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Monday: parents say I am abusing their child’s human rights
Three weeks into the autumn term and we are all wrecked. I look around at my leadership team in our Monday morning meeting at 7.45am. Everyone is drained from poor sleep, working over the weekend and managing colleagues’ worries. Some are snappy and then quickly apologise, each frustrated with their own raw nerves.
Schools nearby have year groups at home because of Covid cases. We wait and anticipate. Our area is on moderate alert, and schools are on the front line.
I always get a kick from meeting students at the gate, but because of the staggered starts, that now takes hours. No matter how we try to keep bubbles separate, sibling groups arrive together and brothers and sisters lurk outside the gates until it’s their time to enter. Is it safer to have them there, or should we ask them to wander off along a busy main road where they will be interacting with others regardless?
Over the weekend I’ve received 15 emails from parents either arguing that our Covid-19 safety measures are not robust enough, or that Covid-19 is a hoax and by enforcing our safety measures I am abusing their child’s human rights. I have stock responses referencing official advice. I’m not engaging with these parents – it is too draining.
Picking up voicemails, a local resident feels too many children leaving the site dominate the pavements. Another can’t understand why I personally don’t have authority over parents parking across his drive.
Tuesday: two children try to escape
Today turns out to be “year 7 has issues” day. We have 240 new 11-year-olds from 25 primary schools. The vast majority have not been in formal education for six months and it shows – and not only in their reading ages and gaps in knowledge. None has enjoyed the proper transition experience: they have not visited us in person, met their new teachers, explored their way around, met others in their class, or been able to raise their own fears with parents or teachers.
Walking across the site I come across a year 7 boy trying to escape over our very high fence, flanked by two members of staff. The experienced staff cheerfully smile at me and whisper that he did the same thing last week too.
In the library I find staff trying to coax a year 7 girl out of the space she has crawled into under the book shelves. Another child had laughed at her choice of reading book. She is bribed out with the promise of a quiet space for the rest of the lesson.
An hour later I find a different pupil, a girl this time, climbing a different part of the fence. The two members of staff in attendance shrug at me and their smiles are far more worn this time. Standing around trying to talk down escaping children takes a lot of patience and time, as well as the follow-up pastoral care.
At lunch time there is a fight between two year 7 boys. Both are hurt, as is one member of staff. Children who witnessed it are crying and there is no way anyone can keep any sort of social distance. The aftermath of this fight (over a comment about football) takes four members of staff the rest of the afternoon.
I call my senior leader for safeguarding before I leave for the day. She is still with a year 7 child who disclosed a very serious allegation of abuse, and is waiting for the police and social services. She sends a text at 8:30pm to tell me she’s on her way home; she’ll be in at 7am tomorrow for more. We deal with situations like this all the time. And then there is Covid.
Wednesday: a wave of illness across the school
Mid-morning I am told we have a very sick student on site with a fever so bad he has sweated through his shirt. It seems to trigger a wave of illness where children develop Covid-related symptoms during the day. We have a robust procedure in place and so long as everyone adheres to the risk assessment, contact is severely limited. It is costing us a fortune in additional PPE and extra cleaning. We’ve had to use the supply teacher budget and it is not sustainable.
I spend the afternoon in an online meeting with other local headteachers. Several have had Covid cases. One head used the new DfE telephone number and had clear guidance within half an hour. Another was given different numbers and conflicting advice over two days. One school was advised to send every single child home; another only to send home children who had actually sat next to the sick boy in class. It is appalling that after so many months we can’t have a single coherent approach.
Thursday: our first confirmed case
Today we have a confirmed case, a boy in year 9. I make a long and exhausting call to his parents. We go through his movements and pinpoint when he started to feel unwell. When I phone the DfE helpline I’m connected almost immediately and the person is helpful. Because the pupil was a poor attender, he was not in school when incubating the virus, so no one has to self-isolate.
But staff are concerned. The ever-changing and frequently conflicting advice means no one is entirely certain whether or not they are at risk. There is a steady stream of worried staff at my door. One teacher nervous about possible contact has never knowingly met the child, but is keen to self-isolate regardless. This is the same member of staff I had to speak to sternly on the first day back because of enthusiastic hugging of colleagues.
Friday: I’m not sure how much more I can take
I’m utterly exhausted from an evening dealing with a shedload of parent emails and negative social media posts because one child has tested positive. I have accusations that we have kept other confirmed cases a secret, that I am Covid positive myself, and that I am breaking the law by not sending all students home. Some say Teacher X told children that they must not use hand sanitiser because it contains alcohol. Ludicrous. Many parents state they’ll never send their child back. This is ridiculous and I am fed up. I’ve worked every single day since February and I’m not sure how much more I can take. I spend some time flicking through jobs sites – any sector other than education – even though this has been my passion for nearly 30 years.
I’m interrupted by a call from my local authority. Could I make sure children who are off school in “isolation” stay at home instead of congregating at the shopping centre? No. I could not. How would I do that?
I teach a double lesson to year 8 and we enjoy the poetry of Maya Angelou together, celebrating life and being determined; it makes me feel better. After teaching, I wander the school and do all I can to be jovial, telling staff to leave on time and enjoy their weekends. When I bump into the head of year 7, he assures me no child has tried to climb the fence since Wednesday – that’s progress of a sort.
Some identifying details have been changed
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Our first case of Covid. Parents are hounding me, staff are afraid’: diary of a headteacher’s week | Education