As the Headteacher of a large primary school in the south of England, I am used to working long hours with a certain amount of stress and a lot of job satisfaction. Since the Covid pandemic, things have become increasingly challenging.
My day starts at 8am with sorting out staffing. Last week I had staff off every day, not because they had Covid, but because someone they were living with had symptoms so needed a test. This is where the problems begin. Staff were offered appointments in Scotland, Telford, Bristol, the Isle of Wight, Weymouth and Portsmouth. Staff sent hours on the website, applying as many as 9 times to try to get test, each time having to start again as the website kept crashing. This has been repeated for parents who are trying to gets tests for someone in their family so the children have to miss school until the parents manage to get a test. This is infuriating! I had staff off all week, unnecessarily because they couldn’t get a test. Every Head I spoke to had the same problem.
We have been given 10 tests by the Government only to be used for families who cannot get to a test centre. These will go very quickly if things continue as they are. I drove round the local estate today and gave out three tests to families who have no transport and no way of driving to a test centre many miles away. Teacher cover is very difficult and will get very costly! This is just not good enough. To expect me to run a school when we just cannot get tests is impossible.
Once I have made sure there is a qualified adult in front of every class, I have to start the process of safely getting children into school. We start this process at 8.40am and it takes until 9.30am. Ensuring that 700 children and parents get into school safely is no mean feat! The first day of term was carnage as no one really knew where they were going or what was happening despite us sending videos to parents and preparing them in that best way that we could. The one-way system means there are queues everywhere and ensuring social distancing in the queues is virtually impossible, despite everyone trying very hard. Parents are not used to dropping their children and going straight away. This is challenging for some of them who are used to social contact in the school playground.
The children have been amazing and have settled back into school very well. Classrooms look very different with all of the tables facing the front and no book corner or soft furnishings. Things have improved as the week has progressed and we are all slowly getting used to the ‘new normal’.
At this point I have a couple of hours do all the other things that need doing eg visiting every class and connecting with children and adults, writing the School Improvement Plan, meeting staff and reviewing procedures, talking to parents, child protection work, reassuring staff who are understandably anxious, work on how to reduce our budget deficit when costs have gone up and income reduced due to covid, checking up on pupil attendance etc
Lunchtime begins at 11.45am and finishes at 1.15pm. Myself and my Deputies are needed to sterilise tables between year group bubble sittings as I have no extra staff available to do this and have no money to employ extra staff. Each year group has half an hour in the dinner hall and half an hour in their outside bubble space. We are lucky enough to have two halls and both are needed in order for us to keep the year group bubbles as separate as possible. If we have a positive case bubbles will have to go home, so we try to reduce contact between bubbles as much as possible.
I then have just over an hour to do some work before we have start dismissing the children from the school between 2.50pm and 3.30pm! This is tricky as we have to ensure all the children are dismissed safely and it is the second time in the day that parents have to queue! Again this has got quicker as the week has progressed.
At 3.30pm we have a daily briefing about what has worked well and what changes we need to make. I then meet with my staff or Senior Team. At 6pm I arrive home feeling very tired. I have a break for an hour or so and then answer the 100+emails I have received that day. By 9pm I am falling asleep on the sofa and stagger to bed to try and get enough energy to do it all again tomorrow!