“Covid-19 we will not be defeated by you…”

After three years as Principal of Northern Education Trust at Norton Primary Academy, I have had my fair share of important decisions to make – the ‘Beast from the East’ in 2018 being one memorable one where I wrangled with the decision to close the academy due to extreme adverse weather conditions across the region. This pales into insignificance when I fast forward to March 2020 – as a country we are in the midst of a global pandemic and the reality that all schools must close except to key workers.

However, with the incredible support from the trust, a rigorous risk assessment process and the support of my amazing staff we were business as usual on the first Monday the country went into lockdown.

The academy felt very different with only around forty to fifty children attending in the first few weeks. Instead of walking around hearing lots of learning and applause moments in classrooms, the academy just felt wrong as I couldn’t hear and feel the energy of classes engaging in learning as I was so used to doing.

Children were all separated into bubbles and sitting two metres apart from each other. We were washing hands every hour and using sanitiser in-between. We had staggered start and finish times to keep children separate from different bubbles and class sizes were not allowed to be any more than fifteen at the very most , with most of ours only eight due to the size of our classrooms.

This became the new normal and for the entire summer term this was how each day came and went. Children were happy and well looked after and learning took place, albeit in a more relaxed and mixed age group environment. Our cook thoroughly spoiled us with delicious lunches.

We were now very much in the role of childcare providers rather than educators.

However, from this came such a wonderful outcome: children not usually together formed a bubble and collaboration between local schools including our feeder secondary school and neighbouring primary school began. Staff from across the three schools came together for the benefit of the children. Norton Primary Academy became a Hub school with key worker and vulnerable children attending from Frederick Nattrass and Northshore Academy. We welcomed children from age 3 all the way to 15 and worked in a way school had never functioned before. Close ties were formed among children and staff.

Covid-19 was not going to get in the way of everything and one of the most memorable events was a VE theme day where children decorated bunting and held a socially distanced tea party to commemorate the 75th anniversary of this historic event. Memories were made and lots of learning along the way; even a few minutes of fame as children were interviewed for a live radio broadcast.
Fast forward to September 2020 and schools were given the green light to fully reopen and we could not wait to welcome all the children back and start the job of learning again.

So far, it has been a very positive experience and the children have been an absolute credit to their families. School is a calm and purposeful environment once again, gaps in learning are being filled, and progress is being made. Children are genuinely happy to be back in a routine of learning and being with their peers. Gaps are there, of course they are as many children have been out of school for over five months. However, with the highly skilled staff here at Norton, we are quickly plugging those gaps and beginning to see the fruits of our labours.

Children who didn’t know their letter sounds do now, children who couldn’t find a percentage of a number can now and children who struggled with early reading skills such as blending and segmenting sounds in unfamiliar words are doing this independently. Every morning on the gate, smiles and friendly faces greet me. I will often be welcomed with, “I love school, Mrs Randall-Harris” or “I had such a great day yesterday, Mrs Randall-Harris.”

These moments make up for all the lost night’s sleep about opening the school to all our students. These moments make up for the rejigging of a myriad of timetables to ensure bubbles don’t meet or classes potentially mixing in and around school. These moments make up for the constant worry that children and staff are washing their hands and keeping the virus at bay.

So Covid-19 we will not be defeated by you. We will continue to follow the guidelines and adhere to the robust and rigorous risk assessments in place. We will ensure the children at school continue to receive the best possible education as we constantly focus on standards, as we understand outcomes are paramount.

Our decision-making is driven entirely by what is best for the children. By doing this we enhance the life chances of the children and young people in our care, despite the circumstances in which we find ourselves this year.