It will be a turbulent term, but we are prepared

Written by: Louise Smith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

It's set to be a turbulent and testing term. Three weeks in and we asked MAT CEO Louise Smith to reflect on the return of pupils across the primary schools in her trust, any problems that have emerged so far, and her thoughts for the coming months

It has been the strangest summer and the strangest start to a new school year but the overwhelming impression I have had so far is one of complete support from our school community – and our parents in particular.

Some of our schools – we are a multi-academy trust of six primary schools in Warrington and Widnes – were at almost 100 per cent attendance at the start of term, with an average of 97 per cent across the MAT. The parents are determined and very supportive; they really do want their children to be back and getting an education in school.

Some schools have of course had to reassure parents and a handful have kept their children off because of family health concerns, but most are reassured by the measures we have taken; all of our schools are Covid-safe and we have done robust risk assessments, working closely with the education unions.

In most schools, we have staggered starts to ease congestion coming into the school. However, some of our schools have families with several children in different year groups and so that presented us with an immediate problem at the start of term as to where children could wait if they had different start times and were not allowed in the playground. We resolved this by opening up further exits and entrances so different year groups have different waiting zones.

We have had some low-level problems with parents gathering around the school entrances at drop-off and pick-up times, so we have had to put in place additional measures to tackle this. This includes having extra staff on duty to politely remind parents about social distancing. We also asked the local authority traffic control people to advise us on the best options for managing situations like this.

For the handful of parents who have told us that they will not be sending their children back yet, we have made sure that they can continue to access online lessons. We are hoping that this will be a temporary measure and we can welcome those children back into class soon.

There are worries, of course. At the moment Warrington has a rising “R” rate and is on the government’s watchlist, which means that it might be at risk of a local lockdown at some stage.

We have had a couple of staff who have household members with Covid-19 symptoms. They have had to go into isolation while their family members are tested. We have arranged for these teachers to continue live teaching online for the duration of their isolation and we have kept parents up-to-date about the ever-changing situation.

As well as activating remote learning as and when we need it, we have also developed an online “catch-up” offer, which we are finalising at the moment. This programme will give additional, out-of-school-hours support to children whose learning has been badly affected by the lockdown.

Developments are happening around us all the time and we can only deal with situations as they happen. We do expect a second wave. We have established very clear protocols and lines of communication with our staff, the local authority and Public Health England. If there are any problems, we will not be taking any kneejerk decisions.

We are well linked into emergency planning across our local authority areas – I’ve been involved in a task force for both Warrington and Halton local authorities to develop contingency plans and as part of this planning we have run a range of scenarios around outbreaks and lockdowns. It will be a turbulent term, but we are prepared.

  • Louise Smith is CEO of Warrington Primary Academy Trust, a MAT consisting of six primary schools in Warrington and Widnes. WPAT’s guiding principle is to deliver a first-class education through partnership, innovation, school improvement and accountability, and has developed a national reputation for excellent standards. Visit

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