I have been a teacher for 31 years, a head teacher for 16 years and, at the age of 55, this much I know about when the last day of the school year falls in March.
Here is an account of the last few days at Huntington before the country’s schools all but closed for the foreseeable future on Friday 20 March 2020:
Today, I began our final Year 11 assembly with the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”. It seemed apposite.
Oh for a boring Friday in mid-March, where nothing interesting happens, a Friday consigned to the “instantly forgettable” pile, beyond recall.
Instead, it has been a day which will interest historians for centuries to come.
It began for me at 5.00 am, like every day this week.
We have taken things hour by hour. What else can anyone do? We created a planning room where, at 7.30 am meetings, our SLT sat on separate tables and figured out what on earth to do. We worked closely together but kept our distance.
Since Monday we have focused relentlessly on communicating with our students, parents and colleagues. A daily morning PowerPoint from me, read aloud by form tutors to their tutees. A daily parental bulletin. A daily Coronavirus Contingency Planning Update for colleagues before registration.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
A vacuum is soon filled with fear. We had to manage the growing levels of anxiety.
Once out of that room, we put our game face on. As students and staff began to buckle, there was no reason to add to their doubts. It’s great to show you’re human for sure, but people also need to feel they are in safe hands, especially when uncertainty and fear abound.
Then again, I did weep privately in my office on Thursday after I had told the Year 11s and 13s their examinations were cancelled.
Over the past two days we have focused our minds on gathering all the evidence we could find to support our predicted grade judgements. We knew we had to give everyone a sense of purpose. We kept them busy before they started thinking too much.
Beyond that, I’ve been repeating to anyone and everyone the Shelley line which I had written on my office whiteboard last October and is still there: “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
At break time today, the sunshine warmed the backs of my legs through the glass as I stood in reception, a reminder that this too shall pass, that the earth will keep on turning.
And we laughed a lot. My last two Year 11 classes were uproarious. We sat and told stories, finding comfort in our narratives.
My Business Studies boys told me things about our school that no one else needs to know!
The prize for the first student to solve their last ever GCSE mathematics question was either all the cash in my trouser pockets or a roll of toilet paper. The winner chose the latter.
When I stood on the stage for the final assembly, I told the Year 11s I was sorry they will never have that last day of school rite of passage. I told them that they will be awarded their qualifications.
I told them their futures will be secure, that the sun will shine again.
Our school values of Respect, Honesty and Kindness, emblazoned above me across the hall wall as I spoke, have never been more resonant.
I told them to go home and be kind to people.
My final slide before we bid them farewell for now featured a wall of Love Hearts sweets. I explained that at the core of our response to this crisis has to be love. And how, when this is over, we just might be a kinder, gentler species, one that realises that we need each other more than we ever knew.
Shakespeare was right when he wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”.
As our young people hugged each other and wept, the comforting strains of “It Must be Love” floated across the school hall.
Nothing more, nothing less…