In the first of our new series following the impacts of lockdown on the personal and professional lives of educators, Jonny Uttley opens up his #lockdowndiary
Monday, April 13
The work we are doing feels so alien
A bank holiday Monday like no other. Rather than golfing at the Belfry as has become my Easter tradition, my day starts with WhatsApp updates on the numbers of pupils attending our six schools. Today we have the smallest numbers since lockdown began – 35. But that means 35 key workers can go to work. At the start of this we thought about how we could maintain momentum and staff morale when the work we are doing feels so alien. Each day we report how many key worker shifts we have enabled to remind ourselves that what we are doing really matters. Today we’ve hit 700.
Tuesday, April 14
School leaders have been several steps ahead of the government
The news is dominated by the frustration of school leaders at the failures of the DfE’s free school meals scheme. Schools have been “closed” for 17 days. That’s 17 days that some families have not had access to school meals or vouchers. School leaders have been several steps ahead of the government on this and many other issues. Our own plan, initiated on Wednesday March 18 (the first day that some of our schools were partially closed), started with staff members visiting supermarkets, buying vouchers and delivering them through doors. At least we know that no pupil in our trust has gone without.
There is confusion too about whether the department will fund the scheme we’ve been running during Easter. If it isn’t, we plan to send an invoice!
Wednesday, April 15
Staff are anxious that schools may go back early
My director of HR tells me that she feels staff are anxious that schools may go back early. A key part of my weekly communication with the trust has been to to try to reduce anxiety. It is always harder to get important messages across a group of schools than in one school; it is doubly difficult when doing it remotely. The last thing we need is people inside government or elsewhere floating unfounded claims. We need to get this one right, recognising the important role schools will play in exiting the crisis, but making sure school leaders are at the forefront of decision-making.
Thursday, April 16
The lack of a normal routine is a real challenge
The lack of a normal routine is a real challenge. Having enjoyed reading and building a model of Old Trafford with my daughter – the silver lining of lockdown – I am now looking forward to Monday and hope it will bring back the strong sense of purpose we had before the “holiday”. An email lifts my spirits. We have repurposed our schools as hubs of community support, manufacturing face visors, collecting toiletries and treats for NHS staff, and donating supplies to the elderly. Some of our donations have gone to Women’s Aid in Hull, an organisation on the frontline of the spike in domestic violence. I ask what else we can do and within minutes my amazing team jumps into action to create gift bags for the women at the centre. It is a welcome reminder of the good that we can continue to do.
Friday, April 17
Today I let myself be triggered
I should stay off social media during a “holiday”! Today I let myself be triggered by the launch of a new group promoting the expansion of grammar schools. Politics aside, whoever thinks a national crisis is the right time to propose widespread system reform – when schools are collectively doing some of the most important work they’ve ever done – really is deluded. Much more fun is #MeAt20 on Twitter where you post pictures of your younger self. I put up a fresh-faced, curtain-haired boy who was naïve and clueless about what he wanted to do. All he knew was that he wanted to make a difference. Amid the weirdness of this week, I have never had a stronger sense of the difference my teams across all our schools are making.