Headteacher Update 16th July 202016/07/20
Tomorrow is the last day of the 2019 – 2020 academic year; if your child is in school tomorrow it will be a free dress day. It has been a year like no other in every respect.
Without doubt, professionally, the last four months have been the most challenging I have ever faced. I have been a Headteacher for 15 years and when you work with a thousand young people every year there is little new that will happen – just variations on the same theme. Covid-19 has changed that. I am very proud of how the school community has pulled together since March and the feedback we have received from parents has been overwhelmingly positive; but I know that there are still things we can work on.
For those of you who have not yet had the chance to look at our Virtual Commendation Day on the school website (and huge numbers of you have) my theme this year was Educational and other Lessons from Lockdown:
Whatever we have learned we have always known; it’s just that at times, events conspire to remind us of some universal truths…
- That we are flexible. My colleagues are much better at using technology than ever before and many have completely surpassed their own expectations of what they can deliver remotely; the vast majority of our students are now seeing more of exactly how technology can be used for purposeful educational reasons and not just for accessing social media.
- That we are resilient. We are not the first humans to face a pandemic or the struggles of war and the history of our species tells us that when challenges come along we respond to them positively. We find a way to overcome our challenges. We are doing so with Covid-19.
- That we begin to understand what sustains us at times like this. I’ve said so many times at school events how much I love my job; I have never complained about the demands of being your Headteacher because it was my choice to do it and there are so many brilliant and enjoyable aspects of what I do. But I have had to make so many decisions over the past few months that I never thought I would have to make – I have been hugely out of my comfort zone and I have found some things difficult. At times like this where do we draw our energy, inspiration and hope from; so that we might continue to support others and keep going ourselves? For me, my comfort comes from family, friends (including my colleagues) and from my faith.
o Isaiah tells us: Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord…will not grow tired or weary…He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. (40:28-31)
- That we achieve more by working together: students, parents and staff. We have all faced monumental challenges over the past four months. None of us has been through this before and there are things we may have done slightly differently now we know what we know; but our mistakes have been honest mistakes – made with the best of intentions.
- That we need our schools:
o That school as an institution is an anchor in our lives.
o That we need the structure to our lives that school brings us.
o That school is much more than an academic experience – it’s where we socialise with friends, laugh together, worry together, learn together.
o That education is something that we should not and cannot take for granted. It is precious; a gift.
On a personal level too, this year has been the most challenging I have ever faced. Last autumn I received two completely separate cancer diagnoses. The first was for a malignant melanoma – a very nasty skin cancer that grew very aggressively; the second was discovered by scans to determine whether the melanoma had spread – it is called a Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET). Thankfully, this was not a secondary tumour and is not aggressive so it is currently treatable/manageable without invasive intervention.
I am sharing this with you because if we had been in school I would have spoken to the students about this in assemblies – along the lines of sensible skin care in the sun/facing and overcoming challenges. Very few families remain untouched by cancer and I know that many of you will have shared my worries on behalf of yourselves or others that you know and love. For me, talking about things like this is so important and I have coped better through the inevitable dark times with the support of my family, friends, colleagues and my faith.
Over the past ten months I have had 34 medical appointments and other procedures. I have had one operation under general anaesthetic, 3 procedures under local anaesthetic, 3 injections of different types of radioactive materials, 7 scans of various types; I must have given at least 20 gallons of blood for testing at various points (slight exaggeration!) and at times I have felt like a pin cushion. The vast majority of my treatment has been carried out at the amazing Christie Hospital in Manchester.
I still have many appointments to come but my current outlook is a positive one. I have the same approach to work as ever and keeping very busy as usual has also been one of my coping mechanisms. My workload during lockdown has not diminished, it has changed – please don’t think that all I have done is write emails to you (I’m now on page 82 of my Coronavirus Communication file) of new shoes, my new navy blue academic diary, my new Walsall FC face mask (a real best seller and constantly out of stock due to overwhelming demand. True).
All that remains is for me to give heartfelt thanks to all of our stakeholders: our brilliant students who make our job a joy to do; their parents who have done such a great job in supporting them over the last four months; my excellent colleagues who have continued to work as hard as ever, but in very different ways.
Our school, Hartford Church of England High School, has remained open every weekday since lockdown began and we have always pushed to the allowed legal limit the number of students we can have in school. But without all of the students here, it just hasn’t been the same. I (we) cannot wait to see all of our young people back here in September.
In Caritas et Veritas,
Mike Holland (July 2020)