15.5.20: Headteacher Update
WARNING: THIS IS A LONG ONE! You might want to read part 1 and come back to part 2 tomorrow!
Thank you for replying to me regarding your views on how St John’s School has managed during lockdown. It’s difficult when you send out lots of emails but you never hear anything in return. It’s great to know that my ParentMail messages are helping us all to keep in touch.
I want to make you aware that we do not have a hotline to the DfE or the government. So, whilst you might assume that schools are made aware of things before the general public, unfortunately that is not the case. I hear most announcements at the same time as you do, and then I await further guidance to be published.
I find this frustrating as it always leaves us with very little time to plan things and then communicate those plans with you. This was the case with the announcement of the school closures, and now with the reopening.
I want to use this email to do two things:
1. Evaluate how we have done so far during lockdown, and
2. Inform you about the possible reopening
PART 1. HOW DID WE DO DURING LOCKDOWN?
As a teaching staff, we had very little time to prepare for educating virtually. We had a few days to plan what we could do, and how we could provide education using software we weren’t familiar with; check-in on children’s well-being; provide food to children on free school meals; post work on the website; communicate with parents, look after critical workers’/vulnerable children and shield staff with health conditions. We did all this whilst still teaching the children that were in school, and trying to reassure them that everything was going to be ok.
I am lucky that I lead a group of teachers and teaching assistants who genuinely love their jobs and care for the children we serve. They unanimously agreed to phone children from their own homes, using their own phones. They have learned how to upload work online, use Teams to stay in contact in KS2, and how to make and upload videos onto YouTube and use BGFL 365. They have been incredible. Six of us have worked in rotation in school with those children who have had to come in. Staff have dropped work through children’s letterboxes; chased the DfE for food vouchers; organised home repairs for families in need; and made house calls to families that we haven’t heard from. All of this, whilst dealing with our own children at home.
Here are some of the comments we received when I asked for feedback. I shared these with the staff who are exhausted and stressed, and I know that it gave them a real lift to know that their efforts have been appreciated. We were overwhelmed by some your lovely remarks:
“Firstly I would like to say what a super job the teachers have done...using youtube...to stay in touch with the children...helping them with their learning. I really appreciated the regular phone call from the teacher too as my child got to discuss her school work with her teacher. Seeing the teachers on youtube ... was a bit of normality for my child in this whole lockdown situation that we all are in.”
“I have really appreciated all the staff’s hard work. Headteacher too. WELL DONE and a big Thank You...for all your effort.”
“The regular updates and support from staff checking up on my child just shows how amazing St Johns school and team are. Thank you for everything.”
“Would like to say a big well done in the way teachers and staff have kept in contact with parents and children during this uncertain time and made families feel in close contact with St John’s school while closed. Thank you so much- you really mean it when you say St John’s is a family.”
“Had no internet but teachers were great -called and even dropped off work to the house. So happy with St John’s... thankyou... I know from talking to other parents that other schools have not done as much as St John’s.”
“I feel that the communication from the school has been very good and the information that's on ParentMail has been very helpful. The phone calls from the staff have shown us (parents & kids) that they are concerned about their students welfare; my kids really do feel that their teachers care about them and have also told me that this makes them feel connected to the school still, which is really heart-warming. They're loving the content on the YT channel too - maybe this could be a permanent thing?”
“I'd just like to say a big thank you to all the staff for being, well, so wonderful. You have been so resourceful and (I believe) have shown the kids what perseverance in adversity can achieve - try and keep up the positivity as it has a great effect, not only the children but also the parents!”
Obviously, we are not perfect and a few parents commented that we could have done things differently. Some of the staff have been ill and not able to contact you as much as they would have liked, so you might have had a call from a different staff member. Some of staff have small babies and husbands that cannot work from home. They have had to work during nap times and evenings. Nothing about this situation has been ideal, but we have done our best.
A couple of comments asked for lessons via Zoom. We are not able to use Zoom as it is still not 100% secure, even with password entry. Teams, our preferred platform, only allows users to see 4 faces at once, and so the class would need to be on mute: defeating the object as far as many children are concerned. I think that if lockdown were to be extended for many months, this would certainly be something we would look at more closely although it does not enable teachers to engage in teaching lessons the same way they would at school. It would be more like a lecture: great for some older children but not for KS1 or EYFS. It is also very difficult to personalise learning for each child in the way that we would if we were in school. In a live lesson, teachers use questioning to gauge children’s understanding. They can then stretch or support children to achieve their best. This is not possible for a class on Teams- it’s a whole different style of communication and organisation.
We have also had an issue with some people not wanting to answer their phone to an unknown or withheld number. Staff have got to keep their personal phone numbers private and I think this is why a couple of families felt that their child had not been phoned. However, teachers have logged all their calls (including those not answered), and unanswered calls are followed by an email to check families are ok. Every child in KS1 and EYFS has been phoned once every week. Children in KS2- once every two weeks. They are called less because they have frequent contact with their teacher over Teams.
I hope that with your feedback, we can make the remainder of lockdown as successful as possible. I am happy to say that 99% of you report that your child has felt cared about by St John’s throughout the period of lockdown. I’d like to thank the staff for enabling this figure to be so high.
PART 2. REOPENING OF SCHOOL
This is the issue on everyone’s mind. I’ve thought of almost nothing else all week.
Before we can reopen, there are many things that I have to do with regards to ensuring the health and safety of the children and staff. As you can imagine, things will look very different if we come back in June, and many new health and hygiene measures will need to be in place. Not all of the staff will be available to work: some are shielding due to being clinically vulnerable. We will be a very closed site and most of our communication with you will still be through emails and phone calls, rather than face to face.
I have really been looking forward to school reopening, but I had hoped that it would happen at a time when we all felt safe and it would be a celebration. What I'm beginning to realise is that things have changed as Government have realised that Covid-19 is not going away quickly. As it is, I am planning to reopen whilst trying to maintain children’s social distance: something I already know will be impossible for young children to achieve.
It is probable that when children return, they will work with one adult in a small group of 15. They will not be able to mix with any other groups or adults. They will sit at an allocated desk with their own personal equipment which will not be shared. We will not be able to send books home, or share books, toys or playground equipment. Parents will not be allowed into the school, and will probably have to collect their children at allotted times in specific areas of the playground.
Children will not be allowed to hold hands with their friends, share things, play catch, chase each other, or any of the other things that they naturally do together. This saddens me the most because they will be so happy to see each other and will be in such need of fun.
Most significantly, we will probably have to provide part time education, because we will not have the physical space to accommodate classes of 15 children. We would need to double the number of classrooms we have on site.
All this is subject to the Unions agreeing that their members are safe to return to work, the government confirming that their conditions have been met, and the school being able to install new hygiene equipment in time.
The Local Authority are meeting Headteachers again next week where they will talk to us about the impact of Covid-19 on BME- black and ethnic minority groups – who have been hit hardest by the virus. This will obviously have a bearing on what we decide to do and when.
I know that I sound negative: I think that’s because I’ve been risk-assessing this situation all week, and there are no easy answers to the millions of questions that we all have. I feel a great weight of responsibility for keeping your children and my staff safe and I will be working closely with the Governing Board to ensure that whatever we do, we will have the best interests of the community at its heart. When more concrete decisions have been made, I will update you further.
I want to leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the Bible. It always gives me comfort and is one of the many quotes I have up in my office:
“May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord turn his face to you
And give you Peace.”
Numbers 6 24-26
With very warmest wishes,