'We will reopen next week – but at our own pace'

Primary head Ruth Luzmore outlines how she has coped with the challenges of the past few weeks and, despite everything, is ready to reopen

Ruth Luzmore

reopening secondary schools

Many years ago, I studied Bertolt Brecht’s play The Caucasian Chalk Circle. In recent days, the final scene has come to mind – where two women each claim that a baby is their own. 

The judge, unable to decide whose baby it is, draws a chalk circle and puts the baby in the centre and then declares that the real mother will be able to pull the child from the centre and that if they both pull, each will get half a child so everyone will be satisfied. 

It’s a retelling of the Judgment of Solomon and at the moment, I’m not sure which character I most empathise with. 

Because, like most of us in leadership, the experience of reopening of schools has been mentally challenging. 

Pulled in all directions

Like the baby, I have felt pulled in all manner of different directions which changed with daily briefings and endless updates, guidance and guidance that actually reads like directives.

l have felt like both the women, able to simultaneously hold diametrically opposed opinions and argue the merits of both of them. 

Finally, I have felt like the judge, unable to find a clear way to the truth with what is put in front of me as information and desiring a way to put an end to the arguments. 

My online interactions with family and friends have been filled with fraught and heated debates about the actions and inactions of our government at the moment. I'm fairly sure that if the pubs had been open, we’d have been kicked out for raised voices and poor language!

I’ve gone through the entire spectrum of emotion – as my husband and SLT will attest. 

I’ve raged against authority, I’ve wept at the tragedy of it all and I’ve even laughed at times when everything has seemed almost surreal to the point of ridiculous. The Independent Sage report only added to the confusion.

But I recognise the importance of working through those emotions and internal debates.

Trust in myself, not the government

Now my inner resolve is strong and getting stronger. 

I may not have the most trust in our government, but I trust myself, my governors, my staff and school community that together we will do the right thing for us.

So we are going to start to reopen next week with a phased and tortoise-paced approach. 

Starting with staff – the backbone of our school – who will have two days to familiarise and internalise new procedures and risk assessments, get back into the building that has been adapted in their absence and to practice their commute. 

As a central London school with no parking, how people travel to their work has to be factored into the risk assessment. 

Later in the week, we will begin to open for groups of children in Year 6, welcoming them back in "hives" and taking them through their new routines, slowly building up numbers. 

We’ve decided to go with "hives" as the official terminology as it brings to mind the image of busyness, activity and purpose – plus I then get to call our Year 6 teacher Queen Bee…not sure he will be best pleased with that.

We have decided that we must keep going with home learning for those who can’t be with us – so many of our parents have let us know how important this has been for them in providing structure and support and I am not willing to let that go. 

Pride and resilience

We have an interactive system online and it has really helped to keep the community going. 

I’m so proud of the staff and pupils for their enthusiasm in taking this on. 

It is my hope that before the end of term, we can find a way to see other year groups safely. 

But we are not going to be pushed or rushed into doing anything that we are not comfortable with.

The way I’ve been able to navigate this takes me back to the chalk circle scenario. 

But I refuse to be the one pulled apart and I won’t try to pull others apart to get my way, either.

At the end of the scene, one of the women – the real mother – refuses to take part in the test as she cannot bear to see the child harmed. 

I choose to be her.

Ruth Luzmore is head of St Mary Magdalene Academy in London

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