One of the biggest pressures of the past two years has come from having to take decisions with a potentially devastating impact on people’s health. So I know I wasn’t alone in looking forward to a new year with a lot less government interference (sorry, guidance!) and being able to focus fully on teaching and learning.
Sadly, it took under two weeks of term for the gap between expectation and reality to grow back to its full, pandemic-long size. We learned that 12-to-15-year-olds were going to receive a dose of the Covid vaccine… in school! And headteachers found out at the same time as everyone else… again.
Within hours of that announcement, I had received five emails and letters informing me that I was ‘formally put on notice’ due to my compliance with government policy in relation to Covid. The first one featured lots of mentions of St George and the crusades, and it would be easy to laugh it off, except that as I write this we have reached double figures and their sources are increasingly varied.
I have no intention of giving any free publicity to any of the groups involved by naming them, but chances are that these or some version of these are either already in your inbox or headed your way. The ones that purport to come from lawyers are generally more guarded in their language – until you get to the end and find threats of fines ranging from £180,000 to £20 million and prison sentences of three years to life. No matter how robust you are or how confident in the support you receive, reading this type of thing does make you take a deep breath.
The connections between schools and their communities of parents/carers have probably never been stronger following the pandemic response. The increased level of communication and trust required to navigate our way to this point has ensured that.
But the flip side of that coin is that teachers have been among the few authority figures that families have been able to contact easily. And because of that, as well as more praise and thanks, we have also received more challenges stemming from their frustrations and anxiety. I think this is a very clear manifestation of that.
We know the full spectrum of views are spread across our communities, and those who have a different view from the government’s about the best approach to the pandemic are deeply frustrated that they are not being heard. Schools are seemingly filling that gap, but it is not easy to remember that when you are in receipt of yet another threatening ‘formal’ communication.
Like other heads who have received these letters, I have read them from cover to cover and faced up to the contradictions and half-truths that are prevalent within them. The kindest way to summarise the majority of them is that they have been written by convinced people in an unconvincing way.
But however poorly written or researched they are, they are coming from our communities. Later, we will need to reflect on what that means for our educational role. In the meantime, it’s natural for our main concern to be what happens on the days when young people are being vaccinated.
I am lucky that I have a co-principal and a very experienced chair of trust to talk these things through with. Our local authority has also been excellent at offering advice. And robust as I am assumed to be, I have needed that support on a few occasions already, to convince me that I was not about to end up in court.
So my advice as we head towards this potential flashpoint in our rudderless national journey through Covid is that we need solidarity more than ever. Reach out to other heads, especially if you are well supported, as I am. Find the ones who aren’t, and make sure that they are.
And if or when you receive something similar, rest easy. If you end up in court, there will be thousands of us there with you!