Diary of a Head - Entry 3
In my mind the start of the summer term is associated with weather that is turning warmer by the day, children who are keen to be outside and a sense of calm before the storm that will be public examinations or internal assessments. This start to the summer term has been, as in all areas of life at the moment, anything but the norm. The weather has played its part and the glorious sun has blessed us over the last few weeks, making lockdown slightly more bearable during our recreation hour. (Can you imagine queueing for supermarkets in the cold and rain....…looking at the coming forecast, I think we need to prepare ourselves for that!). However, schools have been eerily quiet; as lessons have got back into full remote swing, the time that I am spending in school for the children of key workers is so different to the normal. Birdsong, which has gone largely unnoticed for the four years I have been in post, is now a soundtrack to a day that before was made up of bells and the excited chatter of children.
So, a week into the last term of the academic year, I am delighted to say that pupils, parents and staff have risen to the challenges that prolonged remote learning brings. I am beginning to see, early days I know, the start of a rhythm to the learning. All have realised that full days of ‘live’ online lessons are impossible to sustain for staff, and intolerable for pupils, no matter how much parents might desire this child-minding service. We all have to take seriously the amount of time our young people are spending online – it was only a few months ago we were welcoming updates that allowed us to see and then limit the amount of screen time we have on a daily basis, and yet now the screen is the one thing that is allowing us all, pupils, teachers and parents, to get on with our lives in some way or other.
What the new term has allowed is a sense of thinking outside the box for schools. To do away with some of the things that might constrain us. At St Gabriel’s we were very conscious of the fact that our Year 11 and Year 13 had really been left high and dry back in March when they were told that their examinations had been cancelled; that no work completed post 20 March would count for anything. If they could get over the disappointment that the majority of them would have felt at this time, and I have to say it was a huge disappointment, there was the sense of purpose which had been ripped away from them, too. What we have done to try to fill this void is to create a St Gabriel’s Certificate for Year 11 (exploring six of their GCSE subjects in a more creative and broad way than the traditional curriculum allows) and a Diploma for Year 13 (similar, but for their A level subjects). A few days in and these innovations have gone down really well, and both staff and pupils have thrown themselves into something that is novel, allows them to explore their subject interests and at the same time breaks the monotony of life in lockdown by keeping their brains working.
For the rest of the school, we have made the decision to take out all summer term examinations. Things are hard enough for pupils in all years without adding to their stress by holding on to a diet of examinations that seems woefully out of place in a summer when they have been cancelled from on high. (I am aware that other schools may see this differently). Of course, there will be the need to assess pupils at some time in the future, and this is something that we will look at in due course, but our responsibility for the mental health of our pupils, at a time when everyone is being challenged, ranks extremely high on my list of priorities.
Speaking of priorities, the nation is still clamouring to know when schools will ‘reopen’. We are no closer to finding out when or how schools will be ‘back’. In some ways the not knowing is tough; however, I am heartened by the fact that we have yet to be bounced back into having pupils in prematurely, and serious consideration is being given to what this might look like when it happens. All I do know is that social distancing in any school setting will be extremely hard to achieve. I await instruction from Mr Williamson and his friends in Westminster… #getitright.