* North Primary School headteacher Alan Garnett gives an update in his latest diary.

Monday, September 21

ONLY Nursery, Reception and Year Six in school today. The Reception children stay for their first school lunch. Year Six move into their new classrooms in their new uniforms for the first time. They look very smart and very proud. Parents are taking photos in the playground. The rest of the staff are preparing for their new classes’ first day tomorrow.

No news on the cleaners’ test result. His family remain isolated. Email goes out to staff to ask for volunteers to stay behind to do the cleaning duties for today in the first instance.

Mike Gogarty, director of Public Health Essex, joined the conference call this morning with the local authority. He is candid: testing is an issue but Essex are working hard to increase capacity and turnaround and all education setting staff and their families are being prioritised. He wants schools to continue to ring the Essex number because he wants to “test this team” to make sure they can meet the demand which will rise through the autumn and winter.

I asked him about coughs because last Friday, Dr Hilary, off the telly, told the nation to send their kids to school with coughs because it is normal and other medical organisations are advising that parents etc should distinguish between a dry and phlegmy cough. I do not want to be stood on the school gate making these medical judgement calls. Mike said the PHE position remains that children should not come to schools with coughs but get a test and stay home until the result comes back. And if a child has a cold (runny nose) with a high temperature then the temperature means a test has to be taken. He says the same applies to a child who is asthmatic: if the child with asthma develops a cough they must have a test. That message could not be clearer.

Volunteers come forward. The school will be clean!

Tuesday, September 22

MUSIC lessons resume today. The music studio ceiling restoration has been completed. It is lovely to hear the sounds travelling across the infant courtyard. The lessons are slightly shorter to allow the music teacher to clean all the instruments in between use.

The governors’ personnel committee meet to review the pay policy which needs to be implemented from September 1. We can only agree in principle because the Government are still to get the policy signed off in parliament.

The Prime Minister addresses the nation. He announces a few measures which could be in place for six months. No new directives for schools.

Wednesday, September 23

PARENTS inform me at the school gate that they can’t complete the online registration of their children for the flu vaccine. Have we given parents the wrong information they ask? Our office manager finds out that the problem is demand. The system has been overwhelmed. They ask us to advise parents to be patient and persevere. She sends an email to all parents to do just that. Later a grandparent asks if this is a Covid vaccine. If only. The take up for the flu vaccine since it was introduced a few years ago has been very high. Let’s hope it remains so. One concern. A side effect is a high temperature. How will parents distinguish between a high temperature as a reaction to the vaccine and Covid symptoms? Will check with Public Health.

The local authority send an email to all schools to strengthen their message that they want us to report positive cases to them and not the DfE because the advice coming from the DfE has not been good.

Thursday, September 23

OFSTED are not resuming their full inspections until January. In the meantime they have started doing “informal” visits to schools. I tell the local authority that I am concerned that schools will come under pressure to prepare for these at a time when they should be totally focusing on keeping the school running at full capacity. I told the local authority that these “coffee mornings” are a diversion and a distraction and I hoped they were not going to act in a way to heighten anxiety, like other authorities reportedly have making schools be Ofsted prepared and even offering mock inspections. I was reassured by the response.

Amanda Spielman, Head of Ofsted, made a speech today issuing a warning that expectations on schools and families need to be realistic when it comes to schools’ remote learning offer. Teachers are working flat out in school. More and more parents will be working from home. We all need to be realistic about what is possible. This was welcome. I hope the DfE and her own inspectors were listening.

I spend the afternoon in conference with our special educational needs co-ordinator and the educational psychologist and inclusion partners assigned to the school by the local authority. Sadly, we have to share them with 30+ other schools. We flag up our concerns about how it is harder to use our staff efficiently because we can’t put children from different classes into the same teaching groups. We focus our attention on new arrivals without support plans and children who will be moving to secondary school in 2021 and 2022. We need money to pay for the support essential for the new pupils to thrive and we need to catch up with the annual review backlogs and secondary application and transition work for the older pupils.

Friday, September 24

FOR years school staff and pupils across the UK have benefitted from our participation in EU-funded education projects. Today, I “attended” the final conference of the three-year project I have gained so much from those experiences which I have been proud to share with my school community and beyond. I will never forget visiting Oodi, the new Helsinki library – a library which is so much more than a library. “Oodi is our shared living room. We are all responsible for keeping it comfortable.” It is an extraordinary place with all generations making full use of all Oodi’s resources and amenities. Helsinki residents were involved in the design, demonstrating a commitment to social inclusion and civic pride that is truly remarkable. We visited that library at a time when libraries in England were being closed because apparently the sixth richest country in the world could not afford to keep them open. What a contrast in social, cultural and educational ambition.

The project produced valuable research into language acquisition difficulties and how to address them. Forging links with educationalists in other countries can only be a good thing. Tragically, schools across the UK will no longer be able to take part in projects such as these because we are no longer in the EU.

I am hearing that other local schools have a number of staff isolating and are struggling to keep all classes open. So far we have been lucky. Fingers crossed.