'Who knows if we'll see our Year 6 pupils again?'

How do heads and teachers say goodbye to a community inextricably woven into their daily lives? Michael Tidd has no answers

Empty classroom, with work still on desks

It’s not unusual to hear a headteacher say, “Well, they didn’t cover that on the NPQH.”

Whether it’s dealing with blocked plumbing or difficult parents, there is no end to the unusual tasks you find yourself doing. But, like so many things of late, some of our recent experiences have been truly peculiar.

We all knew that potential closures were on their way, and yet the shock of having to sit and write the letter to parents explaining things is extraordinary.

How do I say to a community that is inextricably woven into my daily life that we must now say, if not “Goodbye”, then at least “Au revoir”?

I’ve written before in Tes about the wrench that is the end of the summer term: the gap that teachers feel after saying farewell to a class who have been such an important part of every day. To have to do so at such short notice, in such strained circumstances, and with such uncertainty ahead, is heart-breaking.

Smile, support and reassure

Of course, over the remaining days of this week, we will endeavour to make school a safe and comforting place for our pupils. Just as schools will do all over the country, we will smile, support and reassure the children who are with us. 

But every teacher will have that troublesome thought at the back of their mind: when will we see one another again?

The next couple of days will also see school staff working out who is eligible for key-worker status, who might need access to food banks or vouchers, and who simply cannot be left to slip under the radar in the coming weeks. There will also be plans to be made about provision going through the Easter holidays, if that is what’s to be done.

In times such as these, school staff are willing and happy to play their role in keeping society heading in the right direction.

It strikes me that the job of providing support for key NHS staff, delivery workers, social carers and others is a hugely valuable task, and one that schools are uniquely placed to do. 

We shouldn’t see this as merely treating teachers as childminders, but as recognition that teachers and schools are at the very hearts of their communities and among the most trusted and respected members of our society.

Staring into the unknown

But that won’t take away the upset of sending off Year 6 pupils, unsure whether they’ll ever return to our schools.

It won’t make it any easier knowing that some children have already gone from our classrooms, not realising that it would be the last time they’d be in school for some time. 

And it won’t make Friday any less difficult for us all, staring into the unknown.

We also face the challenge of wishing colleagues well as they head off into isolation: friends who often wish they could stay in school to help.

The changes of the last few days have highlighted how many school staff turn up every day and serve our pupils, while also taking on roles as carers at home, whether it be for children, parents or other relatives. Others, too, must step back for their own wellbeing.

What perhaps makes it hardest of all is that, at a time when what we most naturally desire is to embrace our colleagues and pupils, we must instead keep our distance and send everyone off in their own directions with not even a handshake. 

But as we will say to our classes: when all this is over, we will come back together again just as strong a community as before, if not stronger.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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