Thank you: you’ve done an amazing job

To our staff

Working in a school at the moment is unlike anything we have ever known. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any team work as hard as the Churchill staff since January: it has been awe-inspiring. Teachers have had to re-plan existing curriculum to deliver remotely, finding technological solutions to replace in-class interactions. Providing feedback has become labour-intensive: what would, in normal times, be a quick conversation with a student or working through a pile of exercise books or tests, now requires teachers to open each document individually, adding comments, marks and areas for improvement. Tutors are also phoning or emailing to check on progress, welfare and wellbeing – and this is on top of Frontline provision for children eligible to be in school.

Teachers and support staff are also on the front line as schools address a rise in domestic abuse and child protection issues, and try to support families medically or financially affected by the pandemic. Our staff have mobilised a lateral flow testing operation and implemented a raft of covid-safe procedures, all while keeping the financial, administrative and resource functions of the Academy operating remotely. And managing the ongoing building projects!

The pandemic has tested all of us, in all walks of life, in all lines of work: I am hugely proud of the way our staff have stepped up to the plate and, to extend my baseball metaphor, smashed it out of the park.

To our staff: thank you. You have done an amazing job.

To our families

We really appreciate how hard this year has been for families of students at the Academy. You have had to balance your own jobs and lives with the added challenge of your children being at home, needing the wi-fi and the laptop and lunch and snacks and motivation and encouragement and exercise and help with which year Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech and what’s the atomic number of carbon?

All this whilst you are trying to parent your young people through an international crisis which is causing all of us anxiety and uncertainty about our health, our economy, our friends, and our wider families. We can’t go on holiday, we can’t go out, and we can’t socialise except through a screen. It has been tough – and it will be tough for a while yet. So, for all you have done to support and help our students through this time, whilst holding it together yourselves – give yourselves a pat on the back, and treat yourselves to glass of something good. You deserve it.

To our families: thank you. You have done an amazing job.

To our students

As I have said before, and will doubtless say again and again, it is our young people who are the beacon of light in this dark period of our history. From the chorus of “thank you”s at the end of each remote lesson, to the fantastic work that they are producing, to the kindness they are showing to others in helping them with technical problems, resources and understanding the work…our students have done themselves proud during this lockdown. They have been there, turning up for the Zooms and Google Meets, engaging in the chat, introducing us to their pets and earning an absolute mountain of house points (over 140,000 at last count). It has been tough being separated from friends and classmates, tough to maintain motivation in the face of uncertainty, but they have stayed strong and kept going throughout it all.

To our students: thank you. You have done an amazing job.

To all of you: enjoy your half term. You have earned it.

Gratitude

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This week has seen Thank A Teacher Day take place on Wednesday. I have been moved by the gratitude I have seen from our students, families and the wider Academy community. One group of students made a video message for staff; the gospel choir shared a video of a song recorded in lockdown. After I shared them in my daily bulletin for staff, my inbox was flooded (!) with colleagues moved to tears.

This is the difference gratitude can make. Because it’s been a tough time for teachers recently. Certain sections of the news media – and commentators on social media – have taken aim at the education profession over the past couple of weeks. This is demoralising – it has an impact. Because, let’s not forget what extraordinary things schools have done in this crisis.

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Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, announcing school closures on 18th March

The Secretary of State for Education announced on Wednesday 18th March that schools would close on Friday 20th. Churchill staff managed to organise a last day for Year 13 on the Thursday and Year 11 on the Friday, opened a new provision for vulnerable children and the children of key frontline workers which opened on the morning of Friday 20th, and mobilised an entire timetable of remote learning which went online on Monday 23rd and has been maintained ever since. The Academy has never closed: Frontline has remained open throughout half term and Easter, including bank holidays, fully staffed by colleagues coming in day after day to work with children who need them. We have organised the delivery of free school meals and food parcels. Every day, staff are setting, monitoring, marking, and helping with remote learning tasks for every lesson on the timetable. They are ringing families to check that students are okay. All this whilst balancing the needs of home-schooling their own children, managing their own health and wellbeing, and coping with the anxieties that we all feel in this time of unprecedented national and international crisis.

And now, we are planning together how to implement the government’s request for wider re-opening to selected year groups safely and meaningfully. There are pages and pages of guidance to read, digest, and implement – and even as I write, a week and a half after the announcement, there is still more guidance pouring out of the Department for Education, some of which means that we have to unpick the planning we’d already put in place to accommodate the new lines. Staff want to go back to school – we’re all desperate to see the students again! But we do not want our Academy to become an unintended vector for the coronavirus. We have to make sure that our students are as safe as it is possible to be in these difficult and dangerous times. And, as an employer, we have to ensure that the workplace is safe for our staff. We will not open for more students until we can be sure we have taken every possible precaution.

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The Academy’s reception: closed until further notice

So, it’s been a difficult time for everyone, and school staff are no exception to that. What Thank A Teacher Day taught me on Wednesday was the importance of gratitude – and the difference it can make.

Because I am so incredibly grateful.

I am grateful for the fact that I am in a job where I can make a real difference to other people in this time of crisis.

I am grateful for the incredible team around me: the leadership teams who have stepped up to solve insoluble problems, to mobilise teams, to share the load; the administration and support staff who have ensured that the wheels of the Academy have kept turning efficiently and effectively; the site team who have maintained our buildings and grounds, and adapted them for social distancing and new COVID-safe guidelines; the IT network team who have kept our servers running smoothly as they have supported the remote access of nearly 1,500 users simultaneously; the support staff who have cared for our most vulnerable students; and of course the teachers who have, countless times and in countless ways, made a positive difference to our students.

I am grateful to the Academy’s governing body, who have put their full weight behind the staff; monitoring, evaluating, and strengthening  the crisis management response we have mustered.

I am grateful to the parents and families in our community, whose support has been overwhelming. Emails come in almost every day – not just for Thank A Teacher Day – recognising the work that has been done. And, in turn, we recognise the investment of time and effort that parents and families have put in to supporting the remote learning process, whilst going through the turmoil of financial and personal hardship that this crisis has brought with it.

I am grateful, most of all, for our students. Their response to this situation has been humbling. They have been appreciative of the Academy’s support; they have done their best to keep on top of remote learning; they have supported one another in video chats and WhatsApp groups (or whatever platform it is that young people use nowadays…); they have helped out in their communities; they have taken on challenges and developed their skills and abilities. And they have coped with simply unimaginable situations with a resilience and determination which gives me the highest of hopes for our recovery, and a better future.

Times are hard for everyone at the moment. But, if you look, we have much to be grateful for. So thank you. Thank you all.