A new term with new rules and bigger challenges for everyone

Welcome back to the classroom

The September return to school has followed the same pattern for years.

The Senior Leadership Team sits on the front row in the Main Hall. The next six rows are empty. The staff, not wanting to appear too keen, are massed together at the rear.

The head welcomes new colleagues, who are then invited to stand and introduce themselves. Excruciatingly embarrassing for them, but great fun for the “old lags” on the back row. A quick pat on the back from the chair of governors for “another set of excellent examination results”.

A couple of jokes from the teacher’s best resource, the examiners’ reports on the recent examinations. It’s invariably from the French exam. The candidate who has translated “coup de grace” as a lawnmower and another who thought that “pas de deux” meant the father of twins. There is even a sense of exhilaration. A new beginning.

COVID-19 changes first day of new school term

Not this year. Nothing like. Heroic deeds have taken place in the nation’s schools during the past six weeks. Cleaned as never before, with military precision in terms of organisation.

Protecting those in our schools

Remember the so-called “protective ring” round our care homes? If ever there was a time to do the same for our schools, that time is now. The politicians can confidently state, “We always follow the science”.

Scientists’ authority is largely unchallenged, except by each other. Head teachers must be green with envy. What if politicians stated “We always follow the educators?”.

They never will, of course, because at some stage or another, everybody has been to school. We all feel that we are experts on the subject. The pandemic has clearly shown that it is not so.

Head teachers face the most challenging months of their careers thus far. I have it on good authority that they are being subjected to a barrage of advice from all sides.

I confess that I am astonished by the furore the wearing of masks has caused. In the dim and distant past, I was once responsible for a change in school uniform policy. It felt like a routine decision at the time.

Somehow I found myself on national television defending my decision. Within days an SOS page appeared on Facebook. Save our Skirts apparently. But compared to what heads will have to cope with in the next month, a mere bump in the road.

Fiendishly complex

Schools are now fiendishly complex organisations. Take movement round the school. In effect, either the students move from classroom to classroom or the teachers do.

Everyone can agree that in the middle of a pandemic, there needs to be as little movement around the school as possible. So why not keep a group of students in one classroom, or in one area of the school?

I suspect that is the policy many schools will be trying to implement. But where does it leave art? Or music? Or design technology? Or food and nutrition. Or PE? Is it really possible to do chemistry experiments in an ordinary classroom?

School timetables at the best of times make air traffic control at Heathrow look positively straightforward. We haven’t talked about “setting”. Or even mentioned buses. Heads will be relieved of one burden.

What about assemblies?

Assemblies. Sorry, Bishop, I’m not sure that I would know what to say. Perhaps I would read them a poem. It was Bad Poetry Day earlier this month.

The Times Diary unearthed this gem, “As you slide down the banister of life, slide with joy and not dismay, and I hope sincerely for your sake, the splinters are facing the other way”.

Schools, those who lead them, work in them and attend them deserve our support. It’s the very least we can do.

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