A bit of an apology to Green Day here!
I, like many of my colleagues are ready for whatever this school term may bring. But I wanted to take the chance to reflect. I fear many school leaders are bracing for a storm. And in the spirit of airing anxieties I thought I’d explore just what the advice means for primary schools now.
‘Overwhelming’ – an ‘Avalanche’ – according to research carried out by the University of Cambridge and University College London these are the words that heads have used to describe the amout of information received since the beginning of the pandemic. Heads mentioned that they didn’t know what to expect from one day to the next – and that this was more stressful even than student welfare. This was my experience – this summer has been a breathe of fresh air because of the absence of government updates. So – all good right?
Well.. now we seem to have gone from one extreme to another.
The latest government advice seems to be fixated on ‘normal’ school life resuming as much as possible. Suggesting that assemblies resume and that masks are no longer necesssary. Ventilation is ‘important’ but we have received no support in enuring this over the winter months.
They emphasise that schools will no longer be responsible for track and trace and that bubbles are not expected. UNLESS. And here is a big unless – unless there is an ‘outbreak’ – defined as five closely related cases (or 10% of the school population, whichever comes first). Then there will need to be an extra plan in place that relies on the school knowing the close contacts of these cases and putting mitigation in place.
This concerns me (and others) because it appears that the government is waiting to be reactive instead of proactive – to me we are waiting for the inevitable rise in cases and then we have a selection of measures that we can out in place. These measures will necessarily differ from school to school and cause confusion for parents.
Headteachers told me that they find the measures lacking, that they are using local advice instead, that they are worried about their community and about the possiblity of infections spreading from their school. The ‘outbreak’ advice seems to be causing concerns as the management plan offers a ‘suite’ of ideas which Headteachers and school leaders have to choose from. Most schools that I know are using a kind of ‘hybrid’ approach and keeping some measures in place anyway.
Headteachers are not (even now!) infection experts – luckily I have amazing local Public Health support – but this may not be the case everywhere. In a small school like mine, just how many of us would be classed as close contacts? Should I be thinking of minimising this now before an outbreak? Should staff be encouraged to stay within ‘adult’ bubbles? Remember they still do not want us to close schools – but how realistic is this?
This lack of mitigating advice will have repercussions elsewhere – as a small school two or three staff members either ill or isolating will create huge problems in providing quality education. Parents (and indeed staff) who are anxious, or who have responsiblity for vulnerable members of the family may worry about children returning to ‘normality’.
It will also mean that in the event of another serious wave, or a different version, then the government may have to rush out advice and measures, reverting back to last year, which will lead us right back to the initial ‘avalanche’ of advice.