A message from our CEO
September is fast approaching and all our efforts are centred around ensuring that all our schools are ready for action and – I think really importantly – set up in a way which feels as normal as possible and a far cry from the images you might have seen in the media of schools resembling a sci-fi movie.
Schools are rarely out of the media and often politicised, whether the issue is childhood obesity, social mobility or comparative maths scores. And right now, schools are at the centre of a political battle around what’s safe, what’s right, which schools are offering what, and much, much more. The Department of Education (DfE) has not particularly helped matters with a number of contradictory messages and guidance that is incoherent at best; and the Unions have exploited this incoherence. None of which has helped solve the actual problem, which is that many thousands of children have been missing out on being at school. Education is a universal right and the best vehicle for social mobility. Schools are a sanctuary for children at risk and are critical in developing children’s social skills, confidence, resilience, knowledge and ability to access information. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that children missing out on school will be catastrophic for many.
Our approach was to view the guidance as simply that: guidance. We set out to look at what could be done and not what couldn’t be done. We were determined to bring back as many children as possible through June, whilst ensuring everyone’s safety, and we adopted a very personal, flexible and often entrepreneurial approach to make this happen. At some schools we rented cricket pavilions and sports clubs. At others we redesigned our curriculum and timetables. At every school the sole aim was to bring our pupils back. We liaised directly with the DfE and our insurers, working with them to develop and design risk assessments (which, I am proud to say, have since been rolled out to other schools as ‘exemplar templates’) demonstrating we could welcome our pupils back safely. Our strategy has always been to find a way to make it work, and I couldn’t be prouder of our schools’ approach. I follow very closely both the state and independent sectors, and hand on heart, I can tell you that our schools led the way. I cannot thank my colleagues at schools enough and I have immense pride in how we have collectively navigated the past few months.
As we move towards the beginning of the next academic year in September, I’ll be thinking about how we can address the issues raised in our recent organisation-wide staff survey. Responses were really positive, but a number of areas for improvement were put forward. For instance, people have missed being with each other in a “normal” way; face to face meetings create energy and ideas in a way that online meetings simply can’t.
We’ve asked huge amounts of our school staff in recent months, and I am determined to make sure we learn from the experience. This pandemic has created a team spirit that has been incredibly energising; we want to keep that, but not the relentless pace. During and after lockdown, we’ve achieved things that would have seemed unimaginable before, so we must create an environment where innovation is ingrained in our culture, but also one where quiet reflection is possible. Throughout this period, individuals have been empowered like never before and we want that to continue, but we also want to ensure that people feel supported and listened to.
As the world tries to navigate through back to ‘normal’, with many more questions than answers, we will do our best to light the way. In the meantime, the most important thing our staff, pupils and, indeed, parents, can do over the summer is to take a proper break and have a rest.
You absolutely deserve it.
CEO, Bellevue Education