Seven days ago, I was grappling with the possibility of running a remote school for approximately a month. Our energies were focused on making sure that good quality work was being set on Show My Homework and that we were able to keep in regular contact with our key families during this time. At half past five on Wednesday afternoon, on my way back from a meeting in Eastleigh, I listened on the radio as Gavin Williamson (Secretary of State for Education) and then Boris Johnson announced that schools would shut for the vast majority, with only vulnerable children and the children of key workers continuing to access school-run provision.
One sleepless night later, my team and I had the skeleton of a plan that we have been working around-the-clock to implement and which seems (at the moment) to be running well.
In summary, we are doing the following:
- • Setting work daily on Show My Homework
- • Running provision for a small number of children, which will also run over the Easter holidays
- • Organising supermarket vouchers for all of the children eligible for free schools’ meals
- • Working remotely to plan work and to complete other work ready for when we come back to the school.
I’d like to pause briefly to thank everyone that has helped me over the past week. It starts with my amazing Senior Leadership Team who have made the improbable possible, worked to the briefest of deadlines, and put up with my demands (there was definitely a point on Friday when I had a sense-of-humour bypass which I hope has passed for all of our sake’s). Then I’d like to thank all of the staff who, even before I outlined my plans on Thursday afternoon during an impromptu staff meeting, had volunteered their services whenever needed. There’s a real can-do attitude in this staff which is different to any other school I’ve ever worked in- when the chips are down, there’s no one I’d rather have to work with. Finally, the parents and students. Thank you so much to all the kinds words I’ve received from parents in the past weeks. They have been exactly the pick-me-up I needed at many different points in the past seven days.
It’s been emotional, to say the least!
The funny thing is how quickly the staff and students have adapted. The staff have been absolutely amazing. Yesterday, we were all in to establish what the new provision would look like and to establish some consistency. From today onwards, we are running a schools-within-school approach. What this means is that a member of the Senior Leadership Team is in charge for a day each week, with a team of teaching staff and non-teaching staff supporting them. Everyone has an ‘on call’ day in case staffing is affected by a need to self-isolate. This seems a sensible way of mitigating risk to the children, the staff, and everyone’s families. There’s a distinct happy feel in the school, even if it is strange that we all have to keep two metres away from each other and have to get our lunches (catered for by the incredible ladies at HC3S) one at a time. Today, the students have been completing their online set work and taking part in some activities. My youngest son (only 9 years old) keeps telling me he has had the best day ever- he’s now said this two days in a row so I’m waiting for the day when he peaks and says it’s not as good as it was before.
I think it’s fair to say that there is a certain amount of anxiety at the moment. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve experienced a bit myself. For the last 24 years, my days have been neatly segmented into one-hour lessons, with some break and lunch thrown in to break (no pun intended) up the day. Now, we’re running a virtual school (with all of the teething problems that brings with it) and an ever-changing daycare arrangement for the children who need it most. I’ve had some conversations with staff who are naturally worried about the level of risk they are taking on by coming into school at a time when the Prime Minister is telling people to stay at home as much as possible. Watching people overcome these reservations and then throw themselves into this most-crucial work has been the most inspiring time in my 24 years of teaching.
I’ve been looking for quotations about change and I think I’ve found one that sums up how I’m trying to approach all of this: ‘Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realise that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.’ (Eckhart Tolle). On Monday, when I led a brief assembly with the children who had come in, I said that I was trying to look for the positives. On Sunday night, I wrote down a brief list of things I am going to do over the next 3-5 months:
- • Read more
- • Decorate a couple of rooms (looking back on it, my wife may have volunteered that for me)
- • Exercise each day
- • Download an app to learn another language
- • Keep a journal or complete a bit of creative writing
Like all New Year’s resolutions, I’m a little sceptical that I’ll complete all of these but at least it’s managed to focus my mind a little. I’ve made my children write a list of indoor or garden-related activities we can complete and this has helped all of us think about the fun aspect of spending this time together. We’ll see how we get on with all of this.
Before anyone writes in, I have a list of professional activities I need everyone in the school to complete before we come back into school. This list is much longer and covers all of the things that we have identified that we need to improve upon to give your children the best-possible education possible, as well as making The Hamble School somewhere that staff really want to work. It’s important to be aspirational!
Lastly, I wanted to comment on the work we are setting on Show My Homework. It is intended to take approximately 2½ -3 hours each day and we are doing our best to set work that can be completed without a teacher. The fact is that lessons normally rely on a teacher giving some input, asking questions to check students’ understanding, and then setting a task to see if they have understood it. This is completely different. moreover, teaching your children is difficult. I pride myself that I was a halfway decent English teacher (please don’t feel that you need to write in if you have evidence to the contrary) but teaching my own children is a completely different ballgame. It is not unusual for there to be temper tantrums, despair and the slamming of doors. Sometimes, my children behave the same way too! A few pointers, which you are free to ignore:
- Please don’t be too hard on yourselves- it’s not easy to juggle completing your own home working and getting your children to complete work. Try to get your children to build up some reliance- we all fail at some point in our lives; it’s how you react to failure that’s important.
- I’m going to make mine work downstairs in the kitchen next week with the tablets/ phones away and the music turned off. This doesn’t work for everyone but it helps me show them that it’s something serious (I’ll also be completing work too so it helps me as well).
- Consider having a rough timetable to give the day some structure.
- Each subject should only take approximately 30 minutes of time. The children shouldn’t be working all day on one activity.
- Plan in some fun activities too if you can.
We are only two days into this new way of working. We are already having online discussions about what we can do to adapt this provision over time. It’s new to all of us so please bear with us.
Anyway, please keep in touch- we’d love to hear your stories (and see the photos if you are happy to share) of what you are up to over the next few months. I will write again to let you know what is happening and to update you with any key news.
Take care and keep safe.