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Re-boot

A massive thank you for the first week back and all of the community’s understanding as we “re-boot” in school; it has been a monumental effort to get everyone back in, and back to the core purpose of lessons whilst testing all the students – at the last count all Years 9-11 had undertaken their second tests. There are, of course many questions that students (and staff) have as we enter this phase, and I don’t always have the answers yet. What I do know is that we have tried to couple empathy with efficiency this week, so we can prioritise getting everyone back in to routines. As a parent of adolescent children, I can entirely understanding the challenge of just getting them in to habits of getting out of bed again and getting ready for school!

Can I say a particular thank you to Mrs Solis, Mr Chalk, the staff and community volunteers that have helped out in the testing centre; even if there is a national debate about the legitimacy/accuracy of the testing, it has undoubtedly helped the community to feel reassured about returning and helped settled students back in to school.

I appreciate this is only a short blog this week, but the priority for me is being on the ground, and I will get back in to more routine patterns in the weeks ahead.

Have a lovely weekend.

That was then, this is now

Firstly Happy New Year – however unusual the circumstances

I appreciate that parents will have had many letters this week, but I thought I would use this opportunity to share my thoughts about the online learning so far.

I wrote to staff this week, and said “that was then, this is now” about online learning; last year, with little warning and even less resourcing we made the decision to get work packs up and running early. I felt last March/April that this was the most expedient way to get work set and support home learning, but I appreciate by June/July this became stilted. I mean that as no criticism of staff, it was ultimately my decision and we couldn’t keep pace with the changing regulations, so staff very dutifully carried on with plan A.

Looking back, I don’t regret that, but I knew we could do better for the students and to make life easier for parents. Sadly, I feared we would be back here again by winter (as a historian, I have studied the social impact of the 1918-1920 Spanish Flu) so we were determined to be ready with a more interactive offer, but one that does not mean staff just talking at students for an hour. I believe what we have now is considerably better than last year, and hopefully has eased the pressure on parents having to cajole their children into work?

Make no mistake, we would rather have students in school, but realistically that isn’t possible in the current climate. In all honesty, and we had it better than some schools before Christmas, we were having to send home more students into isolation as COVID infections and tracing took hold, and this means students had an inconsistent experience from their peers in school. In the short term, I believe this is better, but we all hope (or pray if you are so inclined) that this isn’t for long.

I do understand that some students have more issues with IT hardware and broadband than others, but at least some of the DfE allocation have now arrived, and we are distributing appropriately. It’s challenging because there isn’t enough for one per student, but we will work with those families to try to find solutions, e.g. we have provided dongles this week for some families where they have reported broadband issues.

In all these senses, we must remain a partnership; us providing the work, parents making children be up and ready for all lessons, and students working hard. Ultimately, in the long term, this is the way we make sure students both stay up to speed for learning [for when they return], and also occupied productively during the day.

Finally I was reminded on the radio the other day that it was 5 years since I started at Marshalls; I know that (sadly) because its 5 years since David Bowie died, and that was a focus of one of my first blogs. At the moment, “we turn and face the strange” every day.

Enjoy the weekend.

A challenging time

Firstly, I must apologise for not writing a blog; I have always tried to use this as a personal account of running the school, and the truth is that my time management has completely gone out of the window in the last few weeks. It is a strange world when you have no control of your diary on a daily basis beyond the regimented moments of being on the Year 10 corridor for lesson turnover, and the numerous duty point rotas through the day. I will be very open here and say that it has wrecked even the slightest sense of sleep pattern that I had left! What I know, is that it must be showing as various staff keep dropping me chocolate and other food supplies off to keep me going.

In all seriousness, this is simply the greatest challenge we have faced in our professional careers, and I want to, very publicly, thank all my staff for their contributions. We are continuing to pull together to make the best of the situation, and learning to adapt all the time. Last night was our first online parents evening, we now have lessons where students are in school and staff at home (there is always an adult in the room), we have lessons where students at home and staff in school, and even lessons where both staff and students are at home! That is how far the school, and the education profession, has come in the last 9 months. We will keep improving and reacting to the challenges this pandemic throws at us, and with the wonderful team of staff here, we will do our best to support the students through these times. I think it will be very interesting to see which features will survive beyond the pandemic, and as one student quipped yesterday “with all these online tools, we will never have a snow day again!”

My view on these changes is that, at this moment, they are necessary; that does not mean they are desirable. It also does not mean that we will get every decision right – as I have said before these are completely uncharted waters – and I thank the overwhelming majority of parents for understanding that premise. To return to the first paragraph, any number of events can affect our planning at the moment (staff absence, staff isolating, Covid cases, tracing contacts of cases in school etc), and therefore I perceive our job as mainly about trying to maintain as much normality as possible as the goalposts around us change.

It feels odd at the end of autumn term not to be thinking about events like prize giving and senior citizen Christmas parties, but we are trying some different community events this year. The charity drive around Race for Life (all students and some staff will participate: https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/marshalls-park-academy), the poetry for the senior citizens that is being written, the food bank donations, Christmas jumper day, and many things alongside will help generate an end of term vibe; equally we must remember this has been a very difficult year for so many families with bereavements, furlough, unemployment, bankruptcies, and the mental health strain on family life.

I rarely count down the end of term, it tends to creep up on me; this year is different. I have said to the staff many times in the last 9 months, we just take one, half term at a time and then recuperate. We have no idea yet the impact of the freedoms we will experience over Christmas, and what the effect will be in January. However, I doubt many of us will fondly remember 2020! In the meantime, we carry on working until the 18th, and I will write more formally next week.

Have a good weekend, and enjoy the mad rush of Christmas shopping if you still go to the high street!