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Get back to where you once belonged - September 2020

Opening school

It has been wonderful to open up to all our students again at the start of the year.  The response from students has been terrific and they are working well with the staff and each other, following our requests and quickly adjusting to the new arrangements.  There have inevitably been a few questions about why we are doing certain things or made decisions about our approach, and these have been well voiced and are a signal that the students feel able to query and seek clarification.

Although we are only a few days in, we think our arrangements are pitched about right and believe that we are fulfilling our role in managing this pandemic by minimising any potential cross contamination.  We have taken a pragmatic approach to the challenge; implementing measures that we think will work on our site, will have a tangible effect on reducing potential infection and still give room for our broad, vibrant curriculum to be taught.

We have also been very aware of the different demands lockdown placed on our students and the effect that it had on their mental wellbeing as well as their knowledge of the formal curriculum.  We are alert to changes in students’ behaviour and can build on the great relationships that we have with them to put suitable support in place.

Leadership of the profession

All of this has taken an immense amount of planning and is putting quite a lot more demand on our teachers as they adjust from teaching in a broadly consistent classroom, to being mobile and moving around the school site to meet the students.  The risk assessments and the policies that we have written and subsequently adjusted are considerable and represent a lot of work.  However, we are public servants and our role is to enable the young people to return to school and get on with their studies safely.  There are many of our parents who are facing immense uncertainty at the moment, or who have themselves been through a huge amount of adjustment regarding their professions, and we need to recognise that schools, whilst being unique environments, are being asked to adjust like so many others.  I think that there have been occasions over the course of the school closures in the summer that this could have been better handled at a national level.

Based on values

Thankfully we have strong values that permeate our school – wisdom, hope, dignity and community – and these have really helped during this time.  We have built a culture where every member of the school (students and staff) has a sense of belonging and being cared for here.  This showed immediately in March and April when we had a high attendance from our key worker and vulnerable children and has continued throughout.  We have therefore been responsive to change and adaptable where needed, which has enabled us to change and improve at every step.  There will undoubtedly be many more times in the coming weeks and months where this is needed.

The challenge of the future

Already this term there is clearly the possibility that our school may need to respond to a future local lockdown.  We are underway with our planning for this, building on the excellent work done in the summer, and the chance we have now to train our students in the IT provision which will enable them to succeed.

I am also really interested in how schools can adapt and evolve in the long run to bring out some of the best elements of learning through the pandemic to create better learning that will prepare our students for further learning and workplaces that will have changed significantly.  This is an opportunity that a disruptive event such as this presents, and I look forward to seeing how we can make our students’ experience one that prepares them thoroughly for a world that has significantly shifted.

Mike Boddington

8 September 2020