Lockdown diary – New Year’s revolutions

17 Jan 2021, 5:00

Dan Morrow opens his lockdown diary to document another topsy-turvy week in education leadership

Monday, January 4

As of today, mass testing is compulsory

New week. New year. New trust leader role. And what a day to start on.

Transition has been flat out preparing for mass testing. A good thing too, because as of today, it’s compulsory. A whole-trust INSET is a godsend.

Section 44 letters arrive from reticent staff but it’s clear to all, including me, that the prevailing context is not OK. Having worked in Kent and south-east London in December, I know this isn’t about to get any better. Thankfully, the board back me to limit our primaries to vulnerable children and those of critical workers for Tuesday and Wednesday to address staffing levels.

I drive home worrying that I’ve over-reacted. Communications went out late in the day. Not the notice we’d ideally want to give our communities, and some pushback is already manifesting.

I walk in as the prime minister begins his briefing. It’s much worse than even I feared, and the exam cancellation – with details to follow (!) – is a shock. But from worrying about over-reaction, my fortunes have flipped. We’re now ahead of the curve!

WhatsApps keep flying in as it starts to snow heavily. Oh for the simplicity of a snow day.

Tuesday, January 5

It is immediately clear numbers are much larger than in lockdown 1.0

Guidance meets reality. With our outstanding union representatives, we quickly ensure staff are able to work safely and remotely where possible. Section 44 letters are withdrawn.

Our doors open to critical worker and vulnerable children and it is immediately clear numbers are much larger than in lockdown 1.0. By lunchtime, we are already adjusting plans.

Free school meals for those at home is a top priority. I quickly come to appreciate what a logistical nightmare that can be in a rural setting.

The DfE confirms BTEC exams are proceeding, at odds with all the other guidance. We make the hundreds of calls needed to ensure we communicate this properly.

The headship team gathers to reflect on the day and sharpen next steps. 22 already weary faces look back at me, but they are doing, and will continue to do, whatever it takes. Just as they’ve done throughout.

Wednesday, January 6

Some positive test results need to be followed up

Hundreds of Chromebooks and routers/dongles are delivered and we are confident our offer is rigorous, but debate continues over live teaching. We settle on giving our staff agency to provide for their pupils while we work to ensure our resources and teams are coordinated to avoid reinventing the wheel.

BTECs are no longer going ahead. Sigh. We rely on the trust that our students place in us and government is not helping.

Staff testing is well under way and returns some positive results which need to be followed up.

Keep smiling. Schools are safe! (And freezing cold.)

Thursday, January 7

Government messaging is confused. Surprise.

Senior leaders have been instructed to focus on their schools and leave the national guidance to us. Taking the pressure off heads is a key focus for our shared leadership, and everyone seems to be in the swing of things as a result.

Meanwhile, concern is growing nationally about attendance figures.

Section 44 letters were withdrawn based on risk assessments we have to be able to adhere to. So is it one critical worker parent or two? Government and media messaging is confused and unhelpful. But at least we’re no longer surprised by that.

Friday, January 8

How thoughtful of Ofsted!

Numbers are still increasing, and keeping key stage 4 and 5 students motivated is becoming a pressing concern. “What’s the point?”, many are asking. And who can blame them? The team decide on a programme for character, wellbeing and resilience. All traits they model daily, I reflect.

Strangely, messages of support come in throughout the day. This must be what nurses felt like when we clapped for them at the start of all this, and I gather we have Ofsted to thank for it. How thoughtful! It sends a few leaders over the edge – kindness always gets to us most.

80 hours. I hope not all my weeks here are this long, and any that are at least end with a drink and a curry with my team. When that’s possible again. But then I’m asleep by 9, so it may never be.

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