21 Jun

Graham

I don’t want to speak too soon but we may be starting to see the first green shoots of recovery.

First of all, I’d like to take this opportunity to update you on the progress against our 5 tests. As you know you were all involved in agreeing them.

As we pointed out in our “New Schooling document” when we were confident about progress against each test we could begin to plan for the return of our children into something that resembles a more “conventional” schooling offer.

In relation to the first test – the transfer of the virus – we have seen data sets that suggest a reduction in hospital admissions, a reduction in the number of people testing positive and a similar reduction in the number of people, sadly, passing away. We saw a blip last week in Tameside but this appears to have settled. The regional and national figures appear to be following a similar positive trajectory.

Our second test relating to our staff teams is presently being worked through. We are very confident that our present staff teams, that continue to manage our home schooling/virtual work and support on sites, are fit for purpose. Our HR teams are presently working with all staff to ensure that they will be in a position to safely carry out their functions in the new school year.

I’ll come back to test 3 – social distancing – later in the blog.

Our test 4 requirement of PPE appears to have been met. We have got adequate supplies in all our organisations and the training is well underway. We have issued guidance to all staff on appropriate use of personal protective equipment. All our risk assessments are pretty much complete.

Our test 5 – continuing to safeguard all our vulnerable pupils, young people and staff – is also progressing well. I’m certain this will continue to change over the next few weeks as we gain more information about the virus. As always, we will never put anyone in a challenging position.

So, on to the Secretary of State’s announcement of Friday that “every child, in every school will return in September.”

In my opinion, his use of indiscriminate language and ill-informed generalisations is totally and utterly unhelpful. Our teams in all of our organisations have spent the last 3 weeks trying to work out how we can bring more children and young people back into school following a 2 metre social distancing strategy. It now appears we will have to amend that work to consider a 1 metre social distance.

The tricky bit of all of this, Mr Williamson, is that many of our children and young people will struggle to understand social distancing, at all. An acknowledgment from our political leaders that our children and situations may be different and therefore require more precise thought would be very much appreciated. Political acknowledgement would be welcome. Political leadership would be more welcome.

From a personal perspective I’m acutely aware of the challenges that many care homes had at the beginning of this epidemic. I am not prepared to place any one individual at risk on the basis of, what I believe to be, a politically motivated statement. We have an absolute and unequivocal responsibility to keep everyone safe. We will use our knowledge and experience of our children and young people.

Taking all children back onto our sites, in September, could be possible but there will be massive changes. There is no doubt that it will be hugely disruptive. On buildings alone, we will need to create (i.e. build/adapt) more teaching environments (bubbles) in our sports halls, ball halls, theatres, dining halls and corridor areas. We will probably need to employ more staff, who the children and young people are unlikely to know, to enable smaller “bubble” groups. This could mean changing and altering class groups. We will almost certainly have to alter our curriculum in all our schools. We will need to look at curriculum content and how our teaching is delivered. Most importantly, we will need to communicate with you all about all of these changes and prepare the children and young people for a very different learning experience.

Now all of the above is “doable” and our contingency and scenario planning has taken us a way forward in the planning. I’m not convinced it will be better than our “new Schooling” blended type offer.

However, I think it’s really important to tell you that there is a strong possibility that, if an almost full return to sites is likely, all of our schools may well need to fully close, in the Summer vacation, to allow for all of the above to take place. That could mean that for the first time since we opened in 2006 we may not run a summer scheme. I am acutely aware that this may cause challenges to families who work. Their usual support networks may not be available – particularly grandparents or other family members etc. We need to find a way of squaring this circle. I’ve a number of meetings this week to try and make sense of all of this.

I’m aware that under usual circumstances we would be moving into our Awards and Celebration seasons. It’s one of the only times in a year I can get put my tuxedo on! I know our staff are looking at how we ensure these young people do not lose out.

Have a great rest of the weekend,

Graham

You can find all Graham’s previous updates and blog entries here