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St Gabriel’s

St Gabriel’s

Diary of a Head - Entry 2

They say that a week in politics is a long time. While I have great sympathy with our political leaders as they try to grapple with the decisions that none of them would have dreamed that they would be making three months ago, I would like to say that a week in lockdown is a really long time! So, it is with some satisfaction that I am writing this having ‘survived’ over three weeks of lockdown, with the prospect of at least another three to come.

Since I last did a diary entry so much has happened. It is important to note that in that time, the figures for cases of, and deaths from Covid-19, have risen to frightening levels, and it goes without saying that my thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost someone during this time. We are consistently hearing that there are not enough tests being done and that PPE is not getting to the right places in time; both of these things are worrying in the extreme. Everyone has had to adapt, and the quicker that has been done the better. From a school point of view, I have been so impressed with the way that all colleagues have adapted their normal working routines, using tools such as Microsoft Teams, to allow the continuity of teaching to take place with some face-to-face interaction, their actions going some way to reassure other colleagues, pupils and parents, at a time when meaningful reassurance is in short supply. What has also impressed me is the way that pupils and parents have coped with this complete change in the way that we do things.

The last two weeks of the Spring Term were strange, to say the least! At a time when the weather played its part in warming up, and when we would expect the children in our care to be outside enjoying the beautiful grounds that we have, St Gabriel’s was eerily quiet. Like other schools, we were open for the children of key workers and we had a core of delightful pupils who came in to do their remote learning in school. Yet in the background we were looking for answers regarding the way that the cancelled public examinations would be assessed. Anyone with a child who should have been sitting exams this term will know just how frustrating it has been. First, to have the opportunity of showing off your hard work taken away, but then not being given any clear plan as to how your ability in each subject would be graded. You would not believe that as I write this, there is a consultation that has come out from Ofqual (the education watchdog) asking for teachers to comment on how the assessment should be made. This is nearly a month after the decision to cancel examinations was announced, let alone made. Somebody please show some leadership here!

At the same time, we have had to look at a whole range of wider school issues. Do individual music lessons carry on? Is it safe from a safeguarding point of view to conduct them through video teaching? (The answer is yes to both of these, but with the correct protocols in place for all parties.) Is there any chance that the trips and activities we would normally expect to have in the second half of the summer term can take place? (Not sure, but unlikely.) How can we mark those rites of passage as groups of pupils move from one part of the school to another? (Depends on when we return!) And who has heard of furlough? (Not many of you prior to this, I’d expect!)

And finally, the elephant in the room, the questions that all want to know the answers to...When will it end? When will schools reopen? When will things be normal again? The issue of schools reopening is a thorny one. Everyone would agree that the battering the economy is taking at the moment will be eased when children are in school, and parents can go back to their normal working practice.

However, for schools to open again there needs to be an assurance that it is safe for it to happen. The data being shared with us at the moment would suggest that, generally, children do not get that ill if they contract the virus, but are effective carriers. However, we are also being told how important it is to distance socially: 2 metres apart, etc. Schools were never, in any way, meant to be remote places, but have, through sheer hard work and positivity from all areas, managed to make remote learning work. With the best will in the world, social distancing is something that will not be possible to sustain in any meaningful way, when the time comes. This means the risk of infection amongst adults who work in schools is very high. This is something that really needs a great deal of thought, and it is clear those who have been clamouring in the media, and in government, for schools to reopen must take a long and careful look at this and #getitright.

In the meantime, the Summer Term is upon us and so we all prepare to welcome the children back to ‘school'.

Ricki Smith