This past week has, undoubtedly, been the most surreal rollercoaster for everyone. For those of us preparing for the return to school, we had to contend with the surprise news on 15th December that schools were expected to set up as mass testing centres from the start of term. We were told that there would be a staggered start to the term with simultaneous testing and kits would arrive on Monday 4th January. It was confirmed that there would be no funding for Independent schools to facilitate this. On New Year's Day, my mind was well and truly focused on the spectre of mass testing and the start of term, the Mocks, the Inset Days, the real IGCSE Maths exam, Scholarship Assessments and the horrendous new Covid statistics. I did my Lateral Flow training on Saturday, as did all of the Senior Leadership Team, and then spent Sunday in the Mass Testing document portal where documents were being updated as we were reading them.
On Monday 4th January 2021, we changed the focus of our Inset meeting to remote teaching and learning, scholarship assessments, and to set up the mass testing facilities. We even tested a few testers! It was marvellous teamwork and a complete transformation of the room above the Sports Hall - we were ready!
On Monday evening our Prime Minister spoke to the Nation and told us that there was no need for mass testing as schools will not be opening until half term. We would all have to work remotely and to teach remotely from Wednesday.
On Tuesday 5th January, a revised timetable and calendar were devised and letters were sent to parents and we tried to work out if the IGCSE could run. Lateral Flow testing for staff began. IT switched focus to support long-term remote working and everyone modified all their planning. Remote pastoral care was also put into place. It was marvellous teamwork - we were ready!
On Wednesday 6th January, remote teaching and learning began and our first batch of key-worker children arrived. Testing was up and running. More scholarship assessments happened, this time remotely. The English and Maths Entrance exams were marked. We received confirmation that we could offer Boarding to specified groups if we had any takers.
On Thursday 7th January, The IGCSE Maths exam happened and the school nurses gave their professional expertise. Some real talent emerged in our testing team.
All week we have been well fed by our fabulous Catering team. The Maintenance team have been flexible and busier than ever. Housekeeping have kept on top of our various needs. The Exams Office and the invigilators were on and off and on again, yet fielded the team we needed on the day. The Admissions team have continued to work on recruitment with smiles and ingenuity. Marketing added to their incredible collection of videos made through Lockdown with a short video message from me. The IT team supported staff and pupils who are now remote learning. Boarding staff are supporting boarders whilst preparing the Boarding Houses for the start of a term that may not materialise. The Bursary team are adapting once again to the questions about finance, buses, lunches and HR. Support staff and Technicians have stepped up to set up for the next few weeks. Sports Coaches wait in readiness for PE to start again and in the meantime advise on training. EPQs are underway and Clubs are running. The Art department is encouraging us to be crafty! Many staff members have offered to help supervise and support our key-worker and vulnerable pupils and our colleagues are now juggling work with family life and other commitments.
What will I take away from this experience?
I hated that feeling that we were being asked to set up mass testing without the time or resources to do it properly. I have been very uncomfortable with the many strands of 'Will we, won't we? Can we, can't we?'. I have had to remember that we cannot always have everything planned. I have had proof every day that we are, in turn, only part of a team of dedicated, hardworking, and talented colleagues. We will get through these difficult times by asking for the help we need and taking care of each other. Our work is important because education is the most empowering gift that we can give to the next generation. We are shaping the futures of over 400 young people and therefore of society.
I have learned a great deal this week and with my exceptional Senior Leadership Team, we will be ready for the months ahead.
Mrs Tracy Kirnig, January 2021
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