A year like no other

I am writing this post on 18th March 2021. Exactly one year ago, the Secretary of State stood up in front of Parliament and announced that “after schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed until further notice.” I wrote about the events of that week, and the time immediately around it, in my post Closing for Coronavirus.

My hand-scrawled notes from the Secretary of State’s speech on 18th March 2020

I remember well the febrile, fearful atmosphere of the country a year ago, as an unfamiliar threat advanced across the globe. I remember supermarket shelves emptied of toilet roll, pasta and flour; roads suddenly deserted; skies filled with birdsong instead of airliners.

The Academy has remained open to the children of critical workers and other eligible children throughout, including holiday periods at the height of the pandemic. But, in the 39 official school weeks that have passed, we have been delivering education remotely for 23, and fully open for 16. Through that time we have worked hard to keep our Academy community together and connected, adapting to new technology and new ways of working.

One thing this past year has taught me is how adaptable and resilient we are. We have adapted to circumstances that were unimaginable a year ago, when I had never used Zoom. I didn’t know about social distancing. I didn’t know the importance of a spike protein. I had never worn a face covering.

Socially distanced students during Exam Support, June 2020

Now, a year on, I know about using systems of controls to manage infections; I know about the importance of ventilation; I know the difference between a lateral flow device and a polyamerase chain reaction test. I can navigate Google Classroom smoothly and I have a mug which I can hold up to the webcam so I don’t have to keep saying “you’re on mute…”

My mug has proved very useful in online meetings

This year has also reinforced the importance and the value of education in our society. Expert scientists have delivered the vaccine in record time; highly trained doctors, nurses and carers have helped those most in need. Musicians, actors, dancers and performers have made new connections online. Journalists have kept us informed, seeking the truth and fighting back waves of misinformation and speculation. Never has learning and education been more important.

And this year has also reminded us that schools are more than just places of learning: they are communities which bring people together. Over the past year we have found ways to keep that community going when we cannot physically be in the same space, but there is no substitute for the real human connections that I see every day in the classrooms, studios, playgrounds, social areas and playing fields of the Academy.

Lancaster Lounge at lunchtime

Even in the midst of the global crisis, I can see real progress at Churchill. We have launched our fifth house, Lancaster, and pushed on with redeveloping the Academy site. Our student councils have started up and our student leadership programme is beginning to take root. We have redeveloped our curriculum, responding not just to the technological challenges but to issues of representation, pace and challenge, and links to careers and employment. And we have advanced our sustainability agenda, with increased planting around the site and a focus on the environmental impact of the Academy.

Despite the return of students to schools, the vaccine rollout, and the roadmap out of lockdown, we are not out of this crisis yet. When I sit down on 18th March 2022 to look back again, I wonder what new adaptations and changes we will have made? And I wonder what the world will be like two years on from that House of Commons announcement…

No matter what, I know that the staff and students at Churchill will be going strong. We have been tested this year – not just with lateral flow devices – and we have prevailed. As a society, we will be picking up the pieces from this past year for a long time to come. As an Academy, we are ready to do our bit to build back better out of this crisis, to emerge stronger, and to flourish in the future.

The five-house flag flies over Churchill, September 2020

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