Saturday 8th January, 2022

Last Monday sits closer to five weeks back than five days ago in my mind.  I’m not alone in thinking that this week.  I will share a few samples as a specimen of the long first week back in education.

Brilliant Staff are Anxious

The Inset day after the Christmas break is always a mix of emotions for teachers who have enjoyed their well-deserved break and who know full well the demands and rewards of the coming term.  4th January 2022 had an extra dimension though, and @Rachael Warwick7 said it best in an article for @guardian newspaper this week: “increasing Omicron case numbers and ongoing uncertainty about how this will play out have created a nervous start for us all”.

For two years, at every stage of this pandemic, teachers have shown an absolute commitment to making it work for their pupils.  And pretty much every term for two years the rules of the game have changed: teach remotely (to most but also in-person to some); teach in bubbles with no mixing; pivot to deliver high-stakes assessments as an alternative to GCSEs and A Levels; teach with schools as close to normal as possible and feel that gear change; and now teach amid the uncertainty of a new variant.

Some colleagues this week are asking if we should be running assemblies, or clubs, or after school events in person.  These are all good questions being asked from some of our most committed staff.  There are no absolute ‘right’ answers to any of this, and we’ll get to better solutions for good questions being asked by colleagues.  I always appreciate this dialogue.

The SLT at RMS are always considering the health and welfare of our staff, our pupils, and of all their families, while simultaneously feeling responsibility for prioritising the education and well-being of our pupils.  The last 22 months has been about constantly trying to find the optimal point between these two sets of concerns.

We are starting this term with School running as close to normal as possible for our pupils, but with a very close watching brief on rising cases and with our Outbreak Management Plans at the ready.  For the start of term, all the staff and the pupils from Y7 upwards will wear masks when indoors in a school so well-ventilated that many wear coats!  All visitors to our school will also be asked to take an LFD before attending.  We believe that excellent ventilation is a key factor in our cases having been consistently low to date. 

The Politicization of Face Masks Doesn’t Help

On Tuesday I send an email to our parents outlining arrangements for the term and confirming masks must be worn.  As ever when masks are mentioned, I received a handful of replies from parents expressing their strongly held views that pupils shouldn’t be wearing masks, that their daughter will not be wearing a mask and must not be judged, and/or that they are considering withdrawing their daughter from our school because masks are required.  

Each of these emails are from great parents, brilliant families who are highly supportive of our School, and I do respect their views.  We have to agree to disagree – I respect all views but the strength of any one opinion from either side on pandemic issues can’t stop me doing what I think is the right thing as I strive to find that optimal point between safety and the education that all children are entitled to receive.

The virus is airborne and I do believe that one of the most important measures to prevent transmission of an airborne respiratory virus is the use of a good quality mask.  We distributed five FPP2 masks to each colleague this week.  It’s interesting how politicized this debate is in England as masks have become a flashpoint in the culture wars, and I recurringly read The Telegraph, The Times, and The Guardian to try to gauge the scope of opinions out there.  It’s interesting that in several other European countries children younger than 11 have been wearing masks since last year, being worn by children in nursery and upwards in Greece, compulsory in French primary schools since December, and mandatory over the age of six in Belgium, Spain, and Italy.

The Wonderful Things

Amid the ongoing daily challenges of the first week back (staff and pupils testing positive; our Pre-School Nursery almost not having enough healthy staff on Friday (we would have borrowed colleagues from our Prep School); safeguarding issues after the Christmas break; an ongoing review of our assessment and reporting system; presenting the latest draft of our strategic objectives; supporting the new Head of our Prep School; etc) there were very many wonderful moments. 

Two of these came from the last two evenings of the week when brilliant staff stayed until late, first for a Year 9 GCSE Options Evening, and then on Friday for our 2021 Year 13 Leavers to return for a celebratory evening to collect their A Level certificates. Time and time again, on both evenings, parents stopped me to say how incredible RMS teachers are, how their enthusiasm and subject specialism is infectious, how the pastoral support here saw their daughter through the toughest of times during adolescence, and how their child wouldn’t have thrived anywhere else but here.

One of our two socially distanced and hybrid GCSE Options talks

I don’t need reminding of how fortunate I am to be the headteacher of this incredible school community, but I am given regular reminders, and it is always a pleasure to be given them. I also saw on each of these evenings how much our parents have loved the opportunity to get into their school again and to connect with us in person.

This term will doubtless bring its challenges, but always also the joys of working with our incredible pupils, their parents, and my colleagues.

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