2021 started in what can only be described as chaos. As I wrote in my first post of the year, Looking up whilst locking down:
“We returned to school on Monday 4th January with the Secretary of State having “absolutely” given a cast-iron guarantee that exams were going ahead, and the Prime Minister encouraging all parents to send their children in. At 8pm, we were told all schools would close until half term and exams were not going ahead. The spiralling confusion of often contradictory last minute announcements, with missing, confusing or late-arriving guidance, has meant that this past month has been the most challenging of my entire teaching career – and I’ve been doing this for 23 years.”
In that first post, I took comfort in the Academy community – my colleagues, our wonderful students and their supportive families. We all pulled together through the chaotic, scary winter months with determination and hope.
Later in January, we administered our first lateral flow tests. They are so much part of life now that it’s strange to think of them as unusual – although I do look back with fondness on our testing stations which I insisted were named after Taylor Swift albums…
February and March
As the lockdown continued, this blog offered guidance on how to help your child in lockdown, and offered thanks to staff, students and families. Towards the end of the month we were able to start planning for the return to school, which was scheduled for March 8th. Thanks to incredible efforts behind the scenes, we were ready to welcome our students back – 1600 lateral flow tests later! Students returned to the newly opened Lancaster House area, and separate year group bubbles.
I ended the month with a run down of the names behind the Year 9 Learning Groups for 2020-21: Brunel, Stephenson, Fragapane, Park, Blackwell, Kenney, Dirac, Brohn and More – all famous Bristolians.
April and May
Something like normal service was resumed as the spring turned into summer. There were posts on Easter, and a focus on the Academy’s core value of kindness in my “welcome back” assembly after the holiday. I had a fantastic response to my post in May about Ruby Bridges, the first black student to attend an all-white school in Louisiana, at the age of six.
Before we knew it, we were saying farewell to the Year 13 and Year 11 classes of 2021 in the “last day” celebrations. These groups of students had come through unprecedented uncertainty and still finished with a smile!
In the summer I was gripped by football fever as England ploughed through the delayed Euro 2020 competition all the way to the final! Although it didn’t end in glory (this time) I felt so proud of the team and what they represented about our country – as well as the promise they showed for the future.
As the academic year drew to a close, I used the Headteacher’s Blog to set out our Academy Priorities for 2021-22. These have formed the backbone of our developments since September. And, despite the COVID restrictions, we were able to have an amazing Activities Week, culminating in a fantastic Sports Day.
It was the best way to end the school year, after all the challenges which had been thrown at us!
September and October
Before we knew it, we were back – another round of COVID testing was quickly and efficiently conducted, and we were back in lessons and relishing the challenge. It was particularly great to catch up with some of our new Year 7 students early in the term – my hour with Charlotte, Issy, Maddie and James, as they gave me lots to think about, and lots to be proud of.
COVID hadn’t gone away, of course, and we were soon back in masks and wrestling with rising case numbers in students and staff. At least this year we have been able to give some clarity to our examination years about what is happening in advance – a task I attempted in my post “what’s happening with exams in 2022?”
November and December
November saw the #COP26 summit in Glasgow, which was the perfect opportunity to lay out our sustainability strategy: the progress we had made so far, and the steps we still need to take if we are to realise our ambition of being a zero carbon school by 2030. In short: we’re doing well, but there is still a lot to do!
Our Christmas Concert was a fabulous return to the Playhouse in Weston-super-Mare, with the joy of music-making finally unleashed from its pandemic shackles. The telling of the Christmas story in student-composed songs by the Junior Choir is always a prompt for the first mince pies of the season for me!
And now Christmas itself is just around the corner. The country is under stricter restrictions again with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly – in some ways it feels like history repeating itself. But what this year has shown us is that – even in the midst of crisis – when staff, students and families work together, schools can accomplish amazing things. Bring on 2022!