In his latest Gazette diary, North Primary School headteacher Alan Garnett hails the contemporary relevance of the Lady of the Lamp

Monday, November 9

ASSEMBLY is all about Florence Nightingale. Who would have thought talking about her achievements would take on such a contemporary relevance? It was due to her influence that the first nurses’ teaching hospital was established in London in 1860. Now we have emergency Covid hospitals built in her name. And “the lady with the lamp” was hugely influential in promoting hand-washing as a principle of good hygiene and that hospital wards had to be well ventilated. Just like school classrooms today!

The morning is spent in contact with Anglia Water. Drain issues with neighbours has forced us to close front pedestrian access until the source is identified and the clean-up operation completed.

Frustrating news received after school. A teacher has been told by NHS track and trace that she has to isolate for 14 days. Somebody she knows has tested positive. At some point this situation was likely to happen and with 70 staff we may have been lucky for it to have only happened twice now. But it is a terrible nuisance. Supply teachers are in short supply at the moment.

The Prime Minister holds a press conference to announce a vaccine is on its way. This is really good news.

Tuesday, November 10

THE smell of hot food is wafting around the school again. And it is lovely. Staff and children comment as they pass by the kitchen. The work to replace the extractor fan hood has not started, but we have hired a couple of electric ovens, which has enabled the cooks to put on a limited hot food menu.

Wednesday, November 11

ZOOM into an Essex Primary Head Association meeting. Hot topic – where is the money? Nationally, schools on average have spent £9,000 to keep them Covid-secure. The Government is determined that we all stay open, but is less enthusiastic about covering our costs, despite our already stretched budgets. There is a limited reimbursement scheme. But it is a limited scheme and it does not seem to be doing much reimbursing in any case. Not acceptable.

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, the children and staff at North Primary School and Nursery observed a minute’s silence - wherever they were, whatever they were doing. 6A were on break and enjoying letting off steam in the woodland area. They stopped, paid their respects and then resumed their games.

In the Gazette there was a lovely article about a local family who live in a house which has one of our poppy plaques on its front wall. These plaques commemorate former pupils of North who lost their lives in the First World War. Pictured was the little girl, Willow, outside her house where there is not only our plaque, but also one that her mum has added. Willow may one day be a North pupil and then she will be able to see the name of Ernest C. Stowe on our roll of honour.

Received a bundle of postcards today from former pupils who are now attending St Helena. The children have written to their old teachers and the current Year 6s to let them know how they are doing. It is a lovely idea and the postcards are great.

Thursday, November 12

TODAY the school celebrates its 126th birthday. Receive a birthday message from a dear friend of the school, Sir Bob Russell, who kindly passed on a tweet from Colchester Civic Society: #OnThisDay - 12 November, 1894, North Street School - the first in #Colchester funded from local taxation - was opened. It cost £8,000. Not even enough money to keep us Covid-secure! I wonder how much would it cost to build this school today.

Conference calls all day. Hot topics are Ofsted and exams. England is the only one of the four nations not to have announced any changes to the exam system for this academic year – apart from the shifting of dates. Apparently in the corridors of Whitehall there is an acceptance that there does need to be a rethink, but that the decision will be made in No10. By now we normally would have received test administration guidance and be booked onto moderator courses for the spring term. We are still waiting for the former and the latter have been cancelled. What should we read into this? Indecision and prevarication is so unhelpful.

Friday, November 13

THE morning headcount of isolators is the lowest for some time, but the infection rate is rising highest in the northern side of Colchester, part of which sits in our catchment area.

Another phone call is made about the drains – this time to a local councillor. It is intolerable that we have had to shut our front pathway again.

Oh, no. Phone call received from a parent of a child in Nursery. Positive test result. Inform the DfE and Essex Contact Track and Trace Team. Texts and emails sent to parents to collect their children. Staff sent home to isolate. Letters emailed to all parents, staff and governors to explain the situation. Nursery will not open again until November 26. Sad end to the week.