IT IS a chilly Tuesday morning at Westfield Primary School. Children from the fire-damaged York High School are settling into their second day of lessons in their temporary new home.

Classes are in full flow in the six Portakabins hastily installed in the school grounds. In one, children are having a geography class in which they are learning how to describe places.

In another, Sarah Oakley, English teacher and York High’s Head of Year 7, is giving an impromptu lesson about the American elections. The children, aged 11 and 12, have had a discussion about the election campaign. Now they are making up their own political parties.

One girl is drawing up a manifesto for The Green Gang, an environmental party. At another desk, a boy is creating artwork for his own party, the White And Blacks.

His drawing shows two eggs – one with a white shell, the other a dark brown shell. “White eggs and brown eggs are like race,” he says. “Black and white people have different skin colours, but just like eggs they are the same inside.”

It is amazing to see how much learning is going on here. The past couple of weeks have been hugely disruptive for York High School children. There was no school last week – instead, a series of activities were laid on for children at sports and youth centres.

This week, the school’s 896 pupils have been split into three groups. The 183 youngest children – the Year 7s, aged 11 and 12 – have been taken in at Westfield Primary School, where they are based mainly in temporary classrooms.

Year 8 pupils are over at Burnholme Community College, where classrooms have been cleared out for them. The older children, 560 pupils in Years 9 to 11, are at Manor School. There, they are effectively ‘hot-desking’ with the Manor children. Manor School runs from 8.30am to 1pm, then the Manor children go home and the York High children move in, with lessons running from 2pm to 6pm.

It’s not ideal, admits York High head teacher David Ellis – but it is working.

The main problem is that because the children are split over three sites, the York High teachers have to be, too.

Priority has to be given to older children in their GCSE years, which means most English, maths and science teachers are at Manor School. History and geography teachers are mainly at Burnholme, while IT, PE, French and some maths teachers are at Westfield.

Inevitably, it means some disruption to the curriculum, especially for younger children, and some teachers teaching subjects they don’t normally teach.

But the key thing is to ensure York High pupils know they are still part of York High School, Mr Ellis says – which means ensuring they are taught by York High teachers.

The pupils at Westfield certainly seem to be settling in well. The temporary classrooms are long and narrow, but spacious and warm.

Many of the children seem to be enjoying the novelty of their surroundings. Eleven-year-old Poppy Angell admits it feels a bit odd to be back at primary school.

They only had five weeks at ‘big school’ before the fire, she says.

“At primary school we were the oldest, then we went to York High and we were the youngest, now we’re the oldest again. But I don’t mind coming back. We’re still part of York High School.”

In some ways, lessons are even better, she says. They are tackling different subjects, and each class is longer – a decision taken to make it easier for teachers to plan. “That’s a bit better,” Poppy says. “We don’t have to cram lots of stuff into one short lesson.”

Joe Gough, 12, was a bit miffed to find himself back at Westfield – he only left the school last term.

As Mr Ellis describes the arrangement for classes, Joe can’t help interrupting eagerly: “Does that mean we don’t have to hand our homework in?”

The answer, sadly, is that they do. And while the children pretend to grumble, it is clear they are quite happy to be back at school.

The week off school as a result of the fire “didn’t feel as good as you’d expect”, Poppy admits. “It felt like we were out of place.”

It may only be temporary. But thanks to the efforts of the York High staff and the generosity of their host schools, it is clear the York High children feel they fit in again.

What happens next...

York High children will remain at their temporary host schools this week and next week.

Then comes half term, after which they will return to the Lowfield School campus in Dijon Avenue. An extra 14 temporary classrooms are being brought in to accommodate them in addition to the 20 that were already there, head teacher David Ellis says.

From January, all 896 children will move into the new £10million York High School building at the old Oaklands School site in Cornlands Road, which is now in the final phase of development.

That’s a poetic welcome

WHEN they saw lorries delivering the six temporary buildings to house York High School youngsters, children in Class 5R at Westfield Primary School wrote a poem to welcome the visitors.

The poem describes cranes rumbling “like a colossal elephant” into the school grounds to deliver the buildings, and the builders in their “high viz jackets and hard hats” moving them into place.

“Monday brings new faces and old,” the poem concludes. “Welcoming them with our arms unfold, after fire! fire! fire!”