Lathallan School is in a 19th-century castle around 200 metres from the North Sea, with our own pebbled beach a few steps from the school grounds. I have been headmaster for 11 years and in that time have come to expect the unexpected, as things are a little different here.
We have developed a small farm and I never thought I would spend some of my mornings chasing wilful hens around, to the amusement of spectating pupils, or filling in movement documents for pigs, or leading the entire senior school in harvesting our potato crop by hand.
However, the last few months have been more challenging and unpredictable than I could ever have imagined.
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Every day, I wake up to the "new normal" at Lathallan. I live onsite but the one thing that brings our wooded grounds to life – the people – are no longer here. And I have done a few things I never thought I would have to do as a headmaster. Here are six that spring to mind:
1. Sourcing hand sanitiser from gin distilleries
Many companies have had to completely diversify their operations to meet the demand for products such as hand sanitiser. When our normal suppliers had run out, we had to look further afield and made contact with Arbikie distillery – which normally specialises in high-end gin, vodka and whisky.
2. Checking alcohol percentages in hand sanitisers
Distilleries such as Arbikie are well placed to provide the type of hand sanitisers required to combat Covid-19, as they can produce the right level of denatured alcohol. I never imagined that I’d be so keen to research the ingredients of a hand sanitiser bottle, to ensure the alcohol was both safe and effective.
3. Researching 'fogging equipment'
I could never thought the words "fogging equipment" would appear high on my Google search history. However, as we prepare our school for its safe return we need to look at new ways to disinfect the classrooms to protect pupils and staff. Fogging equipment, which can disinfect large areas in a quick space of time, will prove very useful.
4. Teaching from my living room
My home already played a bigger role in the day-to-day life of the school than you might imagine: the S6 common room is conveniently attached to my house, and I often have nursery classes round for storytime. However, I didn’t ever envisage teaching a class full of pupils using a laptop in my living room. As a school, we have tried to make lockdown learning as interactive as possible, with live lessons and video calls via Google Meet a pivotal part of our "Virtually Lathallan" effort.
5. Measuring classrooms for physical distancing
Lathallan is a small school of around 200 pupils. Our average class size is 12, but we still need to make adaptations to how we deliver lessons to meet new physical distancing requirements. I’ve measured classrooms to ensure our pupils can learn safely, but measuring our treehouse classroom posed an interesting question –does that count as inside or outside?
6. Being responsible, in part, for the submission of pupils’ final grades
There have been many people impacted by the sudden closure of school buildings, not least our pupils on certificated Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) courses. Getting the very best results for pupils who have worked so hard on their studies has always been a crucial part of my role, but I never expected that I would have to oversee their recommended certificated grades. The Class of 2020's time at Lathallan is not ending in the anticipated way, but we will celebrate their achievements virtually – and in the way we always do, back at school, when the time is right.
Richard Toley is headteacher at Lathallan School, in the North East of Scotland