If I die from a covid illness my daughters must read the new clause in my will. They are to contact the National Schools Commissioner for an explanation.
I have never met the NSC, Dominic Herington, nor to be honest had I heard of him. He did a little TEFL in Spain in a gap year so he’s must be the right guy for the job. He is just about the last in line of bureaucrats, sat in their homes, trying to bully me into ignoring safety matters in our school.
There’s been an interesting procession of these people doing what they are told, regardless of reality, perfectly in tune with our current government leaders.
In August Hertfordshire LA wrote to me asking if I would speak on a video for parents reassuring them that schools are safe. I told them I wouldn’t lie to parents and declined the offer of movie stardom.
A few days later I was my usual effluent self on 3 Counties Radio, extolling the wonders of our staff. I announced that I did not feel it was safe to open the school to all students and that I would be re-integrating year groups as and when I considered it safe for children and adults. The LA person, listening at home, of course, informed the Department of Education.
The DfE man, working from home, of course, asked me to explain, and he took notes. I was disrespectful of the “moral imperative” coming from the PM’s tainted lips, saying that I acknowledged all my children and never gave jobs or public money to my girlfriends. Making a guy Lord Botham because he is in favour of hunting and killing animals…
The MP wrote to me about BoJo’s moral imperative. Another MP reminded parents of the demand to send all Chauncy kids back.
I was asked to a meeting with the LA to discuss health and safety matters. I asked when they would arrive but, of course, everyone at the meeting was at home – except me. It was clearly the Regional Schools Commissioner’s meeting – “sitting in” as I was told. I don’t think she liked my lack of obedience so she wrote a list of demands on a tight schedule. The Health & Safety guy had read all our stuff and said we’d done all we should and could. But she would be obeyed anyway and my advice is “Do not speak truth to those not listening.”
I’d never met the RSC, Dame Kate Dethridge, but I looked her up. She was CEO of a multi academy trust comprising a single primary school, so she had heard about big schools like ours. Listening to her and reading her letter I can agree that “there aint nothing like a dame.”
The first tranche of schools commissioners packed in after a few short years of their rule, most becoming CEOs of multi academy trusts with phenomenal salaries.
Anyway, the local authority rep, the mps, the guy from the DfE and the RSC had now done their bit and with clear consciences, ignoring their clear failure, passed it up the chain.
The National Schools Commissioner started writing to me, assuring me he understood the workload pressures on headteachers but wanted more answers by the next day. Did I say he was working at home?
When Gove emitted “a stitch in time saves nine” on the radio, Johnson thought this was spiffing and gave it to the country again that evening and again in the deserted House of Commons chamber (they’re all working from home) not thinking that many in the diverse UK population are under 50 and had no idea what this meant.
Thank goodness PM Johnson didn’t go on to tell us his interpretation of the idiom concerning birds and bushes.
Back to the national commissioner: he wrote again with more questions. The killer being along the lines of “you’re short of an 8 roomed building, because Honeybourne Construction has taken the money and run away. How does this possibly affect your capacity to house all the students.?” He asked twice. I stopped answering.
I sent him our Facebook Page with the 42 all positive, supportive comments from our parents. Parents trust headteachers more than they trust politicians and anonymous home-bound officials and they know we will do everything possible to keep their kids safe.
It was quiet for a week as they passed me up a jobsworth ladder of seniority until we received a phone-call asking for all sorts of data because the minister wanted to get involved. At this point, 1,000,000 children were not in school mainly because 1,000 schools were sending home classes, year groups or the entire school when covid -19 struck, (Guardian 22-09-2020 reporting official DfE statistics.)
My school has had one day’s staff sickness and fantastic student attendance in the last 12 days. Students are so pleased to be back that they have reconnected with the lessons and their teachers far better than I imagined and the school was calm, safe and happy, based on mutual trust I guess.
All the way through the series of intimidatory, grind-em-down bureaucracy I reminded them that all they had to do was instruct the governors to open the school fully and it would be done. Such an instruction would mean they were taking legal responsibility for any deaths in the school. They didn’t dare.
Today was the first wet lunch and I stood in the hall for 40 minutes in the middle of 150 14 year olds. This is madness. No-one else in British society is supposed to be in enclosed spaces so when did I become expendable? I can’t see my daughters’ family but I’m expected to talk nonsense about schools being safe.
I wonder how people in schools ended up as expendable as are some NHS workers, people in care homes and bus drivers. And to the next child minder who comments that it’s the same for them, Ofsted would close you down if you had 30 children in a room the size of a through lounge.
Back on the radio, I broadcast that the government doesn’t care if 3-400 school staff die, any more than they cared for the folk in care homes. I fear there’s a death count already underway.
Whilst I am writing about commissioners can I ask you to talk to someone over 50 about commissionaires. They were ex-soldiers employed to stand outside cinemas, hotels and public offices in big coats with big hats and medals. Their brief seemed to be to harangue young people. They were marginally more popular than the dreadful parkies who were employed to chase us from parks, mainly, it seemed, because they hated young people.
We have 1204 young adults and 120 fully grown adults – sometimes old – in confined spaces hour by hour. Children do not socially distance and adult workers in schools are barely any better: they signed up as social animals to work with young people and teaching solely from the front of the room is foreign territory for them. They love their jobs.
Our students are young and I hope they are too full of the joy of living to be scared, bullied or made to feel unsafe. Their youth is precious.
We’ve employed 6 more daytime cleaners, bought tons of sanitiser and bleach, have “bubbles” of no more than 228, a one way system and 95% of kids wearing masks between lessons, to protect us all. Each of them is performing an act of kindness, of caring for the people around them and I value each one of them more than my persecutors can imagine.
Parents should be confident that we are as safe as we can be and I can assure our mps, the local authority, the regional and national commissioners and the ministers that I will not keep staff or students in school if I think they cannot be kept reasonably safe.
Dennis O’Sullivan (Headteacher)