Academy Times Spring 2022 - Introduction from the PrincipalPosted on 10th Mar 2022
It seems a long time ago that I wrote an introduction for Academy Times, In fact, aside from our lockdown versions, it was in the Spring of 2020 - just at the point when lockdown had begun.
So much has happened since that time - so much change in our school and in the world in general and at the end of it, just as we started to suspect we might be able to return to some sort of normal, just as we started to reflect on the enormity of what we had coped with, we had an Ofsted Inspection!
For us all in school, that Inspection in December 2021 was somewhat cathartic as we were praised and commended for all the measures we had put in place whilst still retaining the school improvement brief. This was especially rewarding for me to hear because, as a leader in such uncertain times, you never really know that the things you have put in place are valid or are going to achieve the outcomes you intended. It is quite astounding what we, as a community, have coped with and accomplished since Spring 2020. In reading a national Well-Being Report, I have been reminded of the enormity of it all. This report affirms that we have had to:
- quickly establish on-line learning and manage partial school attendance during lockdowns;
- co-ordinate COVID testing and vaccinations within our school;
- liaise with stressed families;
- support/manage bereavement situations;
- support the well-being of colleagues and students;
- show resourcefulness in managing staff shortages;
- respond to the conflicting demands of stakeholders;
- broaden our knowledge of the management and risks of an airborne virus in schools and then use the knowledge acquired to decide on school-based approaches to COVID management;
- protect our young people, staff and wider families who are particularly vulnerable to the most dangerous consequences of the virus;
- co-ordinate, print and deliver paper-based work packages to those students who could not access online learning;
- bid for, set up and deliver Government provided laptops and dongles for students who could not access online learning;
- ensure the continuity of free school meals by delivering lunch packages to individual families and then bid for and set up a voucher system for those families;
- set significant amounts of our senior leadership tasks aside to meet the core operational demand to have teaching staff in front of classes;
- support the emotional/mental health needs of confused and fearful young people and, in some instances, parents;
- respond swiftly to Department for Education, Government and Health department guidance (often shared with us at the shortest of notice);
- make quick local decisions about the wearing of face coverings and masks in the face of often confusing and contradictory ‘scientific’ opinion;
- manage budgets often decimated by COVID related expenditure;
- adjust our curriculum in the light of changing circumstances;
- monitor safeguarding and child protection concerns in the most unusual of contexts;
- respond to poorly communicated changes to GCSE and A Level accreditation processes;
- lift staff morale when parts of the media, and some politicians, have shamefully sought to portray the teaching profession as work shy or cowardly.
(Headrest Wellbeing Report 2022)
Throughout it all, the ‘here and now’ has been the priority – the strategic development tasks that could not be completed were set aside to prioritise meeting urgent student and staff needs arising from this once-in-a-century global pandemic. Through it all, our staff, students and parents and carers have been magnificent.
We are fortunate to have students that on the whole are mature, intelligent, sensible, and naturally look after all other members of the community. For all our returns to school, we have continued to ask and expect all students to play their own major role in community safety and they have responded well every time. They have adapted brilliantly to the ever-changing restrictions, and have found a renewed enjoyment in spending time with their peers and adults in school. When we have mandated the wearing of masks, they have done it sensibly and maturely, even in lesson times, and it has been interesting to see that many students are still choosing to continue to wear them even when they have been made optional.
I must, again, also thank and pay tribute to all our staff. Teachers and support staff alike have been admirably pragmatic, determined and committed, putting their own anxieties aside to keep a calm and safe environment here. Our staff have demonstrated tremendous resilience and commitment throughout, despite professional and personal challenges, remaining focused on the needs of our community. Everything we have asked them to do they have done with full commitment and positivity. As I have said many times, I have been in education over 30 years and I know that we are very blessed to have such a fantastic body of caring staff to educate and care for our students.
Our parents and carers too have played their part, giving us their continued backing and support. Communication between home and school has been maintained and, in many ways, enhanced. New ways to share information have been introduced so that students are thoroughly supported whether they are able to attend the Academy or whether they are at home. There have been elements that have been introduced during the pandemic that we will be keen to consider continuing e.g. online Parents’ Evenings. The strength of the partnership between home and school has been essential to ensure that our young people have continued to be well supported in terms of their education and their wellbeing. Our core values of CARE have really shone through during this time.
As we start to get back to some kind of normality, you can see that we have developed our in-school ‘Olympiad’, begun to reintroduce trips, and students have had individual success in national competitions. All of this supports our ‘character education’ curriculum which has the intention of developing the ‘whole person’ and was so difficult to achieve remotely. We are therefore so pleased that we can start to bring back these activities which so enrich our students’ experience at school.
Finally, I would like to reflect again on the success of our recent Ofsted Inspection which confirmed that we retain our status as a ‘Good’ school with some outstanding features. We were subject to Ofsted inspection on 7 and 8 December 2021 and the final report has now been published. I am very pleased with the report, which has been described as ‘glowing’, as I feel it describes our school accurately and fairly. Amongst so many positive comments there are four that stand out to me:
- 'Pupils and staff enjoy positive relationships. Pupils say staff know and care for them. One Year 13 student’s comment – ‘I am a person, not a number, here’ – is typical of many pupils’ views'.
- ‘Pupils, including students in the sixth form, share teachers’ high expectations of what they can achieve. Pupils take their education seriously and want to do well. They enjoy learning and produce good-quality work’.
- ‘Pupils feel safe, and many speak of the school’s open culture’.
- ‘Staff are proud to work at Attleborough Academy. They, like many pupils, consider it a special place to be’.
A special place to be? I couldn’t agree more!
Mr Neil McShane