It is quite possible that the past few weeks have been the most stressful many of us will ever have experienced in our careers in education.
For those of us working in areas of high deprivation, the constant worry about how our most vulnerable pupils are doing is weighing extremely heavily on our minds. In my own school, we have identified that almost half of all our pupils are at some form of risk – some of this increased by them being at home much more than normal. We are struggling to keep tabs on them all.
Despite all this, however, I am feeling more upbeat and more confident about the work we do for our community than I have done since becoming a headteacher.
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My colleagues and I are spending a huge amount of time texting and phoning our parents, and we are chatting with them about all sorts of issues – both educational and around health and wellbeing. This is a great thing: normally, phone calls to parents are, more often than not, challenging and confrontational. We are on first-name terms, asking each other how we are doing, comparing notes on lockdown and sharing stories of teenage angst in ways we have rarely done before.
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And I am immensely proud of the way we have come together as a staff body. A huge amount of work has gone into setting up online learning. The variety of tasks that have been given to our children to keep them engaged (without putting undue pressure on their parents) has been incredible. Staff are worried that they are not providing as well as they should, so I can only reassure them they are doing a wonderful job in the face of extremely difficult circumstances, as they balance the demands of work and their own personal situations at home.
The concern they have shown for our young people makes me proudest of all. I am sent daily emails about individual pupils who have not shown engagement with their online learning – but these are staff just wanting to know these children are OK, not to chase them up about their work but to make sure they are not suffering unduly health-wise. Anyone criticising teachers and their commitment at this present time, doubting that we are not frontline workers in the current crisis, needs to know this and hang their heads in shame.
I am filled with hope for the future when we emerge from the current situation and head back to school. The dedication of our staff is evident across the community, and the relationships we are building with parents who previously had no engagement with the school will be invaluable in the years to come.
It may not seem likely just now, but we may ultimately look back and see that Covid-19 changed the way we all work with each other – for the better.
John Rutter is headteacher at Inverness High School