For the vast majority of us, the half-term break has either arrived or is at least in sight. So we can take five minutes to sit down, breathe and recuperate – and then prepare for another busy few weeks ahead.
It’s an opportunity to take stock of all that has been achieved these past seven or eight weeks, under some considerable scrutiny and pressure.
It would be nice if such messages were coming from the Department for Education and the government more broadly, rather than the demands for ever more work from schools, accompanied by the occasional threat of legal action. Hopefully, local authorities and multi-academy trusts have stepped in to fill that void, because thanks are undoubtedly due.
Coronavirus: Testing school staff to their limits
Back in March, when teachers were – at least in theory – included in the weekly applause for NHS staff and key workers, it was easy to feel that our place was nominal in comparison to those working on the frontline of Covid wards, dealing with tragedies every day. Although it was chaotic, our operation as childcare for key workers was valuable work, and mostly manageable thanks to clever timetabling, well-planned rotas, and a flexible staff team.
That flexibility has been tested to its limits this half term, and school staff have shown – again – that they’re more than willing to step up and do their bit. While many organisations have run more limited operations, and kept staff away from workplaces, school staff have turned up day after day, to work alongside colleagues and pupils for the benefit of the children and their families.
It’s a cliché to say we’ve invoked some sort of Blitz spirit or overcome a great battle. But it’s fair to say that the term has certainly brought its many challenges, and there’s no doubting that success has depended on the flexibility and goodwill of staff.
According to a straw poll I did on Twitter last week, around four-fifths of teaching staff have taken on extra duties this term, whether that’s during breaktimes, before or after school. Over half of school leaders have taken on more cover responsibilities, as staff have either fallen ill, had to take care of children sent home from school, or had to isolate themselves because of possible contacts with the virus.
A job well done
That’s before we take into account the impact of staggered timings to the day, which have often extended teachers’ working commitments. And it’s not just teachers who are taking on extra work. Teaching assistants and cover supervisors have stepped into the breach when staff are absent, or timetables need more boots on the ground than before.
Office staff have become the first line of the government’s Covid response, as they interpret the guidelines for a variety of different family situations: does Johnny need to isolate if his stepsister was staying at her father’s last week, and her father has now got a cough? Is Mrs Smith allowed to bring Emily to school on Monday if she’s now tested negative after their cousin had the virus last Thursday?
Premises teams have stepped up cleaning duties, organised more signage, marked out waiting points and kept classrooms stocked with endless soap and paper towels – all while keeping on top of the day-to-day management of everything from water temperatures to fox poo. And somebody, somewhere, has had to keep an eye on the budget all through the chaos.
We all come to rely on our colleagues through good times and bad; it’s what makes our schools great places to work. This month, as we each head off to our well-earned break, we can thank one another, and recognise a job well done.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School, in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979