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School openings – why we need to let the dust settle

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After the announcement last Sunday night, things seem more uncertain than ever. As leaders we want clarity on when schools will reopen, but we’re now faced with more questions than answers.

What we have learned about Government briefings over the last eight weeks however, is that general statements are slowly backed up with drip-fed guidance and frameworks – which is exactly where we are now.

And based on that, it would be foolish of me to offer opinion or guidance on an ever-changing situation. It seems more sensible to reflect on what leaders can continue to do, whilst waiting for the dust to settle between the Government, teaching unions and Local Authorities.

Be honest

Leading when you don’t have all the answers is very difficult. As a leader you pride yourself in taking in all the information, plotting a path and delivering your direction clearly and with confidence.

Let’s be frank. This is impossible at the minute. But given your stakeholders may expect the same robust decision-making, you’ll need to be honest about the situation you’re in.

So, communicate to your governors, staff and parents that we are still not in receipt of the information needed to make clear decisions. It would be naïve to act now, and people need to understand that.

Remember, in leadership sometimes no action is the best action to take. Tell people that this is your plan right now until you know you have all the information with which to prepare for a safe and successful return to school.

Stay connected

Your confidence in action planning will grow as the new information filters down. I suggest articulating your initial thoughts on each guidance with your teams, particularly your SLT.

Don’t be afraid to have your opinions shaped by your staff; now is not the time to be a solitary leader. Holding online staff meetings will allow everyone the opportunity to reflect on how each document can be tailored to the needs of your unique setting.

Be selective on sources

Twitter’s response since Sunday is proof that current Government decision making is evoking emotive responses from educationalists – this is no surprise.

Unfortunately though, other people’s opinions do not support you in planning effectively for reopening your school.

Whether you agree or not, Government communication is what we have to act on. Your Local Authority or your Trust remain the only two other sources that should shape your decision making.

Spend your time focusing on the guidance from these outlets with your team rather than reading or listening to what other people think we should be doing. In your meetings with staff, try to avoid discussing whether this is a good idea or not and just plan as if it’s happening. It is true, we may never need this plan, but opinion and emotion will only cloud the decision-making.

The final decision on what schools will be expected to do from 1st June is far from complete. More guidance, decisions, U-turns and Z-turns can be expected in the coming days, so let’s not feel we have to have all the answers and the master plan. If we are honest, we stay connected and we choose our information sources well, we can be confident that our decision-making will be accurate as the dust settles.

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