Headteacher Weekly Bulletin 20th March 2020

Good afternoon

It is now Saturday and I have already offered my apologies via Twitter for not having produced a bulletin yesterday; I hope you can appreciate that it has been something of a trying week on a number of levels and I just couldn’t summon the energy to type yet another message at 6 p.m. yesterday.  Besides, I’m sure you’re all sick to death of hearing from me anyway.

So, as one reflects on the past five days, has there ever been a week like it? Certainly not. Will there be one like it ever again? I very much doubt it.  Of course, the situation with COVID-19 will get a whole lot worse in the coming weeks and, inevitably, the Wellington community will not be immune (in any literal or metaphorical sense of the word) from it. I just hope and pray that the impact is minimal.  To say that the situation was fluid during the last few days and that things evolved at a pace, is something of an understatement. First came the announcement that anyone displaying the symptoms of Coronavirus, and all others in the home, should self-isolate for 14 days. Inevitably, this hit attendance on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, we were relatively relaxed at our SLT meeting on Wednesday afternoon, safe in the knowledge that we were well-prepared for a potential school closure due to the sterling efforts of my peerless colleagues.  We even took time to acknowledge a significant birthday milestone for Mrs Cooper with cake and a (pretty poor) rendition of happy birthday (standard version not the twice through, 20 second hand-washing cover version).  Within a couple of hours that potential closure had become a reality, schools had to prepare to accommodate the children of ‘key workers’ (the definition of which, unhelpfully but not altogether unsurprisingly, wasn’t made clear until Friday morning) and, the absolute bombshell, all public exams would be cancelled this summer.  My head was somewhat in a spin, trying to compute and rationalise the implications of this decision.  The sense of devastation that evening shared by colleagues, governors and parents on social media was palpable, but this was nothing compared to the response that greeted us in School the following morning.  We had decided to proceed with the Year 11 mock results assembly but the content was inevitably amended.  I couldn’t provide all the answers but hopefully some reassurance.  The mood was solemn and tears a-plenty but I think the message got through. I won’t repeat what we said as I have shared that with Year 11 parents in letter form already but, in short, it was stressed that education is about far more than academic qualifications and nobody could deny what those young people and their teachers have achieved in the past 5 years.  Furthermore, we will absolutely fight to ensure these students are awarded the outcomes they have worked so hard for and so richly deserve.

Well, if that wasn’t hard enough, we then repeated the process with Year 13; those 80 or so young men and women who have spent the last 7 years of their relatively young lives building to this point of their education.  Naturally, they appeared shell-shocked, bewildered, confused and, again, many very tearful.  There were those who were riding high just last week after ‘smashing it’ in their final mocks, well on track to hit those target grades, and who would now not get the chance to showcase their knowledge and talent.  And also, those perhaps who weren’t quite where they wanted to be in recent assessments but who were absolutely determined to give it their all in the real thing with 3 months of intense effort; would they now be judged on any previous (under)performance? I suppose there may have been a very small number who were relishing the prospect of actually coming out of this better than they otherwise might. So much uncertainty, so many unanswered questions.    Again, I couldn’t provide all the answers, in fact very few, but reassurance was once more the order of the day. 

Incidentally and on a personal note, my middle child and son, is himself a Year 13 student and is, therefore, going through this same turmoil, so I absolutely get it; robbed of the opportunity to get recognition and validation for all his hard work, no extended break, no prom, no lads holiday and not even any sport on telly to soften the blow.  It’s a travesty but one for which nobody is to blame; we just have to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

I will not deny that I found it hard to deliver the assembly to our Year 13s and nearly lost it on more than one occasion.  Particularly, when I read out an email from former colleague Miss Tidbury. ‘Tidders’ had been this lot’s Director of Year for 4 years up to Year 11 and she subsequently took a promoted post as Assistant Head at a school in east Manchester.  Her words were intensely personal and a beautiful acknowledgement of the indubitable qualities of this cohort.  There were laughs and more tears. The fact that Jo Tidbury took the time to write such a eulogy is, I think, testament to what we have at Wellington. I know some of you will say, ‘Here he goes again!’, but I’m sorry, it’s true! Jo left Wellington two years ago and yet she was moved to write this week, despite having her own school and pupils to deal with, because, like it is for many of us, Wellington gets under your skin, in your bones, in your soul.  It is not a cult, like some schools seemingly, it’s a community, an extended family. 

That view has been very much substantiated by the messages of thanks and support via letters, emails, social media posts and cards both to the School and more personally to individual staff over the last two days.  You all know how much I value the Wellington staff and I probably don’t tell them enough, but I can assure you that your kind words have buoyed us no end amidst the turmoil of this week. 

I have printed off all the lovely emails that have come into School this week along with some cards from students that I will cherish.  We all have our low moods in life, inevitably, and moments when we question our self-worth (yes, even gregarious and often bombastic Headteachers!) but, my goodness, these messages will prove to be a perfect tonic at those times.

The word surreal is banded about quite frequently and perhaps unnecessarily but it would certainly apply to yesterday in School. The sun was out, Year 11 were signing shirts, students were handing hastily bought gifts to teachers, hugs (not ideal) were exchanged, there were some end of year type jolly japes and people were wishing each other a ‘good break’ but it was 20th March not 17th July! It was indeed surreal and also rather sad.  We love our School and all the young people in it, and this just didn’t feel right.

So what next?  Well, we’re all good to go with home learning and plans to accommodate those specified groups of students in School, we will endeavour to stay connected with our students and the wider community during this period of relative isolation and we will come back together physically as soon as we are permitted.  As for the virus itself, well let’s just be sensible, show collective responsibility, follow any directives from the CMO and CSA and get through to safer times.

I have just in the last few minutes received this from Mr Tomlinson as part of a longer message:

“I also think this will make us stronger on the other side; kids with more resilience and empathy as a result. A greater understanding of issues.”

He is absolutely right and wouldn’t it be nice if that extended to wider society, to the world at large?  Will we all re-assess what matters, how we live our lives, how we interact with each other, what the primary purpose of education / school is?  And a million more possible questions too. When the world’s most powerful nation, its biggest economy is humbled by a tiny virus, surely it’s time to press re-set? 

Anyway, sorry to bore you with my thoughts; perhaps all this should have remained an internalised narrative but I just happen to have a bit of time on my hands (and a new laptop!).  It was either this or mow the lawn and that can wait.

Please tell your children how fabulous I think they’ve been this week; they handled it with stoicism, dignity and good humour and proven themselves to be the kind of young people we aim to create at Wellington and a true inspiration to us all.  You should be very proud.

Please take good care of yourselves, keep in touch, share your experiences (particularly the funny ones) and I’ll see you all soon. 

S Beeley

P.S. I think there are a few other news items so please have a read.