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Headteacher's blog

18.9.20  Testing Times

What a week for everyone! With more and more children and families trying to get Covid tests, and the system as we've seen not having capacity it's hard all round. My 10yo niece Amelia was ambulanced to hospital this week with breathing difficulties after showing Covid symptoms, and while she is much better now, she and her 7yo sister Emmie still had to be taken to Southend from Maidstone for her test. (Emmie was very distressed by the test and was only comforted by the promise of presents arriving from Aunty Kate's amazon account!) And our Covid email that is monitored during waking hours has certainly been orange, if not red-hot. So if we've not experienced it ourselves first hand, then I'm pretty sure we all know someone that's been affected. The local Crowborough and Villages Headteachers (and we're quite a formidable group!) have written to Nus Ghani MP about a number of issues including the availability and speed of Covid tests, as have some of our parents. Miss Bishop, Head at Rotherfield Primary, has a phone call with her tomorrow where she will putting all these points across to her to feed back to Parliament on all the schools' behalfs.

For me, I'm trying to keep myself in a kind of self-imposed lockdown and I'm being very careful where I go who I see outside school and how many people. I'm conscious of what I might be bringing into school, and I'm conscious of what I might be taking out again! So I haven't seen lots of friends for a long time and nor am I likely to and I'm sure that the same for us all. I'm seeing my 73yo Dad this weekend, he lives in Lincolnshire and I haven't seen him since Christmas, and I think this may be the last time I see him for a while yet. I said to my step mum "Are you two OK with us coming, or are you feeling a bit nervous?" She said "We're not so much nervous as bored!" So Waddington, here we come!

The other issue for me at the moment, apart from the never ending guidance updates (which don't track change to the document, or send summaries, they just send the whole document out all over again - 3 times yesterday!), is the issue of what this whole school year will look like. We are taking each day, week and term at a time at the moment. Talking and discussing things every day between leaders to try and solve all the issues. hopefully we have sorted a Breakfast Club of sorts to begin very soon. But the other kind of test that is bothering me, is the statutory testing that we have to administer to children in Y1,2,4 and 6. Phonics in Y1, SATs (for the last year) in Y2, Multiplication tables test - sorry - check in Y4, and Y6 SATs. I really can't see why these are important this year to anyone. They are only useful for us as a school to compare ourselves to similar schools, or compare our performance year on year. Well, both of those are not possible this year, as all schools have had different experiences so far and will continue to, and we didn't have these last year for comparison so the purpose of them seems pointless. We will, as always, keep as much stress and tension away from the children when these happen (our Y1s and Y2s often don't even realise they've completed them!). But if there is a chance for me to boycott these without huge negative consequences for me or the school I will be doing it. We know how best to asses our children so we can show their progress and attainment, and there are better ways of doing this than testing them in this way. There is an argument that it will help them "catch up". Catch up to who? (I say again), and a test doesn't catch anyone up, it is a snapshot of what a child can do at that point in time. I am part of the "More than a score" campaign to ditch statutory tests for at least this school year and if you are interested in this, their website is here www.morethanascore.org.uk and you can find out more. You probably all know by now that I am on the side of our children. If I can see how it is going to benefit them from undertaking any of these assessments or tests then I will be fighting for them not to happen. Join me!

So that's it for today, no song lyrics or funny quips I'm afraid, but a quote from my dear Mum, who I lost to cancer in 2012. Whatever it was that was going on, she would say "There is always something to look forward to". And there is. When this is over, or when we adjust to life with it in existence, there will again be lots to look forward to. Let's hang on to that - there's no test in the world that can take that away from us.

 

 

11.9.20  Sultans of Swing

The first week back is always a mixed blessing for school staff. It is great seeing your work pals again, and seeing the children, and getting back into the swing of things. But those early mornings after six weeks off are hard and the workload doubles if not triples overnight! We are already playing catch up.

But this year, more than any other, we have been overjoyed at having our children back (you do know that we share them with you, don't you?). Some of them, who haven't been back since March, I have no idea who they are they have grown up so much. But it is your kids that make our school. Without them we are just a bunch of adults. And who only wants to work with adults all day?

I take my hat off to our staff, I really do. They just take everything that is thrown at them, and run with it. We have had no militant union action and plenty of help when we needed it. For example, when we were short of cleaners during lockdown, we asked the staff if anyone could help. At least three staff who were at home shielding (but could work at a 2m distance) offered to clean, as well as those who were already on the regular "Corona Club" rota. Teachers, office staff, Teaching Assistants, all turned out to get into the swing of cleaning and keeping our school safe for those who were back.

The first INSET day back in September is always a joy. Mr Angus and Mr Selby have a traditional "INSET day hug" every year, and the hall buzzes with everyone's news and catching up. This year staff were distanced in a small number of rooms around both school sites depending which bubble they worked in and the whole thing was done via zoom. Great training, but no cameraderie. No trying to get them to shut up when you're trying to get the training started! No quiz on changes to the staff handbook! We were just getting into the swing of new kind of learning and training.

And the hits just keep on coming. I thought that 40 pieces of guidance in 10 working days was pretty good record for the DfE back in June. They released some at the end of July and on my 50th birthday in August (yeh, thanks DfE), and then the last lot was released on the Friday of the August Bank Holiday Weekend at about 7.30pm. So not only was I expected to read, understand and interpret this guidance for what it meant for Ashdown, I was being expected to do it throughout the summer, in the time we call the holidays but which we're actually neither contracted for, nor paid for. Never mind, by the time you've been in this game as long as I have you learn to go with it, you get into the swing of holiday working and government guidance (I'm predicting the night before half term for the next lot..) and you go with it. I was incensed though about the Bank Holiday one. I wrote to both Nus Ghani MP and my own MP, Helen Grant. Not about guidance itself, but about the timing. They can't expect school leaders to maintain their own stress levels and therefore keep the schools open if they're going to hijack them like this.

But we got there, we got through the guidance, we got through the holidays, we are fully open and we are all back into the swing of regular school. There is no point in moaning about it, or whinging. It is what it is and we're determined here to make the best of it. Getting into the swing of this new normal. Us Ashdown staff?

We are the Sultans. We are the Sultans of Swing!