. To get those stories in your inbox, join up as a member now with the button below. It costs less than £1.50 a week if you join for a year (£70).

This week’s weather

Big story: Sheffield’s schools go back

Top line: Schools in Sheffield return tomorrow for the third academic year that will be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. But after 18 months of disruption, how easy is it going to be for them to get back to some level of normality?

Context: Over the course of the pandemic, children in Sheffield have missed around half a year of face-to-face teaching, around 5% of their total school time. This is not to mention those who were sent home after someone in their bubble tested positive for Covid.

Testing: When they return this week, secondary school pupils will receive two on-site lateral flow tests 3-5 days apart. These pupils should then test twice a week at home, until the end of September when there will be a review. Pupils with a positive LFD test should isolate and take a PCR test to confirm.

No more bubbles: Close contacts of positive cases will no longer be forced to isolate but they must book a PCR test and stop going to school if they have symptoms. Household contacts do not need to isolate if they are under 18 years 6 months or are fully vaccinated.

  • Department for Education guidance says it will now be up to schools to decide whether and when to get local public health teams involved.

  • Suggested thresholds are either a cluster of five positive cases in a group who have had close contact or 10% of an entire school population.

Masks: Face masks will also no longer be required, but education chief Councillor Jayne Dunn has urged schools to retain them. She said she was “extremely disappointed” that the government had not recommended keeping them in secondary schools. She said:

The government’s Department for Education has side-lined Public Health and though the council has no powers to enforce mask wearing we will do everything we can to challenge government, and demand that they are more proactive with safety.

Catching up: The impact of missed school, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, could be devastating. The government appointed Sir Kevan Collins as education recovery tsar in February to develop a long term plan for the sector.

  • However, he resigned in June after his proposals for a £15bn rescue plan were rejected in favour of a £1.4bn package — the equivalent of just £50 per pupil. 

  • In his resignation letter he told the Prime Minister: "I do not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size."

Exams: The government has insisted that GCSEs and A-levels will go ahead this year. However, the Department for Education and Ofqual are consulting on possible adaptations to the tests which take into account the lost learning time. These could include giving pupils advanced knowledge of the topics to be examined.

Analysis: The balance between controlling the spread of Covid while maintaining education provision has been one of the biggest challenges of the pandemic. Whenever the Covid crisis “ends”, its impact on the country’s schools will be felt for years to come. The continued fallout has led some to call for fundamental change to our education system.

Magid photo bought for nation

A print of this photo of the former Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid has just been bought by the National Portrait Gallery for their collection.

On his Instagram page, photographer Chris Saunders said both he and Magid expected the council to veto the photo, but in the end they never said a word.

The print will go on display at a Sheffield Museums site first before being transferred to the Trafalgar Square gallery in London later in the year.

Covid-19 update

Cases: The Covid case rate in Sheffield — the number of positive cases per 100,000 people over seven days — is 313.5, down 7.4% or 147 cases on last week. The England rate is 319.9. Sheffield City Council says rates here are still high, but we are no longer an outlier.

Hospitals: 88 people are being treated for Covid-19 in Sheffield’s hospitals, a rise of seven from the previous week. 11 of these people are on ventilation, the same number as last week. Six deaths linked to the disease have taken place in Sheffield over the last week. 31 deaths took place in August.

Vaccines: 725,337 vaccine doses have now been given out in Sheffield, including 387,691 first doses and 337,646 second doses. 77.8% of over 18s have now had their first dose while 69.8% have now had a second dose. The figures for England are 88.2% and 78.2%.

Our favourite reads

  1. An astonishing story in Variety magazine about Sheffield Doc/Fest, where the entire programming team have been sacked after the departure of artistic director Cintia Gil last week. The festival is one of the world’s most important gatherings for the documentary industry with the row thought to stem from a clash between artistic and commercial values.

  2. Now Then report that four new “school streets” are to launch in Sheffield this term, effectively banning traffic around them at peak times of the day. This really interesting piece from The Conversation is by two academics who studied the impact of a pilot scheme trialled outside two Sheffield schools - Holt House Infants and Carterknowle Juniors - in 2019.

  3. South Yorkshire Live have an eye-opening report from the deprived inner city ward of Burngreave, where 13.6% of residents (around 2,500 people) claim Universal Credit. Reporter Phoebe Fuller visits the local food bank where staff say the emotional support they provide their clients is as important as the provisions.

Graves gallery to reopen

Visitors will be allowed in the Graves Gallery for the first time in six months on Friday, September 3, after the gallery has undergone a six-month programme of refurbishment and redisplay.

New displays include work by sculptor Mark Firth, the first chance to see Pandemic Diary, a new series of drawings by street artist Phlegm, and a new exhibition curated by pioneering Black artist Keith Piper.

There is also a redisplay on the theme of landscape featuring returning favourites including JMW Turner’s Opening of the Vintage at Macon (around 1803) and Sheila Fell’s Snowscape, Cumbria (1977).

Things to do

Nature: The bats of the River Don will be the focus of Sheffield Museums’ latest nature walk on Thursday, September 2. The free walk, which will be led by the museum’s curator of natural science Alistair McLean, will take place in Oughtibridge from 8.30pm-10.30pm.

Film: The Village Screen pop-up cinema returns to Kenwood Hall this week with three classic films. On Thursday, September 2, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel will be shown followed by Moulin Rouge on Friday and Jurassic Park on Saturday.

Heritage: Local history expert Ron Clayton is hosting another of his popular heritage walks for Sheffield Museums. Ramble with Ron: Weston Park Museum to the Millennium Gallery will take place on Friday, September 3 from 1.00pm-2.30pm. Tickets are £10.

Theatre: Theatre Deli’s autumn season kicks off on Thursday, September 2 with The Nobodies, a play by the award-winning Chalk Line Theatre. This is followed on Friday, September 3 by the Rubbish Shakespeare Company’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Art: On Saturday, 4 September and Sunday, 5, the Botanical Gardens in Broomhall will be transformed into one of the largest outdoor art exhibitions in the North. For more information and tickets, click here. The event sold out last year so if you want to go you’ll have to be quick.