Making sense of the Government’s 35-page plan

Monday, June 29

PARENTS were informed today of plans to start the new academic year two days earlier, with the children returning to their familiar classrooms and teaching teams that they know. I have asked for the parents of our new starters (the rising fives) and our current reception cohort to bear with us as they will have a more gradual start to the year. Feedback is positive so far – “It has clearly taken a lot of thought from all the staff and that effort does not go unnoticed.”

Had a visit from a PCSO this morning who introduced himself as our link officer. The police are looking to re-establish community links with schools. This has to be a good move for any number of reasons. Years ago this relationship was about building trust and being a visible presence in the area. Sadly, there is another more sinister menace driving this current initiative – the recruitment of younger children into county lines drug gangs.

The Monday afternoon routine of ringing our home learners of the week is always a pleasure. Not only is it nice to talk to the children, it is also nice to have a quick chat with the parents, too, especially as I don’t get to see many of them in the playground at the moment. One mum told me she has enjoyed learning more about her daughter’s work, giving her a greater understanding of what we do and how her daughter is learning. Other parents were singing the praises of the teachers for their creativity and constant support. Good to hear.

Tuesday, June 30

SAID goodbye to a teacher this week who has been covering maternity leave. It will be a shame he will not be able to say goodbye to his class in person, likewise for the children and parents. No assembly send-off either. In all, three teachers are returning from maternity leave in the coming week. It will be good to welcome them back. They might notice school is a little different since they were last in!

Wednesday, July 1

INFORMED parents today that only children leaving the school and nursery this term will be receiving annual reports. They are our year six leavers and nursery children, who are going to another school. For the rest of the children, a report would be lacking information – no end of year assessment, no annual attendance data – and so a report written in June, and read by parents in July, about children who have not been in school since March, would not be a particularly relevant document. Children and parents have been better served by the teachers’ time and focus concentrating on managing home learning and the keeping in touch calls. Paradoxically, this has meant that for many, the communication and information sharing between home and school has been more regular than in pre-covid times.

Thursday, July 2

IT has been published. The much-heralded document providing 35 pages of guidance on how we can have all our children back in school full-time in September.

The focus in the press has been on the logistics. My eye is drawn to the guidance on responding to a suspected or confirmed case. At the present time, we are sending bubbles home if a child or adult in that bubble is a confirmed case and they isolate for 14 days. If someone is symptomatic, the same action is taken until a test is taken and the result received. These are autonomous decisions, driven by the risk assessment to coin the phrase. This course of action is reassuring to parents and staff.

From September the guidance says that we should not send the rest of the bubble home if there is a suspected case and if there is a confirmed case we seek advice from the local health protection team who may then direct certain people to be sent home. I was comfortable with a full return if we would still be acting swiftly in our own institutions to “whack the mole”, as the PM likes to call the local response strategy. I think parental confidence would be higher, too, which is vital if we are to get all the children back. The guidance also states we should not ask a parent to confirm a negative test result. I am struggling to understand why that is in the document, especially as the guidance states that we all need to engage with test and trace. Sent an email to the director of Public Health Essex for his thoughts.

Friday, July 3

READ the guidance for the third time. Now focussing on the logistical challenges of 420 school children and 30 nursery children having staggered starts, playtimes, lunchtimes and home times and of course, in between those events, educating the children. The guidance says we must “minimise contacts while delivering a broad and balanced curriculum” whose key principles are “broad and ambitious” while “creating time to cover the most important missed content” so we “may consider it appropriate to suspend some subjects.” Total clarity! The government is seeing criticism of their document, which is confused and contradictory and driven by expediency rather than medical science, as obstructive and negative. I disagree. Schools and local authorities are just trying to make sense of the guidance and make it work. In the final section of the document it says: “The people who do the work are often the best people to understand the risks in the workplace and will have a view how to work safely. Involving them in making decisions shows that the school takes their H&S seriously.” A statement I can agree with. This sentiment works equally well if the word school is replaced with government.