With Lockdown Three being in its third week, I paused to reflect on the incredible job that schools up and down the country have done to support families in these “unprecedented times”.
Lockdown One felt very different to this. It certainly felt like we had a lot more time, and whilst we had great engagement from our school community in terms of response to phone calls and response to work set online, or delivered in the form of paper packs, we had very few children in school. It tended to feel a bit more like “child care” than “education” for those who were attending.
What we have achieved, thanks to sheer determination and teamwork, in Lockdown Three, is, as I said above, incredible. We are running four entirely different services, instead of running one school: A Lateral Flow Covid Testing Centre, predominantly for staff, but also for students in school; Face to Face Education, in the form of seven bubbles in school; Remote Learning, including online and live teaching and supporting with independent work at home, and finally; Family Welfare Services, including weekly calls to all families, counselling (remote and in person as needed), home IT support, free school meals hampers or vouchers, and advice for the full family in these unusual times.
To do all of this is no mean feat. To do this when your school serves an area of significant deprivation, with high numbers of “pupil premium” and the associated challenges, has got to come from the heart.
It takes a combination of head and heart to get it right, but I think that this is what makes our team special and makes me very proud indeed. Would it be easier to work at a school with a much lower deprivation indicator? Perhaps not easier, no. Perhaps just different. The challenges that each school faces at any time are often just very different, despite similarities in the sense that all schools are there to support children in achieving the best outcomes possible (and not just academically).
Going that extra mile is our moral purpose. That doesn’t have to mean working harder or longer. But it may mean working differently. What works for one school, may not work for us, or another school. Sometimes staff need help understanding this. Some staff would rather not work in this way and choose to work in a different type of setting. For some people it can take a while to find the right school for them. That's absolutely fine - every school is different. Someone said to me many years ago that our school “gets inside you, under your skin… there is something special about it that I can’t describe…” My goodness me, they were right.
Despite many, many changes over the years (I have been at the school for almost 16 years), we still serve the same community and still make such a positive difference. Lockdown has highlighted just how important it is that we continue to make this difference. The wellbeing of our children is the first priority, so our first job is ensuring that the children that we are not seeing in school are safe and well at home, as well as looking after those we are seeing in school. Then being able to see our students thrive and feel that sense of achievement that we would be providing if we were delivering our normal day-to-day lessons, is so important, and in itself, this also supports wellbeing and raising aspirations.
So we deliver high quality remote learning, live or otherwise, and we tell the children they are doing well with it. We also tell the parents. We encourage children and parents to talk about the work. We also acknowledge that everyone is different and has different challenges at home at the moment, so we are flexible and we offer support. Where children are not engaging with us from home, we find out why. We do this from a pastoral point of view first, but then as teachers we see what we can do to support with our own subjects. This is so important with our exam year groups, to help students feel that they haven’t just wasted part of this year, and they can still continue to improve their grades by engaging with the fantastic offer we are providing.
I think the children miss us! (Or should I say, some of them, miss some of us!) They want to hear from us, see us, and know that we are thinking about them. They are (generally) pleased when we phone. They want to engage in different ways with us. That’s why we make “Cheer Up Videos” so that they can see us, and see that we are missing them too! Our “Hive” wellbeing sessions are so important, along with assemblies and seminars, depending on year group. We read to them online, continuing to develop that love of literature and engagement with books and reading, providing them with the text on screen to read along.
All of these things are in addition to our remote learning offer. In terms of wellbeing, nobody wants to be overloaded – children or staff. So we have reduced the number of lessons for everyone and provided a different focus for parts of the day, including the “non-academic” with initiatives like the Lockdown Cup, to get outside for some exercise, and the "Cook Along With…" videos, to encourage healthy eating and home cooking.
This is just a snapshot. But when you read back over this - and it takes only a few minutes to do so - it really is incredible how much we have all achieved. It reminds you why we do what we do and why we work where we work.
It is a moral purpose. It is a privilege.
Emma Marshall is Principal at Havelock Academy a secondary school in Grimsby and part of the David Ross Education Trust (DRET). When it comes to looking after her own wellbeing, Emma is a keen musician, composer and musical theatre lover, and enjoys nothing more than supporting with choirs and musical productions in school whenever she can. Understandably, she can't wait for lockdown restrictions to end. Emma can be found on Twitter @MusicCPDandMore.