A DALE headteacher has laid bare the stress and strain in keeping a school open during the coronavirus pandemic.
An entire year group at home doing online learning, several teachers self-isolating and shielding, a significant budget deficit and meeting Covid-19 regulations are just some of the daily pressures facing Rob Goffee, of Green Lane Primary School, in Barnard Castle.
Three teachers are currently in self-isolation because they may have been in contact with someone who has tested positive and another is shielding because of underlying health issues. Mr Goffee said: “Ever since we came back in September there has been not been one week with full staff. I am not going to put the staff at risk by moving them around, or the children at risk by moving them around.
“You can’t shift people so that means you have to get supply teachers in. Our supply budget for the whole year was £3,000 – we have spent that up until now and we are being pushed into a budget deficit because of it.”
The year six group is currently doing remote learning from home. Mr Goffee said: “It was up to schools to come up with their own remote learning policy – how do you do that when you have never done it before?
“We sent out a questionnaire to all parents regarding equipment they needed – luckily they all have been able to access equipment. We have 29 children out of 30 each day on remote learning. That is absolutely brilliant.”
The remaining child is accessing learning packs.
Finance is a constant worry – although schools were given cash for hand-sanitiser and other Covid-19 necessities, it was not enough and it has been parents who have stumped up additional money to ensure supplies are constantly replenished.
Despite this, Mr Goffee believes the school may run at a deficit of as much as £15,000.
He said: “I am having a budget meeting with the local authority on December 9 – I am not looking forward to it.”
He is worried about the possibility of having to make redundancies and has spoken to the local authority’s director of education and Teesdale MP Dehenna Davison, both of whom have promised to lobby the Department of Education for more cash for schools such as Green Lane.
He said: “I am spending the whole day doing things that are hardly connected to the school. You are constantly trying to keep the school open and keep staff motivated. You try to do what you can. You get to Friday and you think ‘we have got through another week’. It has been a very hard time, but the kids get you through it. Seeing them come in through the gate smiling and laughing – it is like an oasis of normality in a topsy-turvy world.”
He also paid tribute to parents who have raised more than £12,000 for the school, which has gone partly towards opening a new early-years centre based around a woodland theme, and the remainder to providing additional hand-sanitisers, face coverings and items to protect against coronavirus.
Finally he paid tribute to the staff, some of whom are over 60 and possibly vulnerable to the virus.
He said: “We have some who are nervous about coming in, but they all come in, day after day. There is a feeling that we are all in this together.”