The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

Schools rising to the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19

When I was asked to write this piece, the world was a different place. The original article that I had written was about how we were working across REAch2 to deliver a truly exceptional education to every child in our care, and how trust leadership is about transforming lives.

Roll forward a couple of weeks, and everything has changed. We are in the grip of a pandemic that has changed people’s lives – both the everyday habits and routines, and more fundamentally and forever for many families who have lost those they love.

What has been so very impressive has been to see leadership at every level of the education sector. I had been tasked with sharing some insight into our work at REAch2, but at times like these, I think it is all the more important to look out, not in.

Twitter, Facebook, local news on the television – wherever you pick up your news, there are stories of schools going above and beyond, rising to the challenge that COVID-19 brings: providing enriching learning for children to do at home; delivering free school meals; coming into school to look after the children of key workers; keeping in touch with vulnerable families.

I see this everywhere, and it fills my heart with gratitude to know that we are all doing our bit to help fight this battle. At a time when we have never been more physically distant, there is a greater sense of coming together, of joint endeavour, of irrepressible human spirit.

At REAch2, our schools are doing work that will become known as the stuff of legend. The outpouring of positive feedback from our parents of each academy, without exception, has just been incredible:

“The support from this school is second to none”;

“I have known a lot of schools and this is the best I have known”;

“The support to families is beyond excellence, thank you so much”;

“The support provided so far has been incredible and we as parents thank you all for being such an amazing team.

We are so glad our child is part of the academy.”

And from a parent who is an ICU nurse:

“I wanted to add this to the school page, as all of you that have been at the school and looked after the children including mine have been angels, I would like you all to know how appreciative I am for what you have and are doing. We love you all, best school ever. You are also true heroes, thank you is not enough”

Schools the length and breadth of the country will be hearing similar things, with parents grateful for super-human efforts that staff are putting in.

In our own microcosm, we have 20,000 children and over 4,000 staff. Never has there been a time when each of those as individuals has been in sharper focus. We are pushing ourselves harder and further to ensure that we continue to be there for each and every one throughout this period of time, however long it may last.

And of course, it will end. And we will return to our schools up and down the country. But we will return much changed.

The next academic year, whenever it starts, will be an unusual one. There will be an acclimatisation period – for both children and for staff. The school year may look and feel a little different. And Edtech will no longer be the preserve of one of two keen teachers, but much more mainstream.

At a time when we have never been more physically distant, there is a greater sense of coming together, of joint endeavour, of irrepressible human spirit.

Catherine Paine

What won’t have changed is our values: family, school to school support, collaboration and a resolute focus on everyone achieving. These are standing the test of COVID-19 and will continue to stand the test of time in each of our 60 schools.

Whatever else, if this period of time teaches the wider world anything, it is to think again about how we value public sector workers. It feels like the tide has turned on sentiment and status for those who work in the NHS. A similar reckoning will surely follow for education and those who work in schools.