Our mission at Surrey Square primary School of ‘personal and academic excellence, everyone, every day’, drives and shapes every decision we make. In pre-covid times, our emphasis on personal excellence (pupil well-being and development), putting it intentionally first, meant that we had developed a sophisticated approach to teaching personal excellence, and the pastoral infrastructure to support every child and family on that journey.
Our values underpin it all – and live and breathe throughout every child’s (and adult’s!) day.
We have long advocated for this kind of balance being a priority in schools, watched with heavy hearts as the focus over the last 15 years has become ever narrower, and proudly stood steady with our broader agenda.
Our experience through the lockdown process has saddened and enraged us; the continued focus on academic learning, with all other considerations much further down the agenda. The immediate issue of food, along with safety, were the top of our agenda, while others were worrying about how to ensure curriculum progression and the impact on exams. What a light it has shone on the difference across the sector there is in terms of what schools do and don’t see as their responsibility. The lack of clarity and definition of ‘vulnerable’ pupils from the start added to the problem.
A week in, we had a full vulnerability matrix in operation, with processes to support every family on it, as well as identifying those who became newly vulnerable, through teachers having live contact with every child every week. What enabled us to do this?
Creating this support structure was an intuitive starting point for us as a school, alongside focusing on access to food (enhanced by food parcels from Magic Breakfasts and Mercato Metropolitano in Borough). But the lack of thinking about this more widely in the sector in the early weeks was a real shock, and deeply unsettling.
Of course, alongside this work, (the mission is ‘personal AND academic’..) we were busily setting up our approaches to remote learning for students. Again here, we saw so many schools leaping into elaborate online solutions, competing to out-do one another, without actually starting from the reality of the children and families in their community, creating an ‘ideal’ from the point of view of teachers. A lack of empathy for the community or practical consideration of how things could actually work best – something of a ‘reality gap’.
For Surrey Square, part of this involved a detailed survey to understand the technology access for each child, including level of access to devices but also access to unlimited broadband. This focus on understanding the reality from the start, and then seeking to address the issues, through accessing devices but also ensuring an equity in quality of an off-line offer, was key. This was also an opportunity to work with others to campaign and highlight this issue as seen here.
We have designed an approach now truly based on our values – including Joy Enjoyment (see the dance challenge here) but also fully taking Rafa Responsibility for minimising stress in households and ensuring equity between online and paper based offers.
Now that our systems are up and running, we can reflect on what this all means for us as a community and what might be the learnings for the longer term. We have 6 challenges for consideration;
For us, this period has exposed the fact that ‘personal excellence’ is in crisis in the sector -squeezed out, under-prioritised and under-funded. For us, living our mission, focusing on personal excellence in this crisis, and beyond, has to be our first priority.
You’ve read a number of our blogs and we’re delighted you’re interested in our work.
Become a member for FREE and enjoy…