Thank you to our Bellevue Community
Back in December of last year I watched the stories coming out of Wuhan about a virus which seemed to be pretty similar to the flu and didn’t really think about it too much. In early January it became clear that this virus was serious and by late January we had started our contingency plans.
We’re lucky at Bellevue; we have a large and experienced central education team made up of former Heads. Knowing the direction of travel would be to online learning, we immediately split our schools into three groups, each headed up by a Bellevue Education Director. A lot of thought was given to the groupings to ensure schools would be best placed to work with each other (considerations including online readiness, size, location and age-range, amongst others); this turned out to be the best thing we did – when lockdown actually happened, Heads really appreciated the support from each other. Meanwhile, another Education Director, Sam Selby, began coordinating curriculum resource material in our prep schools as we knew online learning would be more challenging for teachers of younger children.
Serendipity also played a hand. Last September we appointed Adam Atkinson as our Digital Development Lead, tasked with leading IT and digital innovations across all schools. In January we asked Adam to stop his day job and work on a school readiness audit; an analysis that involved identifying the work needed to be done to enable all schools to move online. We began to pair up schools and teachers across the group to identify and spread good practice. All schools operate through the Google platform, which means we are always speaking the same language; again, this has been critical to help and share. Adam continues to host training sessions for teachers and parents and the feedback has been heartening.
As February progressed we moved towards a hybrid physical and online environment in the schools, giving us a chance to spot what was working well and what needed to be improved. Towards the end of February we worked out that March 23rd was likely to be the school closure date; this was good as it would give us a week or so before the Easter break to really test our delivery and we learnt a huge amount, which we took on board for the summer term.
I know teachers at all schools have really appreciated parent feedback – both the positive stuff and the helpful and constructive comments – as this has enabled them to adapt and learn how lessons are actually received in homes. And I want to say an enormous thank you to our teachers across the group, who have worked tirelessly to embrace this new reality. Their determination to make this work has been awe inspiring: essentially the curriculum has been rewritten and then delivered in a way never done before. Some teachers were less confident with IT, but worked their socks off to learn and I’m full of admiration for them. Other teachers have had their own childcare considerations, but were determined to continue with the job they love. Most of all I’ve been humbled by the sharing and openness to learning and embracing new ideas. My youngest two children attend Weston Green School and I’ve heard first hand the approach of our schools; not just the delivery of lessons but also the pastoral care, the warmth in the voices of Mr Beale and Mr Trueman and their supportive and empathetic approach.
Teachers are very much in the front line but our schools simply couldn’t operate without all their support staff. Many of these staff have been at schools throughout lockdown, to help oversee children of key workers and those same people have been instrumental in enabling our schools to open this week. I can’t thank them enough.
Pupils – your children – have been wonderful. They’ve risen to the challenge in what must be a really difficult environment. They’ve tried their best, they’ve been independent, respectful (there was some concern in the sector about children not using the technology appropriately which is why so many schools refused to do anything live) and in many ways led the way. But it has been tough. My youngest crashed before half term. We were talking one morning and he burst into tears saying he just missed school; he missed his friends and teachers and just wanted things to go back to normal. I really feel for all young people up and down the country, which is why I’ve been an active voice in encouraging schools to safely open.
Throughout this period the team that works with me at Bellevue have been superb. We had to leave the office in March, along with the rest of the country, and we’ve had to develop new ways of working; like many of you, we are having to adjust. I know we all miss the Monday morning biscuits from Gregg Davies and I particularly miss the daily chats, where so many ideas develop. We now have an online all team meeting every Monday and all departments have more regular sessions during the week. Our marketing and finance departments have seen the biggest changes to the way they work, and yet the support they continue to offer our schools is excellent and I know really appreciated.
I am hugely aware of how difficult this period is for our parents. The Coronavirus environment is incredibly stressful. Many of you will be furloughed or working from home; many will be worried about health and finances. Adding in child supervision to the mix is yet another pressure, and I have been really bowled over by the way everyone has adapted. Your unstinting – because overwhelmingly that’s what it has been – support has added real ballast to our efforts and picked us up when things have been tough. What you won’t know is that Heads and teachers will often reread and share a nice letter or a thank you email; it’s a reminder that they’re appreciated and their efforts recognised. We often talk of the most successful schools triangulating teachers, pupils and parents. Perhaps one of the legacies of lockdown will be how that strong bond has been enhanced even more.
I’ve personally learnt a huge amount over the past few months: being surrounded by high calibre people is motivating and inspiring. It’s tempting to always try and “lead”, particularly in challenging circumstances, but sometimes stepping back and trusting others to make the right call is the absolutely best thing to do. Watching our education directors and leadership teams transform Bellevue from a schools group to a schools group that leads the sector has been one of my proudest moments. Equally, watching teachers and support staff reinventing the way they do everything, learning from each other and striving for continual improvement has been quite humbling.
So thank you. All of you. Whilst none of us knows quite what the future holds, I feel confident of one thing: that we will emerge from this period stronger and, quite simply, better than before.