Sally Wilson, Headteacher of The Blandford School, shares the inside story of the past year
We never imagined the journey we had ahead of us when Covid-19 emerged last spring.
The British are very good at ‘pulling together’ and this has been evidenced by the countless caring and kind emails we have received, as well as the wonderful offers of support we have had from the community. It has been a year of immense challenge but at the same time the resilience of the school community has been evident at every turn.
Over the course of the first lockdown we worked closely with schools in the Blandford Schools’ Network, including Bryanston and Knighton House. The former supported us in the early days
with laptop provision and first aid assistance (which enabled us to open for keyworker children).
Staff worked on a rota basis in school and commenced distance learning from their homes – many of them had childcare to manage whilst they delivered lessons using Microsoft Teams for the first time. The lack of lead-in time meant although training on the use of Teams had started prior to lockdown, we were not in such a good position as many schools in the private sector.
The cost of Google Classroom had always been prohibitive for us and so we had not engaged in any distance learning options up to this point.
It was a sharp learning curve for all of us, students, staff and parents!
The latter part of lockdown in June 2020 included lessons in school for years 10 and 12, socially distanced.
By this point we were used to arrows on the floor, one-way systems and the use of facemasks.
The pastoral and safeguarding support of all children across the school has been a major part of our work during Covid. Our school roll is approximately 1000, with 20% in receipt of pupil premium funding and at least 150 a year who see our student support worker for a variety of reasons. Close contact with students whether on or off-site has been essential in terms of their welfare and safeguarding.
Initiatives came thick and fast from staff and students.
We made over 400 shields for local care homes, hospitals, community facilities and primary schools and produced enough face masks for all staff to have one.
Treasure Island was the brainchild of our Literacy Coordinator – over 40 staff were engaged in filming sections of the novel in their own homes or on ‘location’; the footage was viewed by our students during the first lockdown and children in the primary schools to help with transition.
Year 6-7 transition looked rather different in July 2020.
Instead of briefing parents and children in school we placed a video on our website which included a virtual tour, as well as holding numerous virtual meetings with incoming children and parents.
Over 5,200 headteacher commendations were issued during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns to children of all abilities/all ages. Congratulations to them for their attitude, effort and perseverance.
August 2020 will forever be remembered as The Summer of Centre Assessed Grades, algorithms and an unfortunate lack of clear communication and decision making from central government.
This was an exceptionally difficult time for our year 11 and 13 students who had been caught up in a muddle not of their making.
The school re-opened on time in September 2020 with a host of new ways of operating – ‘external zones’, year group ‘bubbles’, facemasks, 14 escorted moves for all students in years 7-11 during the day (from zones to lessons and back again), social distancing in classrooms, no mixing of year groups at break or lunch and no extra-curricular activities or trips.
Virtual parents’ evenings were trialled and were a success. As a school we planned for another closure by upskilling students and staff on Teams, and we also continued to manage anxieties around the coronavirus within families.
The most challenging aspect of our new learning environment was the requirement for ventilation.
Windows and doors were open all the time, and still are. October was very cold and we all donned extra layers.
Children and staff were advised to wear coats in classroom if they wished! The school has had very few cases and no coronavirus community transmissions in school.
The second lockdown commenced in January 2021 and both in-school provision and out-of-school provision has gone very well.
There definitely is a weariness which was not there as much last time but staff have thrown themselves into their work with characteristic willingness and good humour.
Approximately 96% of our students have been consistently engaged during this second lockdown which is a very high proportion of the school, and testament to teamwork and the amount of carer/parental support we have received.
We appreciate many families have found home schooling difficult and we commend them for working with us.
We also appreciate some students will find it difficult returning into school after such a prolonged period and there will be significant support systems in place to look after them.
The logistics of setting up the lateral flow testing regime at the start of the new year were immense but the team – which includes volunteer staff, Simon Hoare MP, an ex-GP, health workers and governors – have done a tremendous job.
Testing, teacher assessed grades, the support of year 11 and 13 whose public exams have been cancelled, and the quality delivery of face-to-face lessons have all been our focus over the last few weeks.
We are looking forward to lighter evenings, the sun shining and the gradual return to ‘normality’. As a team, we are proud of our role during the pandemic in supporting the NHS.
We are also very, very proud of our students whose energy and enthusiasm for learning is infectious. The summer is just around the corner.