2021 Spring Term 1

The know zone

  • Embracing change
    Bob Jackson, Assistant Principal at Goole Academy, on how online lessons have consigned 'snow days' to the past. More
  • Covid keepers
    ASCL Specialist, Hayley Dunn, shares some of the positives that have emerged from the pandemic. More
  • Get your finances in order
    The way you use money in the short-term impacts your future financial freedom. Here, with tips for getting your long-term finances in order, is Joshua May from income protection insurance specialists PG Mutual. More
  • Change must be sustainable
    If FE is to play its full part in the country's recovery from the pandemic, it must be funded realistically, argues ASCL Senior Advisor Anne Murdoch. More
  • Visions of 2020
    There's no doubt that 2020 was a year like no other and one that most of us would like to forget, but among the doom and gloom of the pandemic there have been many stories of positivity, kindness, inspiration and laughter. Here, ASCL members share their views... More
  • SEN-sational!
    Director of Inclusion Dr Nic Crossley says being a member of ASCL Council enables her to be an active voice for the special educational needs (SEN) sector and for women leaders. Here she shares her passion for Council, leadership and... shoes. More
  • Splendid isolation
    What are the rules regarding pandemic social etiquette when it comes to teaching and meetings? Debrett's has yet to pronounce on this delicate issue, so how are we supposed to know how to behave in front of a screen or at a social distance, asks Carl Smith. More
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What are the rules regarding pandemic social etiquette when it comes to teaching and meetings? Debrett’s has yet to pronounce on this delicate issue, so how are we supposed to know how to behave in front of a screen or at a social distance, asks Carl Smith.

Splendid isolation

What do you call that embarrassing hush when everyone’s arrived at a Zoom or Teams session, but no one wants to talk? Virtual silence? Le silence virtuel? El silencio?

In one recent meeting, the chair didn’t know she was the chair, so we all stared at our screens for about two minutes until someone courageously asked if she was ready. She wasn’t.

Faux pas literally lurk around every corner in a pandemic. Try the socially distanced interview, for example.

The hapless victim arrives, masked-up to the nines, before greeting a distanced interview panel who have dispensed with face coverings of any kind. Should the interviewee remove their mask, wait to be invited to remove their mask or simply walk out the door in disgust at the apparent rudeness of their hosts? You decide.

Danse macabre

Then there is the danse macabre you perform with that member of staff who can’t tell the difference between two metres and two millimetres and comes so close that you could cha-cha-cha together.

You back off. They come closer. You back off some more, but they just follow, so you look mysteriously into the distance in the hope they will do the same while you take another sneaky extra step without them noticing.

Are you coming across as a snowflake or are they just plain ignorant or even malicious? Who knows?

Teaching online has its own hazards, of course, not least of which is knowing whether your class are actually still with you. Normally, you’d notice if the entire back row started playing on their phones but in the crazy world of synchronous learning you could be utterly oblivious.

There is also an equal danger that their parents are listening in, ready to pounce with a complaint should you use a moderately challenging tone with their child. Every lesson becomes a potentially career-ending moment. Teachers beware.

Circus act

Another horror show is blended learning, two words that I have decided should never be in the same sentence.

In this circus act, teachers manage some of their class in the real world and the rest in the virtual world, facing in both directions while simultaneously keeping everyone engaged.

Worst of all is the classic isolation dilemma: send them all out or just the close contacts?

In this version of Russian roulette, heads have the joy of deciding whether it is even possible to know if Chloe in Year 8 only came into contact with those sitting in the desks next to her or whether she also spent far too long in the toilets with her mate Caitlin at breaktime and sat in the wrong place on the bus, in which case half of Year 9 could have been infected on the way to school.

Put them all out and you’re accused of over-reacting. Put just the close contacts out and you’re putting lives at risk. Hobson’s choice.

We’re all searching for that sweet spot, that perfect blend, the Haynes manual to managing the pandemic. It’s hard to find, so what’s a self-respecting school leader to do?

Ask Boris? Ask Gavin? Ask JVT? I know, I’ll ask ASCL . . . they’re bound to have the answer! 

Carl Smith is Principal at Casterton College in Rutland.

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members.

If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Permjit Mann at leader@ascl.org.uk

ASCL offers a modest honorarium.