As I started my day on 22nd February 2021, about to prepare my school for full opening – again, I did not expect a call from Ofsted informing me of a ‘bonus’ monitoring inspection.
The inspection would be a remote one and our remote education provision would be under scrutiny four days before it was due to end.
The next two days were interesting to say the least. What we were able to celebrate, however, was that our ‘remote provision’ was as much about the wellbeing and support of our families as trying to keep children learning.
The challenging circumstances we have all adapted to during the coronavirus pandemic have reinforced our purpose as a Church School. Church Schools were designed to serve the communities that they are in.
Many, established in the 1800s, were supporting the education of working children. A wider focus on spiritual and moral education was as important as helping children to learn skills or a trade.
In my view, never has this community focused service been more necessary than during the last year.
Our endeavours to serve the school community included online access to school staff and pastoral support every day for both children and parents, phone calls and virtual meetings, signposting to mental health organisations and others for people in crisis, recorded worship with positive messages based around values as well as bereavement support.
This was extended to serving our wider community with the various messages of hope displayed on the perimeter of the school grounds, hidden in hymn books in the local church and in library books in town; letters written to residents of local care homes and cards sent to local people to help combat loneliness and isolation.
One local resident wrote to me to say our messages were “considerate, inspiring and hopeful… and brightened her day”.
We provided food, (sometimes delivered by me, driving round in my car, getting lost), laptops, clothes and even fridges in partnership with our local church, food banks and other organisations.
Sometimes for our children who couldn’t make it in and other times hampers and packages for whole families. This made me feel that we were bringing a little bit of light to people but importantly, that, as a Church School, this is what we were designed to do.
Nothing was insurmountable and we overcame the new and unique challenges together, giving our children a unique perspective on what it means to be part of a community and how we are part of a real school family.
We have been able to increase everyone’s awareness of the challenges other people face in life and how we can support local causes and make a real difference in our communities. Our staff and children are advocates for the common good. They know they can overcome barriers and change lives.
We have only done the same as thousands of schools up and down the country, but what is clearer to me than ever before is that, as a Church of England School, all of this is our duty. Our actions to positively affect people’s lives is at the core of what we do, not an add-on to standard education provision.
We are now fully open, and we are still providing these services. The huge impact of Covid-19 will be with us for some time to come, but so will hope, aspiration and courageous advocacy, in abundance.
It is my hope that this generation of children take with them the sense of innovation, outreach, and a need to act for the greater good, rather than focusing on this being a time of isolation.
A Year 3 child recently said to me, while running past playing with friends at breaktime, “I’ve enjoyed not seeing my family so much.” To which my surprised “Why?” was met with “Well, I have been reading to my grandad on Zoom and we’d never have done that without lockdown.” A cup half full. Long may that continue.
Lisa Dale is headteacher at Howbridge Primary in Witham.