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We've come through crisis stronger together - Mr Manning writes for Educating Oxfordshire

Posted on: 27/05/2021

We hope you enjoy reading this article in today's Oxford Times, written by William Manning, Headteacher of St Birinus School.

WJM web portraitAs I sit supervising a Year 11 Business Studies assessment, the last in the subject for the boys this summer, the silence permits my mind to wander and reflect upon the academic year as a whole - and what a year it has been…

With masks now no longer obligatory in and out of lessons, it’s good to see familiar faces again and not be forever questioning the state of my hearing. School feels lighter and I think that this change in protocol and the lifting of restrictions more widely nationally has had much to do with it. I am really looking forward to an awards evening event, beamed into students’ and colleagues’ homes and consciousness through Zoom. I still find it strange how normal it has become to transmit school narrative, emulate key corporate events and portray the vibrancy of school life through the dot of a webcam. It is this normalcy of the abnormal which preoccupies me.  

Earlier this month, we set up a quality assurance day for the school governors. Part of the process was remote. Governors at home or at work connected online with students who were plugged into laptops and headsets in school. The discussion ranged from their experience in lockdown through repeated school closures, probing their sense of wellbeing, the impact of remote learning and, quite simply, how school now felt. This was also the first time that a small number of the governing body was able to come onto the site, assess school climate and talk to teachers and students for the best part of a year and a half.  

What is habitual and now standard for professionals in schools was poignant and stark for our visitors. Those who came into school were taken aback for a moment. Teaching in taped square boxes on the floor at the front of the classroom, the necessity for gallons (literally) of hand sanitiser, a staff room with just a handful of masked teachers studiously marking, as opposed to the usual busy cacophony of convivial exchange. Zoned and split lunches, separate year group bubbles and the testament of newly qualified teachers who expressed the reality of knowing little different was powerful.  

When we step back for a second and reflect on the journey for schools through this pandemic since March 2020, not to mention the journey still to come, the maturity and resilience of our students has been simply staggering. So too, the agility and stoicism shown by teachers and associate staff.   

As a school leader, I find this resolute and relentless commitment both humbling and inspiring. The moral purpose has never dwindled for a second, but energy levels have at points naturally taken a hit, when the organisation has been required to surge so frequently to assimilate and accommodate so much change. Nonetheless, the muscle and professional resource in schools that Covid has etched will serve us long into the future. Where my refection lies now is how best to ensure and deploy this.

Wjm educating oxfordshire 27 05 21

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