Who cares 4

An anonymous headteacher says an unexpected end is in sight – for her career

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To read recent accusations that we are lazy and work-shy, and that our reticence to reopen schools shows we don’t care about disadvantaged children, is beyond insulting.

My school, along with hundreds of others, did not close due to coronavirus. We opened the Monday after the announcement for our key worker children and our vulnerable children and we have remained open since – including during the Easter holidays and bank holidays and even, on one day, when there was only one child who needed a place. My school is in one of the most deprived areas in the UK. Far from not caring about our disadvantaged children, I have invited children who are vulnerable but not officially vulnerable to attend, such is our commitment to our children and families.

I will never forget that first Monday morning. The school that I serve was transformed from being a vibrant, energetic hub of learning where children thrived – a safe haven – to an empty, anxiety-inducing, hazardous shell. It was crushing. None of us knew what we were going to encounter. Would our latex gloves be enough? Even the NHS do not have enough PPE was one response I received when seeking support. We were effectively abandoned.

Like most schools, our numbers did not reach the anticipated amount of children attending but we had our core group and working rota and a false sense of security set in. My new routine included difficult daily conversations with parents who wanted their children to come into school despite them not satisfying key worker criteria, and calming and reassuring the team who were understandably anxious.

We prepared and delivered home learning for all the children. We shopped for, put together and delivered food parcels for many. We began organising the food vouchers for families – some of which are still not receiving them successfully. In between all of this I was following the data, updates and endless speculation. It was an emotional time while battling pressing feelings of isolation from the rest of the world but all of these acts of support made sense – they benefited our families and children. That’s why the latest government announcement is so hard to swallow –
it just doesn’t make sense.

When other restrictions are being eased gently, when the death rate still shows a tragically high number of daily deaths, when the science is still conflicting, why would you cram up to 15 children into a small space and prioritise our youngest children into the bargain? Why?

It is in no way accurate that our profession is at loggerheads with unions. They, like us, are passionate about opening our schools – but, for the love of god, only when it is as safe as possible to do so. The reality is though, that unless you are unfortunate enough to be in a school in a huge multi-academy trust headed up by a remote CEO, all decisions will come down to the headteacher. I welcome any advice that will enable us to open safely but I can rely on my own judgement and the commitment of my wonderful team. We are best placed to know what is right for our setting. Leave it to the experts – the ones in school, not sat behind a desk in an office nowhere near one. What arrogance that we as headteachers were not consulted on something so life changing.

The blatant disregard for my life and the lives of my colleagues has really unsettled me and prompted me to re-evaluate. I can cope with all of the above and more, but to be told that your life isn’t really worth that much, that the government don’t mind experimenting with it – that’s a different matter. I had thought that I would have to be forcibly removed from the premises to make me retire. Now I have a much earlier and definite end date in mind. Good luck with recruitment and retention after this one, Mr Johnson.

As told to Saskia Murphy

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