Headteacher: ‘Mission Impossible’ is going OK... for the moment!

St Peter's School in Budleigh Salterton. Photo: David Smith

St Peter's School in Budleigh Salterton. Photo: David Smith - Credit: Archant

Steve Hitchcock, headteacher at St Peter’s, takes readers through a day in his Budleigh Salterton school as staff and pupils learn to live a Covid-19 ‘new normal’

It’s 7am, and I’m up checking my phone: will anyone be off ill today?

We’ve tried really hard to dampen the panic from pupils or staff when they have a cough or a cold - all the usual things we get in school - but the spectre of Covid-19 looms large over us.

There have been a few people sent for tests, mainly for those with a fever, but no positive cases... so far.

Into school for 8am, and as I wade through the emails I utter a little sigh as the thousandth unhelpful email from the DfE pops into my inbox.

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They tell me I can order more home-testing kits, as most people can’t book a test centre closer than Edinburgh.

It’s helpful (not) to know that Ofsted might come and visit, and that they have planned to continue with SATs this year, even though we’ve all been hit for six and they will serve no useful purpose.

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Instead, they will add more unnecessary pressure to pupils and staff. If the DfE were a school, they would be ‘Requires Improvement’.

It’s 8.45am, and time to open the gates. Each year group arrives at a different time, with all parents wearing a face covering.

The parents have been absolutely brilliant, with the staggered starts ensuring there are no large gatherings or bottlenecks, which makes social distancing easy enough.

All the pupils are in ‘bubbles’ which means they can’t mix outside of these pods.

That means the playground is divided up, lunches are eaten in the classrooms, and we do all assemblies online.

Each bubble has its own toilet, which makes it hard for some classes, who have more children using the loo than we’d normally like.

It’s just before lunch and I get a knock at a door.

A teaching assistant has a pupil with her, looked ashen faced. “Can you take a look at Alice please? She’s been coughing a lot.”

So Alice gets her temperature checked, and I speak with her mum to find out it’s an asthmatic cough, and nothing more serious.

I trained as an accountant - not as a doctor!

The afternoon goes well. I pop into Ash class to see the mountain ranges they’ve made out of clay - they’ve been learning about physical geography - and the beautiful poetry they’ve written from the book ‘I am Cat’.

Then they are off to play, with their teacher joining in with the skipping games. It’s so nice to see them all back in school, laughing and having fun.

Then I pop down to see our newest children in reception. They tell me a pirate has been in to see them, and that he looks like me! I may have dressed up like one last week as part of their project on the UK...

Lunchtime is a military operation.

Each class has to stay apart, and children have to collect their food from the hall but eat it in class.

Then we have to work out how they can all have a run around, but not mix together.

The children have got used to the new routine so well.

After lunch, I chair the Budleigh Covid Support Group meeting.

It’s great to hear how many families we’ve supported financially, how the Hub has kept its support for our residents going, and the good work from the surgery getting thousands to have their flu jabs.

We’re preparing for stormy waters ahead, safe in the knowledge our community looks out for each other.

I have a coaching session with a teacher in the afternoon.

They are trying to work out how to meet the significant emotional needs of the class and catch the children up academically. We work out some next steps and arrange some additional support for a family from our emotional wellbeing teacher.

And then school is over, the staggered ending works really well, and it’s time for the staff meeting.

I never knew what ‘Zoom’ was a year ago, but I now stare at all the staff through cyberspace, as we work out how on earth we’re going to make Christmas work this year!

After that, it’s a governors’ meeting. I tell them how fab the staff have been - so positive and determined.

They hear we’re massively overspending on lunch time staff because of the number of pods that need supervising, and that the swimming pool needs £10,000 to break even for the year.

Aside from dealing with some serious safeguarding issues, parents struggling financially, and all the usual school business, ‘Mission Impossible’ is going OK... for the moment!

Before I go home, I get a brilliant pick-me-up. Spencer, from the PTA, has emailed to say he has already raised £1,000 for the school from a PTA fundraiser.

What would I do without these incredible people? Thank you, St Peter’s!

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