TP-Issue14.5 | 15 T he week that Reception, Y1 and Y6 pupils returned to school was the hardest yet. The tensions around reopening safely and the need to follow government directive has certainly been one of the most challenging periods in my career. Nevertheless, we began the risk assessments, the reorganisation of classrooms, school site and resources, the disinfecting, the ‘bubbles’ and the attempt to communicate the ‘new normal’ to our families. My previous role as headteacher of an infant and nursery school bears no resemblance to the one I do today. Gone are the worries of school development planning, assessment deadlines, the phonics test and SATs. Instead, I wake in the night to ever-increasing anxiety about how to safeguard my staff, children and community. We passionately want to reopen our school; we know how much our children need it, but we don’t want to put our communities at risk. I predict that the weeks ahead will be emotionally and physically draining as we move forward and make sense of how to do this. We have always been at the centre of our community and prided ourselves on our relationships with parents and carers and our ‘open door’ approach. As we went into lockdown, I knew my teamwould be ready and dedicated to caring for them in a new role. Supported by an energetic and brave family support worker and support staff who worked tirelessly in those early weeks, we set about our response. Armed with newly-acquired mobile phones and email systems, we reached out to our vulnerable families. We spoke to the children and listened to parents. We delivered food parcels. We emptied the school kitchens, providing packed free school meals to those who needed them until our trust rapidly came on board with a voucher system to enable parents to get what they needed. We printed and delivered these to all those who needed us to. Many families needed food bank vouchers in addition, which we got out in emergency situations when parents were VO I CES Claire Holmes Gone are the SATs and phonics worries – now I lay awake at night anxious about keeping families and teachers safe THEROLEOF HEADTEACHER HASCHANGED suddenly without income. Making these deliveries was our way of seeing the children; they waved to us, danced for us and parents shared their circumstances and fears, all from a safe distance. We signposted, listened, contacted other agencies and children’s teachers. I am grateful I lead a school where families are used to this ethos. Relationships built upon trust now became evident. Teaching staff became video stars, delighting us with their recordings of the children’s favourite stories. We delivered home learning packs when technology could not be accessed. We gave Kindles, donated to our trust by Teach First, to children without a device for home learning or for those in large families where the little ones were the last to get a go. The weeks have passed, systems are secure, records are made of every contact and we are used to meeting virtually. Safeguarding is our daily priority. As a school leader, the bombardment of emails and information from the DfE, our LA and the unions needs constant attention through the day and evening. The advice within is often conflicting. I am grateful to belong to a trust which has supported us throughout with clear direction and with the same ethos and commitment to supporting families as my own. We meet regularly online, in our networks of primary heads and trust leaders, and work our way through each emerging decision. We send emails late in the evening full of questions, shared responses and support for each other. Throughout this strange lockdown period there have been highs and many lows. Families have reached out in crisis and in kindness. We have experienced first-hand the aftermath of domestic violence and family breakdown in lockdown, as well as the joy of watching children come for their daily exercise and wave to us through the gates. The whole school staff made a ‘missing you’ video and parents rang, moved to tears, to say howmuch the children loved it. They miss us, too. TP ClaireHolmes is headteacher of Monkwick Infant School and Nursery, part of SigmaTrust, in Colchester, Essex.