As her schools prepare to launch Oak Academy resources amid new routines and new challenges, Jo Southby opens up her lockdown diary

 

Monday, April 27

Today would have been the start of the GCSE art examination

Looking at our academies’ school calendars, I’m struck by how different school life is now compared with how it should be. Today would have been the start of the GCSE art examination and our year 10s’ work-experience placements. But I am encouraged to see staff and pupils adjusting to new ways of working and the positives arising from these changes.

Parents often assume contact from school means bad news but the daily calls we are currently making is strengthening and building more positive relationships. We always knew the importance of good relations between home and school, but our appreciation of this fact has never been so clearly defined.

 

Tuesday, April 28

A sombre reminder of the seriousness of our situation

An early start with a phone call to the SEN lead for the new Oak National Academy. Our trust is leading on numeracy for the online learning platform, and filming has started at our autistic spectrum disorder school, Woodside Academy. It’s a race against the clock, but involvement is giving our staff the opportunity to be trailblazers.

During our online SLT meeting we pause for the one-minute silence to remember the key workers who have lost their lives to the pandemic, a sombre reminder of the seriousness of our situation. Whatever challenges we are facing, our trust has not lost anyone to the virus and we pray this remains the case.

 

Wednesday, April 29

Workload is now at least the same if not greater than before

Our lessons for Oak National Academy go live on May 4. Our team is working around the clock filming, editing, completing documents and uploading them. We have all adapted quickly to the new routines of remote working. Nevertheless, the group business continuity meeting discussed work pressures and our analysis shows staff workload is now at least the same if not greater than before. Every child in our schools is vulnerable and as a result, bespoke work has to be created for each one.

As well as our daily calls to every home, this afternoon I met virtually with my heads of school and our safeguarding inclusion manager to review risk assessments for every child. This included an update of Covid-19 risks to inform our discussion with the local authority to plan for the next phase. A long but useful meeting in advance of Friday.

 

Thursday, April 30

All the leaders in our trust are struggling with moral and practical quandaries

Our borough’s special heads met to look at how to balance on-site provision for vulnerable learners with the health and safety of pupils, staff and community. Many of our pupils find social distancing almost, if not entirely, impossible, and physical intervention is part of the behaviour-management plan for some. We also discussed the availability of PPE and the wearing of face masks. There are no easy answers.

All the leaders in our trust are struggling with moral and practical quandaries. We accept that schools  need to open in order to reinvigorate the economy and protect the most vulnerable, but we also have a duty of care to our staff, who need to be fit and well to return to work when schools fully reopen.

 

Friday, May 1

Partnership working is proving to be very effective

I met with the local authority inclusion lead. A healthy, challenging conversation that indicates a better understanding of our cohort than in the past. Partnership working is proving to be very effective.

Meanwhile, our hub school, Endeavour Academy, has turned into a cottage industry of workpack production. Staff are coming on site at allocated times to collect them for home delivery, to be left on families’ doorsteps. Highly valued face-to-face conversations take place from the end of paths and stairwells.

The day ends with some lively discourse between the executive heads in our trust, our health and safety manager and the COO about how we will manage the gradual re-opening of our school sites. In spite of similar cohorts, we are facing an array of different challenges in relation to size and suitability of buildings as we consider the implications of social distancing.

High spirits welcome the weekend – not one of activities, as before, but one in which I embrace new  interests and enjoy simpler pleasures. And there’s my Zoom birthday party to look forward to!