School life as we had never seen it before

The Prime Minister announced at 5pm that this would be the last night that pubs and restaurants would be open. He urged people to adhere to social distancing rules.

Sunday 22nd March: Parents who qualified as “key workers” or had children in other categories specified by the Government advised in a ParentMail message at 11am of arrangements for the following day. Uniform to be worn. Registration in the playground. School meals provided. Mixed age classes. Staff will plan to make the school day educational but it will be different from usual. Routines will be dependent on the number of staff available.

The weekend heralded the arrival of spring. Mothering Sunday was a sad affair. Elderly mothers were told not to see their children and grandchildren but the glorious sunshine saw large numbers ignore the Government’s advice. Deaths in Italy and Spain spiked and the number of deaths in the UK increased too. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, interviewed on the TV, said that even key workers should now think about whether they had to send their children to school.

Monday 23 March: My first email at 8am reinforced the Health Secretary’s message. Because we were entering the unknown, all staff were instructed to report for work. I had shared a draft staffing structure with colleagues over the weekend which I discussed with senior leaders this morning.

Registration in the playground showed that parents had looked again at their childcare needs as only 27 children arrived in school. Up to 70 had been expected.

Once it was confirmed that the staffing was adequate for the day, I briefed remaining staff, gave them a form to complete which would indicate their availability for working during the Easter Holiday and then sent them home. I spent the morning devising a staff rota for the rest of the week.

At 3.30pm I joined a conference call, in my role as co-secretary of Essex NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers), with other union officials and local authority representatives. This was very constructive. I bashed out the notes to circulate to NAHT members, in the knowledge the Prime Minister’s 5pm briefing may make those notes irrelevant. Which it did, largely, but we had to wait until 8.30pm when the PM made an address to the nation informing us that we were on lockdown for three weeks and the police would arrest anybody breaking the rules of social distancing. Schools were to continue to remain open to some families, but only as a last resort.

By Alan Garnett, headteacher, North Primary School

(published in the Gazette, 31.03.2020)