It’s been a long year already

2021 has been fairly eventful already and we’re only a week in! The approach to the first day of term was marked by a relentless stream of guidance from Whitehall, all focusing on the preparation for mass testing in school. I felt slightly embarrassed writing to parents both before and after Christmas about the significant logistical exercise that we were having to prepare, seeking both consent forms and volunteers, but there really was no option. The parental response was brilliant – lots of supportive messages and over 50 willing to help out when we do (eventually) get around to using our Lateral Flow Devices. Much to my surprise the large consignment of testing equipment and PPE arrived in school complete and on time. We now had tests, a test venue and a large team happy to pitch in to make it all work. But then changes came, one after the other. First there was a delay to the start of term in school and then, after just one day, we were all switched over to remote learning. Now, as I sit in my office in a silent school our boys and girls are elsewhere across Wiltshire and Hampshire in front of screens once more.

We have all been here before, and hopefully this time we can do better because we have learned from experience. The use of MS Teams to deliver all of the essential components of day to day education enables our teachers to deliver what is needed in most subjects, but of course what we can do is always going to be a good second best. The practical areas of the curriculum are the ones that are clobbered most – PE, Art, Technology and Drama are all very difficult to re-think into the digital domain, and the extra-curricular dimension that is such a fundamental part of what we do here at Bishop’s is very much diminished. An additional consideration is the amount of screen time that our students are experiencing, and we are having to look at sensible ways of managing that for the sake of everyone’s sanity. Life beyond the PC must continue despite the restrictions that we are all facing at present; a daily walk and family time are precious commodities that cannot be sacrificed on the altar of lock down.

I have a lot of sympathy for government in all of this. As I said to one parent when we are facing such a health emergency running a (virtual) school pales a little in terms of significance and the level of challenge presented. I am very proud nonetheless of how quickly both the teachers and the students seem to have adapted to the new arrangements, and we know where we are going for the next few weeks. Despite all the recent uncertainty I still feel the optimism that I was writing of before Christmas, and after all it is often darkest just before dawn breaks…