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A head teacher’s year of working in Lockdown

Jasbir Mann and her husband, both members of Novus Rotary, during her talk

On the day that Health Secretary Matt Hancock responded in the Commons to allegations by former aide to the PM Dominic Cummins about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Novus Rotary member Jasbir Mann spoke to the club via Zoom about how her working life had been affected by the pandemic.

Jasbir has been head of Falcons — a Sikh-ethos primary school for children aged 4-11 in Leicester almost since it opened in 2014 with about a tenth of the number of pupils (420) that it now has.

Jasbir recalled that the day that the first lockdown started, there had been an after-hours meeting so teachers were in school and they immediately started thinking about producing workpacks for home.

Jasbir showed several slides, the first of which showed her early reactions, which actually helped her throughout the subsequent 14 months.

The illustrations reminded her to continue to ask herself through the pandemic: “Is my energy going into the right things?” The illustration that helped most was the series of Post-It notes reminding herself to be positive and to believe that “Everything Will Be Okay. Wryly, she commented that maybe it was a good thing that they did not know how long the crisis would last.

Of course her workload — and that of her staff — increased dramatically, with the need to write lengthy risk-assessments, to prepare for and implement plans for when it was necessary to isolate children or members of staff.

Falcons had to stay open during Lockdown, so it could teach the children of key workers. That was even more complicated in cases where one of their teachers had a spouse or partner who was a key worker and then had to isolate because they had been in contact with someone who had tested positive. That mean that they may have had to educate their children at home.

“The workload was relentless,” said Jasbir. “It felt you could not stop as you might miss something.”

As well as teaching, staff delivered to children’s homes workpacks, IT equipment, food parcels for some needy families and toys to promote physical activity for children living in homes with limited space for exercise.

Jasbir said that more and more in-school work was done outside in the Peace Garden which Rotary Novus had provided at the Gipsy Lane site.

Ensuring consistency across the school was a particular headache for Jasbir. “It was difficult for teachers to learn how to teach remotely, particularly with parents often looking on in the background.”

As many of her school’s families have English as a second language, it was necessary, but difficult, to explain changing rules about Lockdown. Teachers had to be mindful of the emotional needs of children.

However, she said, learning how to use Zoom and Teams to communicate online had been a benefit. Governors’ meetings, she said, had been more effective because they had continued online, rather than in person.

Information Technology had allowed the school to continue its programme of assemblies, which were recorded and are available online. So despite Lockdown the school marked Vaisakhi, Easter, Ramadan, Eid, Red Nose Day and Science Week.

One startling statistic from September 2020 showed that 89 per cent of school leaders reported being stressed or very stressed and that 59 per cent of senior leaders had considered leaving.

Another Novus member is Carolyn Robson, who is executive head of The Mead Educational Trust, with 7,000 children at its several schools. In the ongoing discussion after Jasbir’s talk, Carolyn commented that many of her non-teaching staff preferred working from home and that only two of the 20 non-teaching staff were actually at the head office on the day of the talk.

Last edited: 22:15 on Thursday, 27/05/2021