Column: with North Primary School headteacher Alan Garnett

Monday, July 20

THERE is something about North that makes it hard to leave. I am only its eighth headteacher. Teachers have collectively dedicated about 200 years of their careers to the school and nursery.

And the same can be said of the governors. Our chair of governors, Jan Blackwell, appointed me in 2000. In total, she has clocked up 30 years of voluntary service to the school community. Jan is a dentist, but she has set aside every Wednesday morning over those years to spend time in the school, checking I am on top of everything and helping out in the Reception classes, meaning she has got to know all the children who start the school as rising fives. Remarkable.She sent an email to all the staff today. Here is part of it:

“We started the school year looking forward to celebrating our 125th birthday. Who could have predicted that we would be catapulted into the 21st century with online learning as the norm? On behalf of the governors, I would like to thank you all for stepping up to the challenge, not only of teaching in a very different way, but interacting with the families through Keeping in Touch calls and safeguarding, as best possible, the welfare of the children.”

She has also written a letter to parents which I will include in my final newsletter of the year.

Tuesday, July 21

TODAY I finally finish the risk assessment for September. The key section outlines the procedures to be followed if staff or children have symptoms or test positive.

There is a clear anomaly in the government guidance. If a child tests positive, they have to isolate for seven days; the other members of the household have to self-isolate for 14 days. So how does the young child get to school from days eight to 14? I have been reading all these documents for too long. Check with LA communication team that I have understood this instruction correctly. Yes, I have.

The risk assessment will be shared with staff and put on the website and will be under constant review. And a lot can change over the next six weeks. The document does not mention the wearing of face masks as standard practice, only when managing intimate care or supervising a symptomatic child while waiting for the parent to come and take them home. From Friday, it became compulsory in all shops. Possibly by September there will be similar advice for schools. By sheer coincidence I receive two emails from parents on this subject. Their views could not be further apart. One asks that I make the wearing of face masks compulsory for all children and staff in September. The other from a health care professional, urges me to resist such a plan, citing evidence that the wearing of masks is not effective and can be counter-productive.

The PM announced pay rises for public sector workers. Good news for teachers, but where will the money come from them to pay them? All indications are that the money will have to come from within our existing budget. Two years ago learning support assistants got a well-deserved pay rise, schools ended up making some LSAs redundant so they could afford to honour the pay rises for the rest.

The year sixes got sent their song video and the 35-minute long video message from staff. It was very well-received as this email from a parent indicates. “Wow. Thank you for such a beautiful goodbye video for the year sixes. I was literally sobbing. (My daughter) and I really appreciate how much thought and effort went into it. The goodbye messages, memories and wishes for the future were heartfelt and amazing. The end of primary school didn’t quite go to plan, but we do have some amazing memories of the past seven years, an excellent education and some lifelong friendships.”

Wednesday, July 22

THE final day of the academic year has arrived. To say it has been a challenge is an understatement. I feel for colleagues in other schools new to headship. How tough must it have been for them?

What has become clear to me over the past few months is that, paradoxically, for many parents, remote learning has brought home and school closer together. So in my final Newsline I shared a letter from a parent who captured that sentiment perfectly. We just wanted to write to you to say how thankful we are for all that you have done for the children during this bizarre time:

“The teachers have set sufficient work which has always been marked or commented on and sent back for corrections, kept in touch and has never put any pressure on us parents or children to get work done. It has always been about their wellbeing for which we are very grateful and they did all this while looking after and teaching their own children!

We are so appreciative of the information and support that has been given to us from all members of staff and that the children’s health and wellbeing, as well as the staff, are the priority.

“In September, we are so pleased with how you are planning to proceed. We have an anxious child, as I’m sure you’re aware, and by allowing him to settle back in to school with familiar teachers is a big help and is very reassuring for him.

“Normally, we would’ve given to teachers a gift at this time of year, but I’m sure the best gift you all could have is some time off!”

The final afternoon. Year 6s pop in for an hour to collect their belongings left in classrooms and cloakrooms since March 23 - a memory stick with their year book, their leavers’ hoodies and a gift from Eld Lane Church. For a number of years now Susan Sydenham visits the year sixes and talks to them about their journey from primary to secondary and presents them with a very good book about preparing for that transition.

The children are sat spaced out on the Astro in the fresh air and sunshine, socially distancing but they have not seen each other for a long time so that is harder for some than others. It is lovely to see them. A very kind grandparent has paid for a freelance photographer to capture these moments. For 27 of the children this is also the end of their parents’ connection with the school as these children are either their only or youngest. The parents have to say their farewells at the school gate. One day they may return as grandparents. It is hard to stay away from North forever. It is that kind of school.