“This is Business unusual; we are all at home, in a crisis, trying to work!”

Two weeks ago on Saturday 8 May, I received the above comment in a longer, affirmatory email from one of our parents in the school. The first half of the summer term is now done, it’s Bank Holiday Monday, and whilst I am of course enjoying the sun, I am still at home, the crisis is still very much with us, and lord bless us, I am still trying to work.

Even though I live but 100 yards from the school, and in my own house, I have always been able to separate school from home. Part of that is bourne of the inevitable experience gained over 39 years of headship, the certain knowledge that sometimes, most times, you don’t have to keep working. Much more recently, I have learned from Twitter and other social media channels, that if broadly your view is tenable, just putting it out there assists you in setting your broader compass in the right direction. Now that I have no option but to work from home, receiving incoming mail is much more disconcerting, and here I am not talking about emails from parents, whether they are #theGoodtheBadortheUgly.

No, as it turns out, perhaps my most consistent correspondent is Gov.Uk, for they have softened me up to receive an email every day, and some times more. Along with the other thousands of headteachers out there, I dread receiving their emails, because they are largely impenetrable, often re-stating by link with a tweak or two previous guidance without informing you what the amendments are. Moreover, it’s the volume of information one email can contain, requiring a full reread to spot the changes if any, and, such as Sunday’s lunchtime email, of such importance and in such detail (this one on the re-opening of nurseries and junior schools) that one has no option other than to set other plans aside and ‘dig in for an hour’.

The guidance is more than just a few lines – here, try for yourself: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preparing-for-the-wider-opening-of-early-years-and-childcare-settings-from-1-june/planning-guide-for-early-years-and-childcare-settings.

What makes the above such a compelling read is that it must be read in conjunction with the government’s previously published guidance, and not just one bit, as the various links in the document take you off on a Cook’s tour of the internet. Dear reader, you will be delighted to hear that I forwarded the planning guide (subtly different from ‘guidance’ please note) to my colleagues in leadership. ‘If the DfE are going to spoil my Sunday, I in turn…’ – no that was not my motive, actually I was moved to share because there were some key steps to follow, which I knew those leading the actual reopening the school in 8 days time might need to read asap. Now, let’s make this very clear, the planning for our reopening has been a pretty heroic set of tasks led by our executive headteacher, Justin Spanswick over the last week, my part being to ensure the logistics of marquees, additional wash hand-basins at entry, and PPE are all there to support the front-line. Plus of course a curriculum to be delivered…

You’d like to think that there are tips to be had by watching the BBCTV celebratory minister of the day live on the ‘box’ at 4/wheneverpm, to hear their summary of the contents, just to give you a clue rather than spoil your Sunday. Yesterday our man on show was the PM himself, swatting away the sideshow of Dom Cumming’s vacation in Durham with his first blow. Good I thought, he is going to (and he did) talk about the reopening of nursery and junior schools. Sadly, as ever with our Boris, he did not trouble us with details (drat), and in the middle of his conversation with the camera, he dropped a huge bombshell; Year 10 are to go back on the 15 June. Nowhere in the guidance released on 24 May is there any indication of this. Nowhere at all.

I started writing this blog at 2.30pm, Monday 25 May, certain in the knowledge that during my writing, I was placing myself at risk once more of failing to ‘spot’ the next email in from Gov.uk. Indeed, at 3.31pm, in comes today’s email right on cue, now providing “Guidance for secondary school provision from 15 June 2020
Updated 25 May 2020″.

Now this provides no planning guide, and as you can see, secondary heads and their teams will have to make up their plans as they go along. Here are the expectations laid upon us:

DfE: Expectations from 15 June
From 15 June, secondary schools are able to offer face-to-face support for a quarter of the year 10 and 12 cohort at any one time. Alongside this the government is asking secondary schools to:

  • continue providing full-time provision for vulnerable pupils in all year groups (including year 10 and year 12)
  • continue providing full-time provision for children of critical workers in all year groups (including year 10 and year 12)
  • provide some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 pupils, with a clear expectation that remote education will continue to be the predominant form of education delivery for these year groups and that this should be of high quality
  • continue to use best endeavours to support all other pupils remaining at home, making use of the available remote education support and ensuring a high quality offer

As @clairescourt watchers will know, it is not as though we are not actually running a school just now, 900+ children, 150+ teachers working every day to cover the advertised curricula for Summer term 2020, just not on our premises; plus we’ve chosen to adds a plethora of social and sporty opportunities to broaden off-screen activities and support all of our mental health . In addition, we have also chosen to add value to both Year 11 and Year 13’s offer from 1 June; rather then leave them to a long hot summer #lockdown, we are running taster 101 course for A level and university 101 course for those making their next steps into higher education. And to top it all, we await the provision of exam board spreadsheets, in order for us to provide the predicted grades and rank-orders for all of our candidates at both GCSE and A level. And as Head of Centre, the government has also confirmed that as Head of Centre, I must personally sign every one of these grade submissions off.

During this Covid-19 crisis, many of the great musicals of screen and stage are being re-run, and to date I have caught, Les Miserables, JC Superstar, Phantom 1&2 and last night, Miss Saigon. I have not yet caught ‘Evita’, and will now scour the channels to see when that great show is due for its brief reprise in the limelight. Why ‘Evita’ I hear you ask? Because of the most remarkable theatre solos therein, that by the eponymous heroine of the piece , Eva Peron, and it’s main show-stopping song, ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’. I find I choose to listen to this track when I feel ‘put upon’, releasing my little known ‘martyr complex.

#halfterm? #nochance!

Ok, you don’t need to read too much into this choice of music tracks, as you can find much better ones here on my #Isolationtracks5 released this weekend.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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