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Lockdown Diary – a week in the life of a Headteacher

18th May

Monday morning and I was awake with the dawn chorus. After nearly a week of planning with my team, making amendments to the seemingly ever-constant changes and updates to DfE guidance, I was able to share the return to school plan with parents on Sunday afternoon. Whilst this was a weight off my shoulders as, the anxieties of how it would be received had started to creep in.

After following a four-week rota with staff, we have now switched to a two-week rota leading in to June 1st to enable us to prepare the school for more children coming in. The team in school divided into two – the first to continue to look after the key worker and vulnerable children and the second to work on turning each classroom into an environment that meets our risk assessments and planning requirements. As they have done since the beginning of lockdown, the staff continue to go above and beyond.

My day’s timetabled activities started at 9am with a Zoom meeting with Year 6 parents to discuss the plan and answer any questions they had to the best of my ability. With the exception of my Deputy, who was organising the teams in school and making contact with some of our other families who we are in regular contact with, my leadership team joined the meetings. The parents’ discussion was sensible and measured. The questions, concerns and anxieties that they had were all completely understandable. It was lovely to see their faces – after seeing them on the playground every day, it is something I had taken for granted – and they were very complimentary of the efforts of the school throughout which is always comforting to hear.

The Zoom meetings with EYFS and Year 1 parents followed much the same pattern, with sensible questions and understandable caution. It did make me think that, as much as this has put a lot of pressure on schools and leaders to prepare plans to come back, it also puts a lot of pressure on parents. On the one hand, they do not want their children to miss out, but on the other, they are concerned about sending them in to school.

By the end of the day, the corridors have all been taped up to look like the outside of supermarkets, and the classrooms deconstructed to try to support social distancing. I have to be honest – it made me feel very sad. To see a place usually so vibrant being stripped back with desks separated and tape down to mark spaces. I worry about the impact it will have on our children, and we will have to work extremely hard to support their mental health and wellbeing.

19th May

After ensuring that the parents had time to read and digest our return plan, and giving them the opportunity to discuss any questions or concerns, we sent the surveys out to parents today so that we could get a better idea of numbers. I feel terrible for putting parents in a position where they have to answer yes or no, when I know that there are assurances that I am not able to give them. Parents have been overwhelmingly positive about the approach taken and believe that we are taking as many steps as we can to keep the children safe.

Today has also shown me how supportive an environment school and the wider education community can be. I had a call from our new Improvement Advisor who provided a kind and compassionate listening ear and offered some sound advice. This was then immediately followed by taking part in a Coronocast, organised for Headteachers and school leaders to unpick some of the concerns and issues. Today’s was specifically about EYFS, an area that I am most worried about getting right (or wrong!), led by the brilliant Ruth Swailes and Jan Dubiel. You know it is something special when over 300 take part across the country. It gave me some further thoughts on the things that we could do, and so the planning mind took over again!

The support from staff both at home and at school has been fantastic. School continues to be transformed into what is becoming the ‘new normal’. The staff have also been working on supporting the community by organising our Lockdown Larder in partnership with Five Acre Wood School who we work very closely with. It proves that schools really are the hub of the community they serve.

20th May

Today was all about tape! Trying to work out how we organise the different bubbles and how they can safely access the school site is a challenge in itself. My school is lucky to have a big site and beautiful grounds. We have multiple entry points, and I can’t work out if this is a blessing or a curse. It has meant that we have planned to keep bubbles very separate with each year group and bubble entering the school via their own route, but it has also meant that we have more lines of tape in our school than most of the supermarkets in Kent!

On ‘hump day’, when wading through paperwork and having to overcome obstacles and challenges that five minutes earlier you hadn’t even thought of, it was brilliant to have so many pick-me-ups from our parents on Thank a Teacher Day. The school Twitter feed, my emails, and even socially distanced drop offs from parents meant that our morale in school was kept high, and I know that the staff at home who saw the messages can’t help but have been lifted by the kind words and sentiments from parents and the pictures of the children’s smiling faces.

I recently wrote about community in a blog post for the #DailyWritingChallenge and today was just another example of how we have stuck together through adversity. In many ways, our community is even tighter now as a result of the pandemic. It has shown the strength and depth of what people are willing to do for each other and highlighted the importance of listening to and understanding the needs of the community. Much has been said about the need to refocus when things return to whatever normal will look like. Throughout this, and particularly today, I have been thinking about what is really important in schools. We obviously want the best for our children and for them to be well prepared for the next stage of their education – but there is so much more. We need to remember this next time we are asked about data percentages, targets and league tables. All of the amazing work schools are doing at the moment can’t be measured by league tables, but we should not let that deter us from what we know is right.

21st May

The survey that we sent out to parents on Tuesday to ascertain numbers from EYFS, Year 1 and Year 6 closed today. With the numbers in, we began planning the bubble groups that we would need. The challenge for us is that our staffing numbers puts a limit on how many bubbles we can support and I have many parents who are currently unsure about sending their child in because of the uncertainty about what school will be like and what the science is telling us. If some of those parents on the fence choose to send their children in, it could present a problem. I don’t want to say no to a year group from the beginning, but also don’t want to have to close one once it has been opened. This is providing another headache and although the Local Authority were able to provide an answer, it doesn’t change the fact that there may be a point where I have to say no to children returning to school who are eligible.

There was some good news from the Coronacast however. Dr Matt Butler, a parent but also a Consultant Physician who volunteered to work in a COVID-19 Assessment Unit, returned and provided some very useful advice and guidance based on his great knowledge and understanding of the virus. This has certainly helped to calm some of my fears, although how we apply them all in practice is still something that needs careful thought and planning. It was also interesting to hear how different schools and authorities are approaching the different challenges that we are all facing with the reopening of schools.

After a virtual staffroom and a collaboration meeting, it has shown how important working together is. I have felt so incredibly supported by the networks around me – fellow teachers and Headteachers on Twitter, the local Headteachers in my collaboration and many others who I have never personally met before, all willing to help out, offer words of support or advice and work together to try and find solutions to these most complex of problems. I hope that this will also continue, where schools will work together increasingly more and not compete as much against each other as they have in the past.

22nd May

I started the day by reading the latest DfE released guidance – this time about statutory reporting to parents. The timing felt a little off considering all of the different things that everyone in school was already doing.

There was also a lot of speculation about the release of the SAGE scientific research. The decision making behind the process has something that has always been questioned since the announcement – by unions, teachers and even parents. It has been hard to provide an answer to this without over sharing a political viewpoint. Having skim read the report and seen many of the comments about the research, I am still not really any clearer on the reasons that opening has been seemingly given a set date, and why the guidance has been written in the way that it has. The one part that will be hard to ignore is the section that says by delaying by two weeks will halve the risk to children. Surely this is something that we need to look at carefully.

The remainder of the day was spent working through the various tasks needed to try to be ready to reopen. My deputy was working through the organisation of staffing and the timetabling of the different bubbles, while I worked through the risk assessments. In between these times, the two of us, along with some of the other staff who were in helping, created a series of videos to try and explain the new routines and new look of the classrooms so that we could share them with parents. Although it is important to help acclimatise the parents and children, I couldn’t help but feel that overwhelming sadness again that the school that we have worked so hard to build now looks and feels starkly different.

The real positive from today was that we were able to deliver or send out our Lockdown Larder food parcels. Working alongside Five Acre Wood, who have two satellite classrooms at our school, we were able to provide packages for over 150 families across both schools, as well as sending some to our local church and support some residents in our local area. The appreciation shown by all of the families was amazing.

As I completed the Celebration Assembly for the school Twitter page, as well as the last #Chatleychallenge of the week, I paused for a moment’s reflection. So much has changed in the last 9 weeks, but one thing that has remained the same is the passion and hard work of the staff. They have, and continue to, rise to every challenge and go above and beyond what is expected of them to support each other and the community we serve.

With the Bank Holiday weekend, hopefully the staff will take some much needed time off to relax, ready to continue the fight back towards a new normal.

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