Isle of Man schools return as island’s COVID free status means social-distancing is lifted

This article was written prior to the island re-entering lockdown early in March 2021.

By Noah Bovenizer

Sulby Primary School is one of the 34 primary schools on the Isle of Man that returned to in-person teaching this week

After a circuit breaker lockdown in January, schools on the Isle of Man have returned to in-person teaching again, becoming one of the only places in the British Isles to do so with no social-distancing.

Schools on the island, which has a population of around 84,000, had been operating as normal since they came out of an initial lockdown last June but a spike in cases soon after New Year’s Day saw pupils return to online learning for four weeks.

Martin Jackson, headteacher of Sulby Primary School said: “Getting back into school was absolutely fantastic … Having had quite an extensive time at home [the children] were really excited to get back.”

Isle of Man and COVID-19

2020

  • 16 March – Isle of Man government cancels the 2020 TT motorcycle races, one of the biggest events for the island each year
  • 19 March – First case detected on the island
  • 26 March – IOM Government orders everyone to stay at home for the first time, non-essential shops and schools close
  • 1 April – First death attributed to COVID-19
  • 18 May – Some non-essential shops re-open
  • 2 June – No active cases for the first time since March
  • 15 June – All social distancing requirements lifted (apart from in health and care) and schools re-open

2021

  • 7 January- Circuit breaker lockdown brought in after seven new cases detected, schools close
  • 1 February – Social distancing requirements lifted again and schools re-open for a second time

The island, which is a self-governing crown dependency, has 34 primary schools and six secondary schools, including two privately run institutions.

Despite the closure of schools to most pupils over each lockdown, the Department of Education, Sport and Culture operated a hub system using some of the larger schools to maintain in-person teaching for vulnerable children and those of key workers.

Despite efforts by teachers to maintain the standard of education over lockdown and the celebrations of being back in school, many believe it will take a while to ensure all students are caught up.

Martin Jackson said: “You can’t catch up over the space of half a term, this is something you’ve got to do gradually, concepts have to be embedded and that takes a lot of planning.”

Martin Jackson is one of many headteachers on the island working to safely bring students back to schools

Exams confusion

Despite Manx students receiving more in-person learning than students in the UK, they are still reliant on UK and international exam boards which has led to a lot of confusion as to whether or not exams will be going ahead in the summer.

Whilst OFQUAL and the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) have already cancelled their exams for all students in the British Isles, the majority of GCSE and A Level exams taken on the island are under the Cambridge International board.

Year 11 GCSE student Oscar Bovenizer said: “It is quite frustrating because the Isle of Man has been sidelined in a way, all the different exam boards are so focused on the UK so it’s all up in the air for us.”

After the lockdown last year, all GCSE and A Level exams for the summer season were cancelled and students were graded by teacher assessment, a solution that has not been ruled out by the government for this year.

Whilst students are happy to be back in class with their friends, with exams due to be sat as soon as May, students and teachers alike are hoping to receive the clarification they need to move forward very soon.

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The island’s COVID journey

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the island’s government have taken an eradication approach, leading them to be in the enviable position of opening up schools without the stress of masks and social distancing.
However, the outbreak in January has lead many of the residents here to feel wary of the vulnerability of their position and some have started to wonder if living with the virus may now be the best approach.
With the Isle of Man government still keeping the borders tightly closed to all non-residents, outside of some key worker exceptions, they’ll be hoping that this is enough for now to keep the virus at bay whilst their vaccine rollout continues.

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