Cara Ackroyd is Principal of Outwood Academy Shafton, a large comprehensive secondary academy in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Here she shares the protective measures her school has implemented to keep teaching and non-teaching staff as safe as possible while making sure the school remains a supportive environment for staff to work in.
As with schools across the country, we introduced a number of social distancing measures in school in September to protect staff capacity, should we have a positive case of COVID-19 to deal with.
Making wellbeing a priority
The autumn term can be a long and tiring one even in usual circumstances. And I absolutely recognise that we are asking more of our teachers and our support colleagues than ever before. The challenge to myself, and all leaders in the academy, is to ensure that staff wellbeing is a top priority. We have recently launched our own bespoke Mental Wellbeing website aimed at students, staff and families. We used our September INSET day to ensure that staff were trained, equipped and empowered to support students who may struggle to return to school after months learning at home. We also offered staff training on bereavement which has proved incredibly useful. Our Trust’s Employee Assistance programme remains available for all staff, offering advice and guidance on a huge range of issues from personal finance to counselling where needed.
CPD for new ways of teaching
In every classroom we have seated students in rows facing the front to leave as much space for teachers at the front of the room as possible. This is a big change from the collaborative groups of four that our students usually work in, so we have invested time in CPD for teachers looking at working in this way.
To support this further, we have installed visualisers in every classroom and rehearsed for contingencies such as live teaching for students who may be self-isolating. This has helped teachers to feel calm and confident. Our weekly CPD time starts each week with a whole staff briefing on Google Meet where 150 colleagues are online together sharing key messages and best practice.
Support for non-teaching staff
For our admin and support staff we have introduced further risk-mitigation measures by ensuring that there is no ‘hot seating’ in offices, where everyone has their own work space, and by allocating a maximum capacity to every office area.
As part of our contingency planning, we have completely rethought our office spaces by creating unique ‘office bubbles’. Recognising the importance of every team to the efficient day-to-day running of the academy, the bubbles ensure that in the event of a positive COVID-19 case, the full team – for example, the attendance team, cover team and inclusion team – would not be adversely affected.
With this in mind our ‘office bubbles’ are now made up of colleagues from different teams. This maximum office capacity measure means that we have had to move lots of our meetings online, such as, our weekly Achievement Meeting and our Senior Leadership Team meetings. This helps to make sure that capacity is protected given that these meetings would usually bring together all the senior staff in the academy.
The importance of team spirit
With all these changes, keeping our teams together is also a challenge. But as ever, staff have risen to this challenge with huge creativity and come up with ways to keep their amazing team spirit alive in new, socially distanced ways such as online live yoga classes, the Outwood Bookclub and even a live cheese-lovers evening!
The saying goes that ‘a person who feels appreciated will do more than what is expected’. I am beyond proud of the staff at our academy – and of staff working in schools across the country – for all they are doing to keep pupils safe. In this profession, you go above and beyond what can ever be expected time and time again for our young people.
Thank you to everyone at Outwood Academy Shafton for bringing our young people back to school safely, for giving them the care and attention that they need, for approaching every challenge with the creativity needed to overcome it and for being simply brilliant.