What a term! Our reflection…

Educators, you can breathe a sigh of relief… the end of another term is here and we hope that by now you are already in your garden soaking up the sunshine. While you’re doing so, take some time to have a look back at all you have achieved during what will go down as the most challenging term in school history.

Together, you and your colleagues have tackled another long stretch of remote learning, integrating pupils back into school, testing for all secondary aged pupils and staff, more bubble closures than you can shake a stick at and the mind-boggling task of interpreting guidelines about this year’s examinations. It has been a pleasure to witness this incredible show of strength and resilience and we are in awe of the logistical skills you have developed this term.

We often spend the last period of the term helping our CEOs and Principals to round up and celebrate their achievements with their community. Today, our Senior Account Executive, Sam Ladds, is going to share a few highlights of our term with you all…

A year since schools closed

Did anyone else sit back on the 20th March and think ‘wow, a whole year?!’ We have supported more than 100 schools and multi-academy trusts during this time and reading my colleague Mark’s blog, I felt a real sense of pride, reflecting on all the issues and crises we have faced and the successes we have celebrated.

I caught up with two of our Heads and CEOs to gauge their reactions to the events of the last year…

Tony Nelson, Principal of Hazeley Academy, Milton Keynes

“The challenges of a pandemic, the values of our Trust and the guidance of partners including Athene have led us to completely change our communications with parents. The key word here has been WITH parents. We have listened more than ever, trying to understand their perspective, situations and challenges. This has allowed us to work WITH them and their children. Shorter, warmer, less formal weekly communications have been supported by a presence on YouTube and our Facebook parent portals.

It’s been bumpy at times, and it has not always worked, we have made a plenty of mistakes along the way, but it has transformed the relationship between school, home and our wider community. Our applications for places are up, parent survey results are beyond what we would have hoped, we have a small army of volunteers helping us with Covid testing, laptops and community links. And most importantly as a Head and a parent and a member of the community it just feels like the right thing to be doing.”

Julie Taylor, CEO of Thomas Deacon Education Trust

“This year is my 38th year in education and I can honestly say it has been like no other. In March last year, the unthinkable happened: schools across the country were closed. And so began the period when it felt like we delivered something other than education. We fed the most vulnerable, cared about their welfare, watched for their safety. We sourced and delivered laptops. Some people got very excited about daily PE sessions with Joe Wicks.

In June, we opened schools more widely, despite public and parental concern and once again built confidence in the school system through our Covid safer procedures.

By September, it felt closer to normal. We achieved extraordinary levels of attendance, showing just how much parents trust schools, leaders and teachers, and we taught intensively throughout the Autumn term, assessed gaps in knowledge and planned interventions. But there were dark days when we seemed to have more children and staff at home than in school, either ill or isolating, and we crawled to the end of the year and Christmas without the usual markers of concerts, carol services, parties and plays.

We spent our Christmas holidays worrying about how to implement mass covid testing in secondary schools and planning for the Spring term. Then on 4th January 2021, after just one day at school, attendance was again restricted – another full lockdown. We moved immediately to remote education while still making provision for vulnerable children and children of critical workers. This time, the government demanded the equivalent hours of remote education to those spent in school and warned that this might be inspected by Ofsted! Thankfully, parents started reporting that the quality and quantity of remote education exceeded their expectations.

In March we have opened schools again to all pupils. Yet again, we have seen extraordinary levels of attendance. We have set up Covid-19 testing on secondary school sites – no mean feat with over 2,000 pupils in one of our secondary schools. We have implemented Department for Education policies with skill and quiet diplomacy, working with our staff and communities to ensure that people feel safe.”

The joys (and fears) of reopening

While it has been interesting to identify new ways schools can communicate effectively with pupils and parents while they are learning remotely, we know there is no better place for them than in school. As a school governor myself, it has been so exciting to see this love for school flourish among pupils, many of whom are only now realising the importance of school in their lives.

We were really pleased to be able to support the MATs and schools we work with to reach their wider communities through regional media during this time, including interviews with BBC Radio Suffolk, BBC Look East, ITV Anglia and even a BBC Facebook live panel.

If you would like to speak to the Athene Education team about supporting your Trust or school, please get in touch with our PR and Education Director Ryan Hyman on 01733 207338 or [email protected].