Another Year Over (A Pandemic Review)

So, we sit on the cusp of a New Year, I’d love to say its without trepidation but let’s be honest the next few months are going to be a logistical challenge for us all.

Today however is always a good day to look back. I sit here with a certain sense of pride. My school has definitely come out of the last couple of years in a stronger place than it went into it.

We entered autumn 2019 in not a great place, even though we had had a good Ofsted, morale however was at rock bottom, a significant restructure (due to financial challenges) had hit really hard.

On a personal level I was questioning my own position and whether I could do this job. We limped through the Autumn term in a post Ofsted daze, we never celebrated the success the restructure tarnished what should have been a launch point. School felt joyless and as a head I felt the most isolated I had ever felt. I questioned myself and my ability to lead. The personal impact of restructure had definitely damaged me. School had lost its mojo. I was about to jack it in.

Then March 2020 hit. Now this doesn’t sound like a great place for a school or a leader to be entering into what has proved to be the most challenging period we have all faced in our lives.

I remember sitting listening to the announcement that schools would close. I remember reading the guidance. The next day I went into school a new me. I may not have been the leader school wanted at that point, but I was the one it needed.  By Lunchtime on the Thursday, we had a plan, we were organised we were clear. Timetables, guidance, actions, communication to parents. Done. Initially our home-learning offer focused more on well-being, the extraordinary weather really helped that. People were scared but they just cracked on, clarity was everything. Food was sorted, well-being checks, home learning packs, key worker hub. Then we just got on. When the children returned in June 20 again clarity was key, clear actions and planning. I remember walking staff through the days in every detail, no question was too small. I would use the word meticulous; every detail was explored. Staff were ready. The Summer was great, numbers were initially low then as weeks passed confidence grew and more and more children returned. We had 7 of 9-year groups open by the end of the Summer and the systems were like clockwork. I must mention our Trust who have been utterly phenomenal throughout, their support has been top-notch.

Autumn 20 came, and the first half-term was brilliant then COVID hit school in full effect in the second half-term. The impact in school was very much a reflection of the virus in the community, Whitby was slammed after half-term following the influx of tourist during the October break. At one point we had 11 staff and numerous children infected (including myself). Four bubbles were closed yet this wasn’t an “outbreak”. This however did allow us to get our online learning in place.

January 21 came, and school was closed after a day. We were however ready. We had devices for families to make sure all could connect, at our expense. (not DfE ones they eventually arrived at the end of March 21). I personally worked with families to make sure they could get online, generally the kids were savvier than the parents. Our Year 6 teacher led the way with this, and the development of teaching and pedagogy was amazing. Sitting in some of the live lessons it was brilliant to see skilled professionals doing an outstanding job.

 The keyworker hub was busy, but school was on it. SEND pupils were in, the opening of a Communication and Interaction, had given not only capacity but also expertise the children needed.

March 21 came, and we just cracked on. Focus switched to catch-up and school priorities. The pandemic had created middle-leaders in school in a way that had been really difficult before it. I now had a staff that were itching to get on. Lessons learnt from online teaching became part of teaching, there was a consistency of approach. As a school we suddenly knew what we were about.

While not normal Summer 21 was a joyous time. Children on the whole had come back brilliantly, routines, systems had done us huge favours. Stamina and friendships were challenges. School had momentum. Middle leaders were making a difference. More importantly I was driving it again, I had my mojo back. We left in the summer with a buzz and that continued in Autumn 21. Clear plans and actions, everybody pushing together.

We had a slight COVID wobble around half-term otherwise school was in a great place and most certainly stronger than before. A few visitors came and could not believe the focus, the behaviour and the quality of what was going on.

Which brings us too now…

None-of us know the turns the next term will take. It is going to be a logistical challenge to keep schools open. I know from my side in our school there is a will to make that happen.

Whether we can will depend on factors outside of our control. Supply has been virtually impossible in Whitby and will continue to be so. Staff have been magnificent stepping into gaps and generally being amazing. They have not let anyone down

I have to look forward with optimism, despite the enormous challenges thrown our way we have come through stronger and more of a team than we ever were. It will be hard, there will be moments, but we’ve had it so far and we’ve got this.

A (late) very merry Christmas
And a happy new year,
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

 John Lennon 1971