When I look back to the time before lockdown, it seems ridiculous to think of the conversations taking place. At February’s Parents Association meeting we questioned whether people not buying tickets for the fashion show was because of this virus and reassured each other that it was not, merely the usual late rush for an event a month away.
This was followed by our Shabbaton, a lovely event, yet we were coming to terms with no handshakes, while the prospect of remote learning was a potential plan we were formulating, just in case. How little we knew then.
At King David, the closure brought separation, not just between student and school, but secondary and primary as the primary school was conscripted into the local hub, while the secondary school briefly remained open before closing due to very low demand.
But of course we did not close, merely moved swiftly into virtual education. Remote learning may have been born of necessity, but it may change aspects of education for years to come and certainly has enabled our students to remain engaged with learning and their teachers.
The hardest aspect for anyone in education to come to terms with is the lack of personal contact, with students, colleagues, our parents and our community. The resulting cornucopia of communications has been impressive, from the “Zooms” for lessons and families to video meetings for governors, local headteachers, staff and more. We have held remote admissions appeals and are currently constructing a virtual tour for a remote open evening to introduce our new Year seven into the school..
With hindsight, we seemed to have progressed rapidly through the different phases. We began with naivety and some optimism, striving to make the most of our new circumstances. I was enthused as school plans came together and students responded well to their teachers.
On a personal level, I realised that I was not cut out to complete an exercise class every day, but rather enjoyed the one-hour walk with my family. The new phase brought the task of setting grades, expanding the curriculum and supporting the vulnerable more.
I greatly admired the primary staff who manned the hubs to provide care from 7am to 7pm so that key workers could complete their shifts, and the secondary staff delivering weekly food parcels and vouchers across hundreds of families in local schools; also the teachers who managed their own families yet were working throughout the day to provide feedback, set engaging work and contact students who were struggling.
Since then we have had the process of working towards reopening specific year-groups with social distancing. Meanwhile, budgets are suffering, teachers are developing new media presentation skills, students are becoming more anxious and parents are given many mixed messages. My weekly briefing letter to parents has grown threefold as the weeks have passed.
We would all love to be back in school, seeing our students, teaching and enjoying each other’s company. We know our students miss being here too. However, there are obstacles in our path and at present we will continue to make sure we engage our students remotely. We will continue to develop ways of ensuring the process of learning flourishes.
Planning for September is being done now. The aim is to provide for all of our students in a safe environment. Schools are not buildings, but the coming together of people. We face new problems and the solutions we require may need to be novel. As a wise chair of governors said to me about three months ago, parents put their trust in headteachers and schools more than they do in remote politicians.
If we can maintain their trust then we can take our students through a temporary difficulty in their 14 years of schooling and use the experience in a positive way, to build resilience and skills.