I wish I were brave enough to open the school to all 1200 students and the 130 adults who will be teaching them or otherwise dealing with their education – TAs, admin, cleaners, catering, finance…
But I’m not.
So, I told our parents and governors and staff that, as a coward with about average fear of death, I will not take responsibility for 1320 people in confined spaces. You see, I don’t like funerals and I don’t like writing eulogies for dead colleagues and students. I’m scared that the virus has not gone away, sure that kids can’t and don’t and won’t socially distance. I fear that our 20 page Risk Assessment, one way stickers, double action alternate wet/dry duty teams, special cleaning teams and other measures will not prevent the virus from spreading.
I talked it through with our chair of governors, SLT and passing strangers.
I wrote to parents and staff with a partial re-opening, minus 2 year groups, following the full exciting curriculum including the arts, technology and science experiments. Then, as a sometimes clear and/or straight-speaking media babe, I was contacted by 3 Counties Radio and I told them, too.
At this point I was declining the chance, as a highly photogenic celebrity, to be in a LA video assuring parents schools are safe. The LA informed the DfE of my reluctance and non-compliance with full opening (not video participation.)
A senior officer from the DfE phoned and I explained my reasons and plans. He made notes. The MP questioned me by email. Then the Regional Schools Commissioner, herself, wrote to our Chair Of Governors to try to change our plans.
So here’s the point of this blog. She wrote:
Whilst trying to find out more details on the plans for September on the school website, I was concerned to read the details of the headteacher’s blog about re-opening. I found the tone surprisingly emotive and unbalanced and am concerned that it may have left families confused and anxious about returning to school. I would be interested in your reflections on the appropriateness of such a communication from the headteacher.
My problems with this subtle attempt at bullying and censorship are many:
Headteachers talk with Chairs of Governors or they are doomed. We talk.
I’ve written over 60 blogs and, I hope, many are emotive and much more critical of decision makers than the one to which she refers. Google my name for the 120,000 words.
She ignored my answers to her officer, making notes, you’ll remember. We discussed the prime minister’s call to arms, his “moral imperative” to get all kids back. The note taker omitted that I questioned Mr Johnson’s right to talk about morality and I mentioned that I acknowledged all my children, didn’t give contracts to my girlfriends and that I’d always tried to tell the truth.
I had also compromised. I said that the prime minister taking responsibility for any serious illness in my school and guaranteeing a payment of £100,000 to any employee’s family if they died might mean he could instruct me to open to all.
If the school’s commissioner thinks that me, “following the science” and taking my duty of care for staff and children somehow abrogates my responsibility she could have taken the time to talk or write to me.
Neither the MP nor the RSC mention adults in their letters.
Everyone knows that schools are a festering swamp of minor colds and headaches, coughs and sore throats, especially in a new term. Many school staff are used to catching these ailments and working through. In September, if I find that a member of staff has a high temperature – and we have guns to instantly test this – I will send them off to be tested. Their classes will be covered by another teacher.
If 5 teachers have a temperature I will send them all away and do what with 5 classes, 4 or 5 times a day?
What if 1 of them has the virus?
Why did 2 Scottish schools close within days of opening?
Will Boris come back off holiday and visit my school with kids in? Can the RSC cover some lessons? Please, Ofsted, come and help.
I sat in school today, on holiday again, wearing an Irish republican T shirt that I have recently shrunk into. The radio presenter was shocked that I consider myself a socialist and have been a union member for 45 years. Strange as it may seem to some, I am proud of these characteristics.
I am also proud to be head of a non-selective, inclusive, successful, popular, oversubscribed, “outstanding” academy. Over a period of 22 years, I have appointed every single member of staff to their current position. I insist on the opportunity to care for them so we can continue to do the best we can for the young people whose education and future means so much to us all.
Here’s the link to the notorious blog:
Dennis O'Sullivan (Headteacher)