Running a school during the coronavirus pandemic

We spoke to Ben Waldram, one of the Headteachers who took part in our #LeadersLikeYou stories, to catch-up on how he’s finding leading a school during the coronavirus pandemic. Below, Ben shares two of the most important learnings he’s had while overcoming lockdown obstacles at Lowdham CofE Primary School in Nottingham.

Get ahead of the curve – predict the unpredictable 

“There are many ideas and suggestions out there as to what you can do to keep your school running in the current climate, but for us, the best thing we’ve done has been to predict the unpredictable! We’re not waiting to be told what to do and when to do it.

Of course, no-one could have predicted the fallout this lockdown has caused, but thinking ahead to possible scenarios and outcomes has helped us massively. We mapped out what we would do if a particular member of staff was off ill. For example, what would happen if I (as the headteacher, DSL and paediatric trained first aider) became ill? If a member of the SLT, or any of the teaching staff fell ill? If our caretaker or cook couldn’t make it into school?  And what would happen if there was an unfortunate combination of any of these? The school can run perfectly well in my absence, as it can if other key members are off, but we needed to talk about it and work out what steps we would take.

Having several back-up plans, and coordinating these with other surrounding schools, is also a must. Anyone could fall ill at any time and having the capability to remain open, or to move children and staff elsewhere if needed is critical. We’ve planned for this amongst our cluster/family of schools, and we’re ready if this does need to happen.

We also mapped out what our next couple of weeks (pre-Easter) was going to look like, and then the first half of the summer term. We’ve also planned what we’ll do if schools reopen before the summer holidays, or what we’ll do if we’re not back until the autumn.”

Be reasonable in your expectations  

“Children need to be kept busy and they need to keep learning while schools are closed, but we’ve accepted that different families operate in different ways. Some pupils will studiously beaver away at their work until everything is done well; some won’t. Some have parents that can work with them in a multitude of ways; some don’t. We need to accept that all children will come back to school with not only gaps in their learning, but also gaps in their social interactions, possible traumatic family loss and more. 

We’re also trying to make sure we’re being fair to our staff and getting the right balance of expectations on them too. We’re not asking teachers to set huge amounts of work, or placing other unreasonably high expectations on them. Teachers are doing an incredible job, and they certainly don’t need the added stress of performance scrutiny – being observed by the SLT in their Google Classroom or having their remote learning plans monitored. This is not school. This is not business as normal. 

When schools are able to reopen, our number one priority will be getting the children back in and making sure they’re safe and well. Giving them the comfort and sanctuary of their class, their friends and their teachers will be the next priority. Making sure they have covered the curriculum is going to take a back seat.”

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