Yes (ex) Minister! Head shares school pandemic experience with GB leaders

A LEES headteacher has shared his experiences of running a school during the coronavirus pandemic with a national audience.

The invitation for Andy Clowes to appear as a guest on an influential podcast is the latest high profile recognition for Hey with Zion Primary.

In 2019, the Rowland Way school was singled out for inclusion by the Parliamentary Review – a guide to industry best practice, sent to more than 500,000 leading business executives, policy makers and other relevant individuals.

So, when Lord David Blunkett, a former Labour Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Education and Employment, asked him to appear on a podcast for the Leaders Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Andy needed no second request.

Hey with Zion, adjudged ‘good’ after its last full Ofsted inspection in 2016, has 305 pupils on its register.

But because of Covid-19, as Andy explained to podcast host Matthew O’Neill: “We went very quickly to a school with only 15 or so in school, and 290 or so at home.

“But the children in school were easily managed. They were usually in two groups, an infant group and a junior group.

“And it was an honour to look after these children at this time.

We don’t usually save lives in schools. But we felt that by looking after these children, their parents, who were NHS workers and other key people, could go out and save lives and keep the country running.

“I was so impressed by the staff response. I am not just talking about teachers but office staff, the site manager, midday supervisors and teaching assistants too.“They didn’t care about their job descriptions or their contracts or their holidays or even their pay.

“Some actually refused payment which I offered for those who did far more days and hours than they’re paid for.

“They told they just wanted to do the right thing and I have immense respect for them for that.”

For youngsters at home Andy explained: “We needed to consider the three roles that schools do: we educate children, we also look after them while their parents go out to work, and there’s a social care aspect to our role, we look out for the children’s welfare.

“Schools do a very important job for society by just keeping a check on children’s welfare as they go through different things in their lives,” he said.

“So, we checked in very regularly with some families, and sufficiently with all families. And we got in touch with all of our children.

“Because we did that, we noticed when things happened in children’s lives that meant they’d become vulnerable during that period.

“So, we could invite them in even though they hadn’t been included in the original government age groups.

“One teacher went around to the house of every single child in her class with a little home-made bracelet made from beads and letters which spelled the child’s name.

“This wasn’t teaching English or Maths, but it was teaching the child that they’re cherished, they belong with us and we can’t wait to have them back.”

And what does the future hold? “In September we need to be in school,” confirmed Andy.

“We can make adaptations – staggered arrival times, staggered collection times, staggered play times, less passing of each other in corridors, maintain good handwashing practices, reducing crowding such as by temporarily cancelling school assemblies.

“We can set up classrooms differently – less face to face interaction and a return to all looking to the front in some classes; we need to look at the up to date government guidance and apply it thoughtfully in a way that works for us.”

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