By Nick Hudson
25 September, 2020
As we enter another new term, everyone is very aware of the unusual times that we are in. Following the Prime Minister’s most recent announcement about renewed restrictions, it is clear that a return to normality could be a long way off, and that we will need to continue to adapt and respond to changing conditions. OAT schools in some areas have already had to put specific measures in place following local restrictions being implemented.
Despite the unusual circumstances, I know staff and pupils across OAT will join me in saying that it’s great to be able to return to the classroom. Everyone did a wonderful job of keeping in touch and supporting one another remotely, and now we welcome the chance to reconnect safely in person. I’ve visited a number of academies recently and the biggest complement I can give is that they are all functioning like schools should, places where pupils are learning.
As we enter the new term under a very different set of circumstances, the safety and wellbeing of our pupils, staff, and their families is and will continue to be our number one priority. I want to take this opportunity to reassure everyone once again that we are taking extremely strict precautions to ensure that our wider school community is protected. I would also like to thank everyone for everything they have done to help us get back to school, and for the continued efforts of all OAT staff to provide safe working environments.
Although this academic year will undoubtedly differ from any we have experienced previously, I’m confident that it will be a good one. Both pupils and staff are continuing to impress me with their innovative approaches to learning during the pandemic, and I know they will carry on finding ways to keep lessons engaging and fun. There are many amazing things happening right now across our academies, as well as lots of exciting opportunities ahead. Of course, there will be challenges along the way, some expected and some unexpected, but we have proven that we are more than ready to face these head-on.
Whilst the past six months have been tough for everyone, it’s also important to reflect on what we’ve learnt and what we can take from the experiences. First and foremost, I think we’ve all learnt a lot about what is important during this pandemic: our friends, family, and community. The way people have rallied together during these difficult times has been amazing, and it has been especially great to see the support networks in action across OAT schools.
One of the great aspects about being part of a large trust like OAT is that you are never alone. We have always strived to be as collaborative as possible, and lending support across the OAT family is part of the fabric of our organisation. However, that has never been more evident than over these past few months. Confronted with new situations and challenging decisions, staff have sought out advice from across the academies and found that, as the age-old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved.
As a result, much closer relationships have been formed and schools have become more accustomed to working together, across all areas. This will benefit pupils not only in terms of finding solutions to problems in the moment, but also in relation to building and implementing best practice. The more we work together, the more access pupils will have to pioneering ideas and specialist expertise from across the Trust. It’s vital that we continue to capitalise on this approach and ensure it is at the forefront of our thinking moving forwards.
Meanwhile, although we have all been victims to many a technological hiccup over the course of the pandemic, and I remain firmly of the view that remote learning is no substitute for being in the classroom, it has been amazing to see how technology has served to keep us connected with one another, and put a smile on our faces. Imagination has shone through online: from Cowes Enterprise College’s creative showcase, to teachers at Ormiston Herman Academy sending an inspiring video encouraging pupils to read during lockdown, it’s been a fantastic way to stay in touch and share experiences.
Moreover, as common challenges opened up opportunities for greater collaboration across the Trust, technology presented a chance for students throughout our academies to unite. OAT-wide initiatives, such as the Virtual Sports Cup and an online chess tournament, brought out some healthy competition between schools and ensured that students were still able to feel part of something larger, even when they couldn’t physically be together. Our latest “Keeping Enrichment Alive; learnings from lockdown” case study booklet shows just some of the way’s pupils continued to broaden their horizons remotely. We have discovered invaluable new tools for connecting our wider OAT community, which we will continue to develop in the future.
So, as we all get stuck into the new term and consider what the next few months will be like, there is a lot to look forward to. It’s important to be aware that everyone’s experiences will have been different, and we will continue to face individual challenges as well as collective ones. Now is a time for compassion and understanding, for supporting one another through any difficulties. However, it’s also a time to be positive, to glean the silver linings from the past few months and make long-term improvements. As ever, I am excited for the new year ahead and all the potential it holds.