Thank you for the guidance which arrived last week and then, oh joy, more today. The 35 pages on full reopening is pitched well to annoy heads who want more guidance and heads who want less, so it is probably about right. Apart from asking us to do the impossible, it is a reasonable effort. Separating year groups is a great idea – if you have a 1970s building with year bases, like the old Tallis or the old Pimlico. That was a lesson from the past that no one wanted to revisit during Building Schools for the Future, where we all had to cut down on communal space and no one has anywhere to put children when it rains at lunchtime.
So dining is on my mind. I get up early so there’s a long gap after breakfast. That means I go to first lunch with y7 and 8, the bonus being that I can see over the littlest ones’ heads. First lunch is a melee of 500-odd 11-13s, organising themselves pretty well, grasping food and cackling happily as they review the morning, perfectly safe and orderly while making an ear-piercing racket quite different to the rumbling of older children. Second lunch is more crowded with over 800 bigger and hungrier diners reading, tutting, strutting and preening.
Let me tell you, we can solve ordinary lunch with no year group mingling but wet lunch? Oh my. Several people have suggested, helpfully, that we could roof over the spaces between the blocks. Well thank you. What? How? And have you seen the cost of a PFI building adjustment? OK, they say, saddened by my mindset: what about a big gazebo? It’d have to be semi-permanent: we’re built on a swamp like Tenochtitlan of the Aztecs and an hour’s rain gives us trench foot and quacking. Umbrellas?
An email enticingly titled ‘toilet amendments’ has just hopped into view. Anyone for latrine detail?
The School Council have been reflecting on weightier matters, reviewing our performance since March. They liked the work set and the support, they like Teams. They didn’t like timetable clashes or other students being late for lessons. They’re doing but missing learning. They want to see their teachers and their friends. Most of all, they want to be together to do something about Black Lives Matter, to talk about it, to demonstrate, to learn about institutional racism and to hold us to account. Other things can wait: ‘all of the focus at the moment needs to be on Black Lives Matter.’ We expected no less and we’re on it. See what happens when a school focuses on understanding the world and changing it for the better?
Returning to the matter under advisement, Mr Williamson, I cannot tell a lie. Your other guidance has annoyed me. Today we got 4 pages: a Checklist for school leaders to support full opening: behaviour and attendance. First, a quibble. A checklist needs boxes to tick. Scattering it with bullet-point ticks makes it instructions. Second, its really annoying.
Simon Hoggart, may he rest in peace, invented his Law of Inverse Absurdity one Saturday morning in the Guardian for just such a document. Let me entertain you.
So at the end of a long struggle since March, you decide to issue a statement of the blindingly obvious? Is that time well spent? Some heads are really agitated about Ofsted kindly offering to do some checking visits to see how its all going next term. I’m not that bothered, they have to earn their keep. But I’ve said it before, Mr Williamson, you’re putty in the hands of your leader. The PM’s flinging blame about. He’s started on the care homes and it’ll be social workers next. He daren’t blame the NHS but no one in any government has ever batted an eyelid at blaming schools for anything and everything.
Austerity, poverty, elitism, the Hostile Environment, racism, Brexit and an education-as-exams policy which sacrifices a third of children are the problems that lead to disengagement, poor behaviour and truancy. Our systems work pretty well, but they cost a lot and I’m worried about what Rishi Sunak will do when he’s finished carrying plates about for the cameras. You’re all limbering up to blame schools and then you’ll turn the screw. What will it be? Further reduced budgets or super-strict behaviour policies? Both?
Me, I’ve got to reopen a school that keeps children safe and helps them think about the state of the world. I have to be ready for rain and shine, for anger as well as relief. I’ve got to keep everyone with me while we steer this supertanker around the rocks. If you’re going to advise me, make it useful. If you can’t do that, leave me alone. The children expect a better world, and I must look to them.