Step by step

As you know I try to use the blog to give my insights in to the school, education and society [rather than a formal position per se that will always come out in letters], and I have been deliberating whether I should share my personal thoughts on re-opening. Anyway here goes…

I finished my zoom call with SLT last night with a slight rallying call/battle cry, and it went something like this – we all know that we will all have our own anxieties about returning to work in a wider way with Year 10 next week, but we are public servants and the Prime Minister has urged us to re-open for Year 10 from the 15th, and therefore I have an overwhelming sense of duty that we should help deliver on that message. We have worked hard to plan for that provision, but like any school day we will need to shape it on the ground next week and adapt. But, we must help try to get society back to normal, and I believe that is what a majority of society want us to do.

I do believe that last point strongly; I know not everyone will send their children back, and I know there will be particular groups that are more anxious than others, e.g. the data on BAME deaths is a real concern for those families, but we have to do our part to re-open society.

If I have offered some faint praise for the Prime Minister above, then please don’t confuse that with me feeling supported. At a personal level in my professional career, I have never felt so conflicted by constant vague updates from the DfE, constant parameter changes from the Prime Minister, and the quite public dispute between some of the unions and the government. This is not like a snow day decision where locally I can assess whether the site is safe, this needs decisive leadership from the government, and in my sector that has been utterly lacking in the last few weeks (as even Gavin Williamson effectively acknowledged in Parliament this week).

Personally, I would have preferred a much clearer delineation between the government decisions and what we need to decide locally; perhaps more importantly that the government should have updated slightly less often, but with more clarity about what has changed. Additionally, and I am not an epidemiologist, I would have liked more flexibility in which year groups we could have returned to school. Even if we had been restricted to say 120 students a day (i.e. 50% of years 7-8, or 67% of years 9-10 depending on your year group) that would have allowed us to give all students a few days in school before the summer. Don’t get me wrong, Year 10 would still have had more time because of their exams next year (return to that point below), but it would have been nice to have had the professional flexibility to decide, in the way that supermarkets have been allowed to prioritise certain customers at certain times.

Year 10 have been told there will be exams next summer, but my input in to the debate is that we must know soon whether that is all the content in all subjects, whether some of the grade will be made up of work from in school (as Year 11 had retrospectively this year), and whether some elements will be dropped from the curriculum. My guess is that all three of those will play a role by the way, I haven’t made them up at random.

Before this audience thinks I can write this in an ivory tower because Covid-19 hasn’t touched my life, then you would be mistaken. My youngest son is a severe asthmatic (he has been hospitalised many times in the past), so I have to be incredibly careful when I get back from work; today, I am attending my sister-in-law’s funeral from Covid-19, and my father was hospitalised briefly in the middle of this pandemic (with other issues) and we couldn’t see him. I say none of this for sympathy, but to remind us that we all have been touched by this dreadful virus. And yet, I still feel that in the middle of a classic quandary of “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” that we should play our part in helping to return society to normal in the coming weeks and months as a school. Just as I respect the individual parents’ dilemmas, I have that same respect for my staff that have personal tough choices to make, but I know the overwhelming majority of staff share the overriding sentiment that we need to get back to our vocation in life and deal with students face to face again, albeit with a huge degree of nervousness and trepidation.

Have a lovely weekend.

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