Headteacher Weekly Bulletin 17th April 2020
It’s a bit of a wet Saturday morning, which puts paid to my gardening plans (result! get in!), so I will now have to set a different agenda for today. I wasn’t actually going to write a blog this week as I have literally spent around eight hours per day over the last three days sat staring at my laptop screen typing documents, sending emails and holding Zoom meetings. A pitiful excuse, I know. Anyway, I’m here now, boring the life out of you all again. I have to say, there’s been some lovely feedback about this and other school communication over the last few days and weeks. I’m just amazed anybody takes time to read my waffle / rants / streams of consciousness / diatribes; I thought catharsis and DIY therapy was the principal outcome but I suppose time is the one commodity many of us have in plentiful supply at the moment and we’ve got to fill it somehow.
Things are clearly very different for all of us but, minus the social interaction, in terms of my professional life it’s almost ‘business as usual’ for me. However, that social interaction is a huge loss of course, particularly given the nature of life in school ordinarily, and we’ve all come to relish any ‘fix’ we can get. Hence, it was great to catch up remotely with our Board of Governors on Thursday evening and with my SLT colleagues yesterday morning. I am blessed with two fantastic teams who render my leadership of Wellington School a relatively easy task. Both groups are sharp, creative, analytical, good-humoured, open, supportive, challenging and, most importantly, very decent human beings who want the very best for your children and our colleagues. It is a pleasure to work alongside these people and that is not something I say often enough (and it is not isolation-induced sentimentality provoking that). Very sadly, our Chair of Governors, Alison Christopher, lost her father earlier this week and so she was not present for Thursday’s meeting. Our thoughts are with Alison and family and we send lots of Wellington love and best wishes.
We spent a good while in our SLT meeting discussing and reviewing the work set for students at home over the last two school weeks (N.B. new work packs will be forwarded via Classcharts on Monday if not already received). Feedback, as I have said previously, from students, parents and colleagues has been overwhelmingly positive and, in the main, students are proving themselves to be reassuringly independent and conscientious learners. Well done, folks! Based on these SLT discussions, I sent a lengthy document to teachers yesterday with various observations, amendments and recommendations moving forward. Once, they have had chance to reflect and respond, I will produce a much abbreviated parent version and share with you next week. One thing I can state now quite categorically is that we will not be moving to live video lessons. There hasn’t been a huge call for this but three or four parents have been in touch to say ‘other schools are doing it’ and are we planning to do so. My rationale for not following suit will be included in my note next week. The systems we have in place are very much meeting the needs of our students and achieving the aims I envisaged at the beginning of this period of closure, academically and pastorally, in the overwhelming majority of cases. Of course, tweaks will always be necessary as the situation continues and evolves.
So, the burning question is when will schools reopen? Another fundamental question is what does reopening actually look like? I’ll just take a few minutes to share with you my current thinking on this. We hear of plans in Germany, France and elsewhere for schools to return but this is not a situation which is universally identical nor one where generalised responses are advised. In fact, they can prove incredibly harmful and the devil is always in the detail. It was evident that the authorities had given up on ‘containment’ very early on, hence the cessation of testing pretty much immediately back in February, and despite claims to the contrary in public, a ‘herd immunity’ policy, with its ‘acceptable’ (1%?) death toll over 12-18 months, was always the intention. Given that to be the case, sending schools back with their populations of asymptomatic, super-spreaders would appear inevitable. We are assured that decisions are / will be based ‘on the science’ but this has never been explained and, in any case, it would appear flawed, out of sync with other countries and challenged by most respected ‘experts’. If containment were the aim, and many would argue it should be once we’ve ‘flattened the curve’, schools will not be returning anytime soon and certainly not without measures in place; temperature checks for students on arrival, testing for staff, cleaning products and hand sanitiser in plentiful supply and possibly even PPE. Let’s be clear – social distancing is not possible in schools. It is, however, possible in other settings, in other sectors / industries and when the time is right and in an attempt to boost the economy, their return (before schools) makes more sense. So, I will await developments, review the ‘science’ and continue to consult with our governing body. Ultimately, it is my primary responsibility, now and at all times, to ensure the safety, welfare and wellbeing of all our young people and my colleagues. I will only advocate a return, in any form, when my conscience allows me to do so. I hope all that makes sense.
I heard a heart-breaking conversation between radio presenter James O’Brien and a caller into his show on LBC this week. This was a young man who is living alone and is struggling enormously with the isolation. I am under no illusion as to the battles some people are currently fighting, physically and psychologically, and I spoke last week of the constant feeling of thankfulness for my own situation. I think many of us will take far less for granted in the future. I’ve been buoyed so often of late by stories of the gestures, the acts of kindness and generosity, the empathy and compassion of the Great British people, typified by the clapping for critical workers each Thursday evening (not the ludicrous scenes on Westminster Bridge however) and the efforts of, now national treasure, Capt Tom Moore (is it over £20 million raised now?). Please encourage your children to send him a birthday card for is 100th birthday at the end of April – the BBC have provided an address. The rainbows in windows of homes is also an uplifting sight on one’s daily walk and I hope you’ve seen the wonderful art work by Miss Grey adorning our reception windows, which can be viewed from Wellington Rd or, alternatively, on Twitter / Instagram. Although the charity sector is desperately in need of further injections of cash, an army of new volunteers is on the march. I think the blue flame of citizenship has been reignited. There is a galvanisation of community effort and ordinary people are taking the lead in extraordinary ways. I just hope our actual ‘leaders’ are watching and listening. After all, should it really require a 99 year old former soldier to raise money for our public services? On the subject of community effort, a huge thank you to Mr Eckersley, who continues to tirelessly produce full face visors in our DT department. Many have already been gratefully received and we will continue to distribute these to hospitals, GP surgeries and others in need.
It is not my intention, given what I have said already, to belittle the plight of others in these difficult times with what I’m about to say (it is tongue in cheek after all) but I am going through a bit of a personal crisis myself at the moment. My 17 year old son is making the most of his gained time following the demise of his A level exams by training hard and hitting the weights. Consequently, he seems to be growing rapidly in every direction. Now that’s perfectly natural, I hear you say, but as the Alpha male Chez Beeley, this does not sit comfortably. Inevitably, I’ve had to up my game but, quite honestly, it hurts; shoulders, back, elbows, you name it! I’m marginally ahead at the moment but if the lockdown continues for much longer, I’ve had it! I’ve encouraged him to learn a musical instrument, to write poetry, even to spend an inordinate amount of time on FIFA as a distraction whilst I get in a few sneaky sessions, but to no avail. I guess I’ll just have to resign myself to the passing of time and the ageing process … but not yet! I’ll go down with a fight (or injured).
So, that’s my plan for this afternoon, a bit of exercise and then an evening of board games and red wine (I think I probably mention the ‘grape juice’ a bit too often on here – I don’t have an issue, honest!). Have fun whatever you have planned. Perhaps parents could email their suggestions for fun family activities on the off-chance others have exhausted their lists.
I’ll finish with a big thank you to the Wellington staff, who continue to support our young people despite the demands they face at home themselves. Our current predicament has served to confirm what a caring, committed and professional bunch you are and I simply couldn’t hope for better colleagues. The lengths to which you have gone to plan and set work, to check on the welfare of students and each other and to analyse 18 months+ of data in order to award provisional grades to Year 11 and Year 13 students is nothing short of phenomenal, and I will be forever grateful.
To everyone, stay safe and have a lovely weekend.
Mr S Beeley