Family & Education

Our schools delivered beyond expectations

'The most important lesson we can learn... is how we battled against adversity'


I am frequently asked whether I miss being a headteacher. There is a part of me that really does miss the hands-on involvement in the running of a school and the interaction with students. However, over the past few weeks and months I have repeatedly thought how fortunate I am not to be leading a school.

The challenges faced by school leaders have been unimaginable and not something any training could have prepared them for. From the first few days of the coronavirus creeping through our community, they have been at the front lines and struggling to keep schools open, despite the fears of staff, parents and children.

The schools eventually closed, possibly too late, and the next few weeks while we were all discovering the true horror of this pandemic and worrying about our families and friends, school leaders were burning the midnight oil as they tried to develop distanced learning provision for their students. This included finding suitable platforms, meeting safeguarding requirements, training staff, ensuring they had the right technology to deliver lessons, communicating with parents and offering support to the children and their teachers, many of whom were themselves facing challenging circumstances.

The financial crisis then started to take its toll and despite having to invest in new technology and educational programmes, the significant drop in voluntary contributions from parents forced overstretched headteachers into discussions as to how to make savings, including placing staff on furlough, thereby putting even more of a burden on the school.

Just as schools started to find some stability in their distanced learning programmes, the government started to discuss plans for reopening schools. What was desperately needed was clear guidance, when to open, what health and safety provisions to put in place, which staff could teach, and which could not. Sadly, the clarity was never there.

We learnt new acronyms like SAGE and that r0 was the most important statistic, until it became Test and Trace. Sadly, with every announcement came a different perspective, guidance was constantly changing and headteachers were constantly drafting and redrafting their plans to reopen. It is a reflection of the paucity of clear guidance that a seminar held by Pajes with guidance from leading doctors on health and safety considerations was attended by leaders from over 60 Jewish schools and early years centres.

In addition to these considerations, schools had to consider the impact of this pandemic on the wellbeing of the students. In association with the Community Wellbeing Project and Heads Up Kids, Pajes held training for teachers from schools across the country in order to address these concerns.

However, perhaps the achievement I will take greatest pride in is the role that Pajes has played in bringing the schools together. School leaders and governors have worked collaboratively in order to meet the challenges of the past few months. The results have been quite exceptional and, though not widely recognised, the quality of provision delivered by our community’s schools has been of a very high standard.

That is not to say that things could not be better. Schools continue to strive to improve their delivery. The sad reality is that we are only at the beginning of the journey. Schools will need to consider what provision to put in place for September and how to support and educate children who may be rotating in and out of school, or sadly for some, not attending at all.

Without doubt, our school leaders have stood up and delivered far beyond what anyone could reasonably have expected. They are our heroes but I am not suggesting that we stand outside our house and clap for our teachers, because that is not what they need. Educating our children has always been a partnership between the school and the parents and perhaps there has never been a more important time for us all to stand together.

There will inevitably be challenges but the objective of every teacher and every parent is the same, to see the success of the children. Perhaps the most important lesson we can deliver during this time, beyond anything that can be taught in the classroom, is how we battled against adversity and how we stood and worked together in a friendly and supportive manner in order to build a new and better future.

Rabbi Meyer is executive director of Pajes

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