Coronavirus: Leadership in lockdown (North Wales)

Never has there been a more challenging time to be a school leader”.  

This is a phrase I have heard many times since my appointment as Headteacher of Ysgol Emrys ap Iwan, an 11-18 English medium school in North Wales.  I have been Headteacher for seven years and also have the privilege of being President of ASCL Cymru this year.  As you can imagine, approaching your eighth year of headship you have dealt with most things, positive and challenging.  Never had I imagined having to deal with this. 

Last Sunday evening, 26 April, I sent an email to my staff, as I have done every week since the start of the school closures. It read:

I have been reflecting today on the situation we find ourselves in and the ‘new normal’ that keeps being referred to.  I am not a fan of the ‘new normal’ (unsurprisingly) but I fully appreciate the reasons for it.  I was quite emotional on the last day we were all together as some of you may recall.  Mainly, this was due to my concern and responsibility for you and the learners and not knowing how this would all work out.  We also serve a community who need our school maybe more than some other communities do and it worried me how we were going to do this effectively.  I probably didn’t need to be quite as concerned as I was because you have all pulled together and made a difference.  Every interaction you have with a learner makes a difference, every response you give to a piece of work keeps learners connected to the school, every email from a parent that you reply to reminds them that we are here, every time you try a new piece of technology you are trying to reach out to learners so they do not feel forgotten or disenfranchised.  Never has this been more important.

I guess that what this demonstrates is that before this I was a bit of a control freak.  Not in a negative or overbearing sense I hope.  But I did feel it was really important as a headteacher to have my ‘finger on the pulse’ and I prided myself in knowing what was going on in all corners of the organisation.  Over the last few weeks I have had to learn to delegate, and really delegate, some essential elements of our current purpose as a school.  Each member of my leadership team is supporting a Key Stage, another member of the leadership team is coordinating vulnerable learners and I am overseeing emergency childcare (not a sentence I ever expected to write!).  Curriculum leaders continue to oversee the delivery of the ‘curriculum’ and pastoral staff are working hard to make sure our learners are being challenged.  

All this is being done remotely using completely new technologies.  Everyone has risen to the challenge.  

A different leadership 
This need for different leadership has extended beyond the school.  I was already a member of a very successful local cluster of schools.  It is made up of my school and five primary schools.  We are now operating as a hub of schools focussing on the main priorities of the day.  We have always been a close working and effective group of professionals who have been committed to providing the best for our community in all our schools.  The support this group has provided during these challenging times has been immense.  A phrase that is used often is the ideas of being ‘stronger together’.  This has been very clearly demonstrated by the cluster working we have in place.  People often say being a headteacher is a lonely job and I have never really felt that.  I have never felt more connected to my fellow headteachers than during this time. 

Finally, my role with ASCL has provided me with a unique perspective.  I have worked closely with the Director of ASCL Cymru and the fantastic Executive Committee we have here in Wales.  Being President during this time of uncertainly has been fascinating.  We have worked tirelessly together to provide clear messages for our members and to ensure that the views of members are heard loud and clear by all.  My greatest disappointment has been that politicians and decision makers have not turned to the profession for answers often enough.  We are used to complex problem solving and know how to organise systems and processes in these challenging times.  I think we could have avoided some of the challenges around free school meals and clear communication on next steps.  

As we approach the sixth week of lockdown, now I know that the opening line of this blog is true.  However, I also feel that as leaders we have risen to the challenge and done everything we can to support our learners and the communities we service.  As Hugh said in his earlier blog, I am also very clear on my role and that is to provide clarity, direction, support and empathy at this most difficult time. 

 Lee Cummins is Headteacher at Ysgol Emrys ap Iwan, North Wales and ASCL Cymru President 2019/20 

Posted: 27/04/2020 13:28:44