- In, Out, Shake it All About.
An astonishing week. Whilst it does not compare with the traumas endured by doctors and nurses in overrun hospitals, it is fair to say that those of us in education have lived several weeks in one.
The whole of Sunday was spent preparing for a full opening on Monday. It was touch and go as to whether I would have enough staff. Letters came in from teachers affiliated to the NEU, announcing they would be working from home because of safety concerns. There was even a meeting of headteachers on a Sunday afternoon – I’ve never known this before. Like many of my colleagues, I slept little overnight.
Indeed, we did open on Monday, and attendance was quite incredible, touching 95% again. Some teaching assistants were complete legends, covering a couple of classes for an hour here and there. By the end of the day, we had some contingency plans in place to cover classes for Tuesday and Wednesday but I am worried about the sustainability of this. Irrespective of the NEU teachers, I also have three teachers at home – they’re in the final trimester of pregnancy – and I just can’t have too many at home without compromising the safe opening of the school on site.
And then, bang, at 8pm, the announcement that school would actually need to close. Tomorrow. What on earth is going on? So today I’ve put my whole school community at risk?
It’s not like there was any trailing of this – it came totally out of the blue. There follows a mad panic for a couple of hours as we tried to get communications out to staff and parents. Another restless night.
I decide immediately to give ourselves a day to get things set up – quite an ask in itself. It didn’t take long to realise that we were now setting up another school to replace the one that had closed. Incredulity spread to intense frustration as we spent the whole day dealing with calls from parents. ‘Use your professional judgement, please’, I implored parents. I just couldn’t get my head around it. If it was safe for schools to open, then why close them? And if it wasn’t safe to open them, then surely we must tell people to stay at home with their children? The communication is so ambiguous.
The humility of some of the parents is striking. You can sense the uncertainty and worry in their voices. But they are so co-operative. It’s becoming glaringly obvious that me and the staff will become emotionally involved over these coming weeks – it’s going to be a real challenge for all of us.
I get my own Covid test result back – negative, so that’s a relief. 60K+ are less fortunate today. This thing is ripping through the population.
By Wednesday we’re able to open for around sixty mainstream children, around fifteen pupils in our enhanced provision (for children with severe learning difficulties) and around twenty children in our nursery. The plan lasts five minutes. A teacher in the enhanced provision receives a positive test result, so we have to send the bubble, plus two other teachers, into self-isolation. More contingency planning needed.
Total confusion around the nursery. We think the government wants it fully open, but I cannot see the logic in this and apply the same rule to the nursery as I do to the rest of the school. Messaging is important.
I talk to more parents – so many of them are in vital jobs now. Taxi drivers, bus drivers, nurses, nursery assistants, cleaners, care home assistants, supermarket assistants. Gradually, my heart moves away from the health worries and I feel more determined now to just respond to need and do all it takes. But what if the increase in numbers compromises the health picture? It’s a mess, it really is.
I hear the news from parliament in the afternoon. It seems that Mr Williamson has passed over the chance to thank schools for dealing stoically with such appalling communication, and has instead directed parents to make complaints about us if they’re not satisfied. What?? Talk about not reading the room.
Meanwhile, our online offer is underway to those at home. It might not be perfect this week (and will never be to be honest), but surely ‘doing your best’ is good enough at the moment. I’m in awe of how the teachers can move to this so quickly – some of them with small children at home, alternately teaching their own children, and then their class.
I’m so preoccupied that I hardly notice that the President of the USA has incited a crowd to storm the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. The world is going mad.
Thursday is a good day. I feel that we’re getting things set up, both the ‘mini-school’ and the online offer. A fabulous meeting with a local bakery could lead to a delivery service for all our school meals. The local sports centre continues to make itself available for those children coming in. The Liverpool Philharmonic staff are planning a brilliant online offer for all pupils. We do an assembly for the Epiphany (a day late) which was meant to be streamed live, but the technology lets us down. Hopefully, the message will get out. Just like the Star of Bethlehem, the school shines out bright and it’s even brighter when we all work together. Finally, I sleep a bit better.
By Friday, we’ve just about got everything set up. Approximately 15 pupils in each year group each day, with parents taking them home to fit in with work patterns. Staffing all sorted, rotas done. Online offer updated and document ready to go out to parents with all information. But I still cannot reconcile what’s happening with the deteriorating health picture. Liverpool’s cases have tripled in four days. National data is terrible. I suspect things will have to change next week.
You see, the consequence of opening schools by the back door is the signal it sends. That things aren’t that bad. That if you can drop your child off each day, then you can also do other things. That groups of twenty in a room are fine. That most of us can go to work still. People are not stupid; they can read between the lines.
By Sunday, like so many other people, personal issues overtake all these professional worries. I spend the day in hospital as my Dad’s dementia has intensified to such a degree that even the care home cannot cope with him. Along with three nurses and two security guards, I spend an hour trying to persuade him to put his clothes back on as he shouts and insults everyone whilst assaulting a poor, unsuspecting toilet. He would be mortified; he was such a gentleman, so kind and, in time, we will write about what a fantastic person he was.
Last word to my Uncle, a Catholic priest in the North-East, who began his Mass (in church for now) with an unplanned address to his parishioners, thanking the volunteers and stewards for ‘ensuring everyone is spaced out.’
After a week like that, I’m glad of a bit of humour.