Headteacher Weekly Bulletin 10th April 2020
It’s a glorious Good Friday afternoon and I type this sat in my back garden trying to decide when exactly wine o’clock might justifiably be. ‘First world problems’ as they say. I also have a huge sense of gratitude, to be serious for a moment, because I’m fortunate, with my family of five and the company and general joy and bonhomie they bring, to have indoor and outdoor space to separate and come together when we wish, to have a well-stocked fridge (and plenty of loo roll), countless TV channels to choose from, exercise equipment to use and much more to alleviate the potential tedium of lockdown. This is not the case for a great many of our fellow citizens across the UK. It irritates me when I hear people suggesting that this horrendous virus is a great leveller; it just isn’t! It is and, for quite some time, will continue to affect the most vulnerable (emotionally, physically, mentally and socio-economically) in our society far more than the rest of us. There is much being done by volunteers and the charity sector to support those in most need during this awful period, where their needs are exacerbated exponentially, and I am relieved to see Rishi Sunak pledging funds to help such organisations. Reports of domestic violence are up 30-40%, families are struggling to make ends meet having lost jobs and suffering from delays in furlough payments or universal credit, there have been a number of suicides seemingly related to the pressures of lockdown and mental health conditions, forgotten people (often elderly) dying in their homes alone and unnoticed – statistics that don’t feature in daily briefings from Number 10. It is not my intention to be a merchant of doom and gloom, but simply to make the point that I am feeling very thankful today and also thinking what more can we do now and in the future, especially as the Headteacher of a school that prides itself on a sense of ‘community’.
One thing we have done this week, as many of you will be aware from social media, is donate over 200 pairs of safety goggles from our Science department to Health workers across Trafford and even to nurses at the Christie Hospital. To say this gesture has been well-received would be a huge understatement. We are told there are millions of pieces of PPE in storage, so availability is not the issue it would seem, if these statements are to be believed. Why, then, is it left to schools to fill a gap? The logistics cannot possibility be that complex. Please don’t think I am trying to make a political point, I am not, but it is simply not good enough when so many frontline workers’ lives are at risk. You may also have read this week that, thanks to the seemingly limitless expertise of Mr Eckersley our DT technician, we have started to produce full face visors along with many other secondary schools in the area. Due to availability of materials, production has been a little slow but we are hoping to step it up. Schools have provided dozens of these already to Wythenshawe Hospital, GP surgeries and elsewhere. I have also been contacted by care homes, pharmacists and opticians. There is a clear need for such items. It is disappointing, therefore, when I read proclamations from the likes of CLEAPPS, who advise on Health and Safety in school art, science and DT departments, that schools should not manufacture visors and the like as this might contravene Trading Standards and there might be recriminations from the HSE. I also read yesterday that there was allegedly some issue with schools ordering materials because of the possible impact on the official supply chain! I am not one to flout H & S in any way but for me this is very simple; if there is clear demand out there and this is not being met in the immediate term, if not us then who?! Anyway, thanks Mr Eckersley and Miss Tunstall and Mrs Wood in Finance for their support – keep up the good work!
Obviously, as a school, we are limited what we might do on a wider scale but I do hope you approve of these efforts. Of course, our priority must be our own young people and their families and so we will continue to set work, provide feedback where possible, check on the welfare of students and colleagues in attempt to keep them safe and well and accommodate the children of key workers so they can continue to carry out their brilliant work. If you have any other suggestions how else we can support the community, then please get in touch. I know several staff members are volunteering during the closure (Mrs Hoogenberg was one I spoke to this week who is shopping and collecting prescriptions for elderly neighbours), as I’m sure many of our parents are too.
On the subject of my colleagues, they’re a very innovative and, indeed, sociable bunch. I hear Mr Hodson is setting daily challenges for a group of them and keeping a league table and Miss Tyrer is running a weekly pub quiz. I think this is primarily my younger colleagues who don’t have children to entertain! It’s great to see that team spirit, the camaraderie, we see each day in school being sustained ‘remotely’.
We know that Miss Jones has had the virus and Mr Crooks and Mr Whitaker, although not tested, almost certainly have too. I’m delighted to say all three are now recovered or very much on the mend.
Although for many it might be in danger of slipping under the radar, it is indeed Easter weekend. I hope you’re all getting over the disappointment of cancelled / postponed plans. As a family, last night we lamented briefly that I should have been in Cape Town right now, my son on a rugby tour in Ireland and the girls visiting friends in London. I say briefly because any such regrets and the associated moping are somewhat trivial in the grand scheme of things. These pleasures are for another time, something to dream about, hopes to cling on to. Regardless of one’s faith (or none), we all know the Easter story with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, marked today (Good Friday), followed by his Resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. I guess many of you, like me, vascillate between thoughts of ‘let’s just get through this one day at a time’ and ‘what will life be like when this is all over?’ (I hesitate to say when we get back to normal). What will our societal / political / familial / educational / economic ‘resurrection’ look like? Will we use this as an opportunity to create that ‘new normal’, of which people are talking, or will we just revert back to the way it always was. There is so much praise for NHS workers and recognition of the immeasurable worth of the previously ignored (and underpaid) – the bus drivers, the supermarket workers, the cleaners, the delivery drivers – but will we soon forget what they have done for us when the danger eventually passes. Let’s all make sure ‘shift happens’!
What I am also sensing (in fact what there is considerable evidence for), from an educational perspective is that our young people are showing new levels of creativity, independence and self-management that they themselves, their parents and perhaps even their teachers weren’t fully appreciative of. Can we explore and exploit this more in the future? Furthermore, could the education sector review how it tests students at the ages of 16 and 18. I don’t think it wise to entirely scrap national testing and the associated processes of moderation and standardisation but a system re-think is absolutely appropriate. What we have in place now for GCSE and A level, with an over-reliance on synoptic, linear assessment, was designed under the tenure of Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Education (with Dominic Cummings as SPAD and part-author interestingly) and quite simply does not serve many of our young people well. Many fellow Heads have been crying out for a review of assessment procedures for quite some time and maybe the process for awarding grades during the current crisis may prove a catalyst for overdue change. My colleagues are working away feverishly (possibly not the best choice of adverb under the circumstances!) currently, gathering all available evidence on which to base grades and there is much online discussion taking place within departments. I will repeat what I have said before; I do think this process will overwhelmingly do our young people justice.
So, I wonder how you see the ‘new normal, the recovery phase, our rebirth, the resurrection, call it what you may? There is much to contend with in the meantime but it would be such a wasted opportunity, surely, just to go back to doing things the way we’ve always done and expect anything to be different (wasn’t that Einstein’s definition of madness?). I’ll finish this particular topic of reflection with a quote from French philosopher and writer, Albert Camus (see, I did listen and do some work at uni, honest!) and one of my favourites; ‘In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.’
Well, it feels a bit like summer and it must be approaching wine time pretty soon. I think I’ll go for a run first to alleviate some of the guilt that may otherwise accompany my quaffing. My children scoff at my running gear (long black compression socks with bright blue trainers) but this pales into insignificance in comparison to the shock / trauma / nausea I inflicted on them on Wednesday. In a moment of lockdown-induced madness, I appeared at the back door, whilst they sat in the garden, dressed in swimming cap, face mask and snorkel, speedos and flip-flops (I’ll spare you the photos!). Their looks of absolute dismay only added to my hilarity. In my view, you’ve just got to do whatever it takes to keep yourself entertained in these challenging times! Adam Peaty eat your heart out!
So, the summer term officially starts on Tuesday but there really is, in my view, no sign of us returning any time soon. The work set for Year 7-10 and Year 12 was due to engage students until next Friday (end of the first two-week block) and my colleagues will be setting new tasks this week for the w.c. 20th April. As I have said previously, there will be greater focus, communication and feedback when it comes to Years 10 and 12 from now on, given the importance of exams in 2021. Please keep letting us know how our young people are coping at home and any further help you may require as parents to help you manage this learning and their general wellbeing.
Incidentally, if you are a parent, or know of one, who was initially unsuccessful in gaining a place at Wellington for September 2020 and who wishes to appeal, please bear with us as we are awaiting official guidance on the appeals process. Inevitably, we are awaiting ‘official guidance’ on a great many things currently.
Anyway, I’ve gone on far too much and exercise calls!
Have a lovely Easter weekend, keep in touch and take great care of yourselves and each other.