Powerful message - Marcus Rashford

North Primary School headteacher Alan Garnett on the prospect of all children returning in the autumn​

Monday, June 15

FURTHER to my announcement that our youngest pupils could return to school from June 22, there was not a great deal of new interest shown by parents so the take up remains under 50 per cent. The DfE missed another deadline last Friday – they said schools would be informed by the June 12 how they could interpret flexibility to accommodate other year groups before the end of term. The local authority were told today by the DfE that they did not know when this information would be published.

Tuesday, June 16

OH, breaking news, flexibility will be defined by the Government today, after all. And having read it there is actually not a lot of wriggle room - no using village halls as classrooms, no spending extra money on staff, must maintain the full-time offer to the priority year groups and key worker children.

This news is overshadowed by a Government U-turn on providing food vouchers for families eligible for free school meals over the summer holiday. Take a bow Marcus Rashford. The first time I have ever praised a Manchester United player. His letter to the PM has seemingly struck a chord with a number of Conservative MPs and before the matter could be debated in the House of Commons the announcement was made.

Spent the afternoon in a conference call with councillor Ray Gooding, chair of the Essex Education Committee, local authority officials and union representatives. Cllr Gooding said that teachers had had their Easter holiday taken from them, the LA would not be taking their summer holiday. There is a clear understanding within the LA that there is no short-term fix for pupils and schools need to focus their energies on planning for the autumn term and beyond, whilst all too aware of the uncertainties around the next academic year.

Wednesday, June 17

I added to my teachers’ workload by asking them to complete a form auditing their workload. The professionalism of the staff is remarkable. As if I did not know that. The number of posts – work and comments made by children and their parents - they are responding to every week; the videos and learning tasks they are setting, the time spent making the keeping in touch phone calls. Staggering.

Thursday, June 18

A quiet day, just an announcement about an announcement – the Government’s plans for catch-up would be published soon. My proposal for education recovery has been met with a deafening silence - not even an acknowledgement. I now realise that I sent it to the wrong people. I assumed that sending it to ministers, politicians and the children’s commissioner was the right thing to do. Silly me. I should have sent it to a Premier League footballer and asked him to promote it. Harry Kane says children and young people deserve a world beating education recovery plan! Obvious headline – PM given the Kane!

Friday, June 19

ON the way to work listen to Nick Gibb, education minister, publicising the Government’s billion pound recovery plan. A massive amount of money – spread over two years and requiring funding contribution from schools. The plan lacks detail but he suggests some scope will be given to schools on how it will be spent on tutoring programmes. The minister comes unstuck when he is asked to explain his assertion that all children will be back in school full time from September.

I did say to parents that I would not let the youngest return to school until we move to threat Level Three. Well, this morning that announcement was made, but the scientists were quick to emphasis the need to not change our behaviours. This point was reinforced in the most honest and sobering way by Mike Gogarty, Director of Wellbeing, Public Health and Communities. Mike is employed by ECC but his role is independent and he was invited by the Director Of Education, Clare Kershaw, to attend a conference call following a letter I wrote asking what a local response to an outbreak will look like.

Mike’s message was stark: Lockdown is the only measure that has worked so far and social distancing is required until a vaccine is found.; the distance may reduce and there are economic and political influences on this decision but he is clear on the medical science position that social distancing should remain It is impossible to open all schools full time and keep the R number below one and there will be a winter spike and lockdowns will be necessary. So, what did he think could/should happen if/when there is an outbreak in Essex?

Firstly, if there was a local outbreak in an institution like a hospital or school or college, then that would be fairly easy to shut and isolate because those organisations would comply, he said. But if there was an outbreak in a commercial area that would be tricky because businesses would be reluctant to close. He said that he would need to explore his powers which would involve liaison with the police commissioner. And if an outbreak was more widespread across a locality then central government would be involved.

At tea-time, Education Secretary of State Gavin Williamson reinforced the message that schools will be back full time in September. How we would all love that. But how does this fit with the medical science message? I suppose we all open in the knowledge that at some point we will have to shut when we get the winter spikes. How we need a vaccine.

Must end the week on a positive. Send a video to all the staff and governors. A sneak preview of the film of a day in the life of our 60 reception children. It was made by local filmmakers Cliqq Studio. Wow, what a job they have done. It captures perfectly the vibrancy and variety of our five-year-olds’ school day...at a time before lockdown, before social distancing and “hierarchies of control” risk reduction measures. A time when school was buzzy and spontaneous. So a happy film but sadly poignant, too.