North Primary School head Alan Garnett’s latest diary instalment tells how his school adapted to changing times and a life with the nation on lockdown

Monday, March 23

My first email at 8am reinforced the minister’s message that only as a last resort should children be sent to school.

However, because we were entering the unknown all staff were instructed to report for work. I had shared a draft staffing structure with colleagues over the weekend which I discussed with senior leaders.

Registration in the playground showed parents had looked again at their childcare needs as only 27 children arrived in school.

Once it was confirmed the staffing was adequate for the day I briefed remaining staff, gave them a form to complete which would indicate their availability for working during the Easter Holiday and then sent them home.

At 3.30pm I joined a conference call, in my role as co-secretary of Essex NAHT, with other union officials and local authority representatives. This was constructive. I bashed out the notes to circulate to members, in the knowledge that the Prime Minister’s 5pm briefing may make those notes irrelevant.

Which it did, largely, but we had to wait until 8.30pm when the PM made an address to the nation informing us that we were on lockdown for three weeks and the police would arrest anybody breaking the rules of social distancing.

Schools were to continue to remain open to some families but only as a last resort.

Tuesday, March 24

The country is now on lockdown. 14 pupils today.

The local authority still has overall responsibility for what happens in our schools. Whilst I believe strongly that schools need a local authority to co-ordinate provision, I have not always been in agreement with how it does this. However, director of education, Clare Kershaw and her team have worked tirelessly to keep schools informed and supported 24/7.

The local authority has been responsive to our concerns and given good advice in interpreting Government directives which have been released often in a less than timely fashion and without the absolute clarity required.

This morning’s email from Clare Kershaw included the news that she would be exploring the idea of “clustering schools”, merging available staff into one school to teach pupils still allowed to attend. This is not popular with heads and teachers. It would increase the amount of movement and contact across communities which seems contrary to the aim of lockdown, to eliminate contact and disease-spread.

Staff are happy to work in their own schools, less keen to work in others and the pupils themselves, many of whom are vulnerable would struggle in a different setting.

But Clare’s final email of the day announced that she would not impose one model on schools and leave us to sort out our own solutions if we are happy and had the staff capacity. We are happy.

I put out a Newsline today, the seventh edition this month, and it was full of love – emails and photos from parents and staff, describing what they are doing and how they are feeling about this “new normal”. Let’s hope we can maintain this positivity.