Getting ready to reopen our school has involved constant rapid-fire questions. Some bigger than others. “When are you opening? How many can we fit in a room? Have we got enough hand sanitiser? What about pens? What signs will stick to carpets and not be a trip hazard? Have you seen the latest guidance? Where can I find lidded bins? Who ordered hand towels?” An endless artillery barrage of interrogation. “Am I doing the right thing?” is one that hits me hard.
In recent weeks a team of us worked through the school, ruthlessly removing soft furnishings. Gone are chairs outside offices or in little reading nooks. Gone too are bean bags and cushions used by pupils to calm down on before resolving playground disputes.
Next were the classrooms. We measured and counted and stripped out one classroom, until only 10 desks remained. “Where shall we put this?” was the repeated refrain. I had told my staff to store everything in the school hall but didn’t visit it till the end of the day. When I did, I realised why the team’s questions had been so repetitive – the hall was full and we still had three classrooms to go.
As a central London school, every single centimetre of space has been accounted for and has a purpose – storage is as rare as hen’s teeth. Temporary solutions include turning our music room and staff workspace into repurposed cupboards. But when we open more fully, I may have to place a shipping container in our already small playground.
Our risk assessments are clear that we cannot have parents and carers on site. But that means I will lose the most valuable part of my working day: the 40 minutes when my deputy and I stand at the school gate, welcoming families in the morning and wishing them well at the end of the day.
In those 40 minutes we ask and answer questions, drop in bits of news about a child that they might not tell their parents, and we also just chat. Without those human interactions I would never be able to understand pupils’ families and their lives, some of which come with extraordinary challenges, and the support for one another would be diminished. I see our community as “us”, rather than “them and us”, which sadly is true of some schools. We must find a way to keep going.