North Primary School headteacher Alan Garnett gives his verdict on Essex’s new outbreak control plan

Monday, July 6

MUST get on with the plan for the return of all 450 children in September. Before getting bogged down with the logistics, I need to know what the local authority’s view is on the very different response schools will make to suspected and confirmed covid cases.

In my conference call this morning, the director of children’s services, Clare Kershaw, said she feels there are factors and measures which make this new response proportionate. She announced that Essex has now got a Health Protection Board. Mike Gogarty, director of public health and wellbeing for Essex, chairs, and she is a member. They meet weekly on a Monday and sat for the first time last week. The board get covid test information at postcode level and will get local testing data which relates to schools and businesses.

This is encouraging.

Essex has produced an outbreak control plan which has been approved by the NHS. I have asked for this document to be placed in the public domain. So we must trust that by September the slowly improving test and trace, the speed with which results are returned and with the public health board getting relevant data quickly, with schools continuing to adhere to the hierarchy of controls, we will have in place a strong enough system to limit the infection rate and also manage and contain outbreaks.

TEAMs meeting with the senior management team this afternoon. An hour spent talking about bubbles. Who would have thought! There is agreement that we have a workable structure, but there are so many details to address to implement the plan effectively.

Tuesday, July 7

WE are not the only people working hard on our plans. Received an email form Mike Gogarty this morning in which he signed off: “What we are all clear on is that there is much work we need to do well before September to define best approach and we are committed to do this.”

Wednesday, July 8

OUR Year Sixes would be busy rehearsing their play – a fabulous way to end their primary careers. They are having to settle for compiling a video and staff are putting together a video too as there will not be a leavers’ assembly.

I recorded my message. Very strange feeling. It is hard to maintain that sense of community when everybody – even those within the school - are isolated and deliberately being kept apart.

Community is about belonging and giving and North is lucky to have so many people from our locality who want to make a contribution to our school. We are privileged to have benefitted from employees of local businesses Hiscox and more recently Seatrade, who give up their lunchtimes to pop into school and support the children with their learning and read with them.

Some of the volunteers have been doing this for years – other stopped because they decided they wanted a career change and went off to train to become teachers. Well, visitors are not currently welcome in schools. Out of the blue we received an email from two of our volunteers who have been helping out in the Year Six classrooms up until lockdown. “When we could visit you, it was an absolute pleasure to be welcomed into your classes and to spend a small amount of time each week in your wonderful company. It’s a shame that we couldn’t come in to see you before you go to make your next big step into secondary school. However, we wish you all the best in your new schools, with your new uniforms and the new friends you are about to make.” A lovely gesture. The teachers will pass on this message.

Thursday, July 9

THE day starts with another meeting with senior managers who have been emailing their thoughts and ideas and ends with an evening Full Governing Body Zoom Meeting.

What will school look like? No singing, no playing woodwind instruments, PE without physical contact, no assemblies, dining rooms not practical to be used, staggered starts with playground drop zones to help parents with children in different bubbles. Another challenge will be to have a full remote learning offer available throughout the year while the school is fully operational. A massive undertaking.

Governors ask about the Government’s catch-up scheme. I inform them that there are no details yet – how to access the grants and what we can and can’t spend them on. Nine school days left. August will be busy.

The new school year normally starts with all staff and governors – over 70 people – gathering to hear me set out the vision for the year. I also give a safeguarding briefing, ensuring all staff and governors are up to speed with the latest guidance – usually published in the holiday for implementation from September 1. Will have to do this remotely. Governors approve the plans and also rubber-stamp the extensive programme of summer works which will include the major repair of the crumbling ceiling in the music studio, which is currently unsafe to use.

Friday, July 10

EXCELLENT news. The local authority capital programme team confirm they will pay for the new ceiling in the music studio. That will save the school over £10 000. We lose control of the project but that is a price worth paying as they say they can match our timescales and get the work completed in the holiday.

This afternoon, met with Laura Davison, co-ordinator for CXXV, our 125th birthday history project.

There cannot be many schools in the country who have chronicled in such detail the living history of their school and the community which they serve.

The high-profile events and lessons which got the year off to such an incredible start back in November seem a memory from a distant time, but there is still plenty of work that needs to be done: complete the archive, upload all the oral histories and artefacts onto the website timeline and get the history book finished and off to the printers. In a normal world we would be looking to hold a big event in November to bring the birthday year to a fitting conclusion with the book launch but who knows if indoor social gatherings will be allowed even then?