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St Gabriel’s

St Gabriel’s

Diary of a Head – Entry 4

The celebration of VE Day was an appropriate chance for us to reflect on the sacrifices that were made by so many to ensure that a new world could grow from the horrors of World War II. Although the planned celebrations were muted because of the restrictions in which we are all living, in a way it seems bizarre that we are experiencing a little of the deprivation that our forefathers had to endure.   When lockdown started there was a cartoon that circulated on social media which suggested that 75 years ago people had to go off to war to save their country. Now we are being asked to stay at home to do the same; so, I am fully aware that, although there are similarities, the sacrifices made then were far more sustained than those we are making now. The impact and cost of World War II lasts to this day; who is to say how long the impact of Covid-19 will last?

VE Day back in 1945 brought about a huge sense of community celebration, and it is this sense of community that has been so impressive in school(s) during this time. A sense of coming together through virtual assemblies, remote staff meetings, lessons, clubs and activities, all the time people being aware that this is different, yet something we need to make work. The ingenuity of pupils and teachers to make remote learning come to life has been astonishing…It’s amazing how inventive and creative people can be if they put their minds to it – you only have to  look at our school Twitter, @StGabrielsNews to see what I mean.

The other day I ‘attended’ our Year 8 Scholastic Essays presentations. Pupils are given a topic: ‘Celebration’ was this year’s, and then asked to write an essay based on their interpretation of that word. They then have to present this to an audience and answer questions. Usually this is one of the many evening highlights of the school year, but sadly Covid-19 put an end to our usual way of doing this. However, through the use of our digital platform, we were able to run the presentations. The uplift in digital skills that has occurred as a consequence of trying to ‘get on with things’ has been remarkable, and we will all need to look at how we do things in the future, so that the progress made is not lost, as we hanker for a return to the familiarity of what we used to do.

We have to get used to the fact that things are not going to be the same as they were before the pandemic. As a school, we are now busy working out how best to reintroduce our pupils into the school environment. There is not one teacher that I can think of who is not longing for the return of their pupils; they are what make us teachers and they bring so much variety to the job that we do. However, we are now having to look at schools that, for a while at least, might have one way flow systems, staggered lesson times, split year groups, and a host of other logistical issues that need solving before pupils can return. For teachers there is the need to move from remote teaching for some classes to real lessons, but at the same time being able to provide remote lessons for those who are not yet permitted to return. From a leadership view point, there is the grave responsibility of making sure that things really are safe for pupils and staff. Some teachers in schools may well be shielded, act as shielders, or be understandably anxious about the message changing from ‘Stay at Home; Save Lives’ to seemingly ‘Take a risk; Save the Economy.’ The pressure to kick-start the economy is massive, and I know that there has to be a balance, but at what human cost? How many parents will want their children to return to environments where risk of infection is arguably greater than at home?

Finally, as we are working to finalise the centre-assessed grades for those Year 11 and 13 pupils who are not able to sit their exams this year, spare a thought for those teachers who are making these judgements. Teaching is a profession - a caring profession. The amount of care and agonising that is being put into these key decisions is huge; the responsibility is massive.  I can only hope that the professional judgement that is being shown will go a long way to further enhancing the reputation of teachers and the perception of their professionalism across the country.

Ricki Smith