Handling Crises In Education

Issue 99

Schools have faced unprecedented challenging times in recent years from the Covid pandemic to RAAC forcing some schools to close or partially close due to safety concerns. Brendan Tapping, CEO of Bishop Chadwick Catholic Education Trust - a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) with 30 schools across East Durham, South Tyneside, and Sunderland - shares his insights.

What significant challenges have the Trust faced in recent years?

Covid was an unprecedented challenge; things changed very quickly, and we had to be fluid to adapt. The safety of everyone was paramount, as was providing a high-quality education and ensuring there was a clear line of communication with parents and carers.

Our biggest challenge was to provide high quality education in a safe way for pupils and staff whilst also providing reassurance to staff, pupils, and their families. We had to make sure that we had appropriate policies and procedures in place and worked collaboratively to ensure they were considered responses, not knee-jerk reactions.

Three of our schools are currently affected by RAAC (St John Bosco Catholic Primary School, Sunderland, St James Catholic Primary School, Hebburn and St Bede’s Catholic School & Byron Sixth Form College, Peterlee). This has caused significant challenges. We have had to plan at short notice for alternative venues for pupils to be taught face-to-face, liaise with the DfE, sort transport, deal with the logistics of health & safety, safeguarding, IT access, catering, toilet facilities and cleaning, as well as provide virtual learning, where needed.

How did the Trust face and overcome these challenges?

Covid and RAAC are both examples of live situations. They’re both unprecedented, they have both involved changes in policy from the DfE and internally within the schools and the Trust and they have both required input from our central team such as finance, estates, catering and communications.

To overcome these challenges, we have had to show an enormous amount of resilience and adaptability. We have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure pupils’ education remains high quality and face-to-face as much as possible. This has meant other schools in our Trust working with the RAAC-affected schools to offer practical support by providing alternative venues for children to be taught and by providing peer support.

Covid meant a move to online learning and having all those resources in place already meant that we could tap into them when RAAC forced us to close and move some education online. However, face-to-face learning is always the priority and we have focused on getting all pupils back to this as quickly as possible.

What support has been put in place for pupils and staff members because of the RAAC crisis?

The children that are having to cope with the RAAC disruptions have already had to deal with Covid. Parents are worried about their children’s education and exams, as well as their wellbeing, and we understand their frustrations. We will continue to do our best to provide the highest level of support we can to our pupils and families.

For our staff having had to face Covid and RAAC, I’m conscious that they could become crisis weary. Our people will always go that extra mile, so we need to make sure they are taking breaks and time for themselves. Everyone at the Trust also has access to online support and counselling.

What are the key advantages of being in a MAT, particularly in a crisis?

Headteachers can lean on each other’s professional experience and work together. The heads not affected by RAAC had no hesitation in providing support, and there are lots of opportunities for peer learning and the sharing of best practice. Being part of a MAT means schools have access to our central team which gives them access to professional support such as IT, finance, HR, estates, catering and communications. This is invaluable in times of crisis.

What personal attributes are required for a strong senior leadership team?

I work with wonderful people who are thoughtful and kind. Personal attributes needed are positivity, a can-do attitude, people who suggest a range of solutions, a team willing to challenge and ask the ‘what if?’ questions – all these things are vital.

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