Reflections from a year in lockdown

Vikkey Chaffe
The 23rd March 2021 marked the anniversary of the first lockdown due to the Coronavirus outbreak. I spent the day yesterday, reflecting as I’m sure many of you did, about what the last year has meant to me. Importantly, I wanted to focus on the positives we can take from it, and what we’ve learnt that I hope will improve things for us all in the future.

Mostly, this past year has been a truly terrible one! We’ve been without loved ones, friends and colleagues, missed important occasions and been forced apart. We have been confined, and had to work in incredibly difficult conditions, but through all of this, key workers have been a beacon of hope to everyone, and schools have revolutionised the way they work, making the impossible, possible, time and time again.

Moving to remote learning

Schools moved their learning from the traditional classroom to online platforms, in a matter of days. These newly acquired skills and the addition of extra equipment, means that the sky is now the limit for learners going forward, and could see schools changing the way they support persistent absentees in the future. In fact, one school in Chester has already made the decision to permanently offer ‘flexible schooling’ for pupils and parents – allowing pupils to work part of the week at school and part at home.

This time and the addition of new skills has really allowed school leaders the space to expand their horizons. Leaders are contemplating and achieving new concepts and ways of learning that we just didn’t think possible before.

Community support

Leaders have supported and relied on each other. Communities of like minded leaders have been crucial remote support systems for discussing the myriad of challenges faced over the last 12 months – whether it’s ever changing guidance, how other schools are managing their bubbles or how to administer LFTs. At a time where school leaders were so bombarded with changes in their own school, we were humbled to see how in our groups, they always made time to support a fellow leader. This selfless leadership has been a bright light in what was a very dark time.

Engaging with parents

Parental communication is another absolute triumph during the past year, with greater engagement now growing within the whole school community, despite the physical distances. Parents have, not only known what their children were learning, but have been an integral part of delivering it. Homework will never be the same again! 

Greater support from Trusts

Trust have been viewed in a positive light over this period, with many recognising that the support network trusts offer means having other schools to help carry the burden, make the decisions, share support staff and generally, just have a sounding board. At the same time, LAs were given no more lead-in time with central government guidance than schools, so we heard reports that many LAs struggled to translate guidance into the support needed at a local level, quickly. As such, many schools looked at those in Trusts as something to be envied – sharing the load has really been a must over the past year.

Breathing space from Ofsted

Schools have also had a reprieve from Ofsted (of a fashion) and it has allowed them to have the thinking space and the opportunity to try new things and make their curriculum what their children need. It has given them confidence and breathing room to be more flexible in their schools and work solely to the needs of their children. It will be a shame if this feeling of freedom and innovation is quashed when inspections return. 

My final thought was one of perseverance and passion. I have always known that schools housed the most dedicated and driven people, but something that was quite often overlooked was the resilience, determination and real compassion of school leaders for our children. They have moved mountains to make sure that pupils have had as much learning, welfare, safety and social interaction as is humanly possible, and children will have grown because of it. 

Schools have come through so much, and while they will be marked with grief,  it’s important to remember they have also done some incredible things. I hope this sense of accomplishment carries our leaders through into the next phase of recovery, and that, with their heads held high, they can channel the positives from the last 12 months into building an incredible future for their school communities. 

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