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Inspire Cheshire West has closed. Thank you to everyone who took part. Your contributions, stories, ideas and experiences about life under lockdown restrictions were a valuable resource to the communities of west Cheshire.

To burst or not to burst - that is the question!

The Catholic High School Chester was one of 21 local schools that contributed to a new report, It’s Time To Act: countering the impact of Covid-19 on pupils and schools. Headteacher, Cathryn McKeagney, explains some of the changes they’ve made in their school over the last year and how they hope to continue some of these practices in the future.

This time last year, bubbles were blown up all over the press when discussing how the world, especially schools, in particular, could reopen. Year groups bubbles, social bubbles, rule of six bubbles- you name it. The word grew legs faster than fairy liquid could produce them. So, the bubble kingdom grew at The Catholic High School.

Every year group were in their own cocoon with their own food zone, their own outdoor space and their own SLT member on hand to welcome and dismiss them. Students remained in their bubbles whilst staff energetically moved across our huge site. Trainers on people- step count could reach 20,000 in one day. My staff could take on Tokyo with their training schedule.

As Head, where do you place yourself? Year 13 were covered: I needed to be in Year 11 bubble. They had a job to do and I bribed them with toast every break during those dark Winter days when outside was warmer then inside.

Only once did two students stray out of their bubble world. Covid rules broken. Sanctions given. Can days be fraught? Absolutely. Do teachers miss their own rooms? Desperately. Are students jealous of others on the Astro bubble? Certainly.

However, we have learnt so much from the 186 days in our bubble world. It’s essential we find the toy in the cereal package- and, as good teachers, see what we can learn from Covid.

Sixth Form Freedom. Our Year 12 and Year 13 students in their own building was revolutionary. They could have a tuck shop, a snooker table and table football without younger students’ hands yearning to play. They had their own space and chips twice a week in their own kitchen. Suddenly it was beginning to feel like they were growing up.

Loss of bells. Due to our staff having to walk across 33 acres of school, the bell seemed like a tool of punishment as they rushed from room to room. We stopped it and it became apparent that 12.05 was slightly off by seconds on people’s watches. The claustrophobic corridor has become a thing of the past: bells have been summoned to Room 101 and be silenced forever.

Lunchtime. Previously our lunches lasted a lifetime and as every good school leader knows, the longer it lasts, the more you dice with anarchy. With Covid, we had to think fast and smart. Food zones in all areas where students could grab a food bag. We soon expanded to a variety of hot meals getting served in all different areas of the school. Lunch was cut down to 25 minutes and every child was fed. What did we learn- more tills, very expensive commodity by the way, in different areas meant students were fed and the dreaded last ten minutes didn’t happen.

Virtual Meetings. I defy anyone in any walk of life to condemn remote meetings. We have done Governors and Trustee meeting remote since April 2020 and attendance has improved by 50% and no dog-eared sandwiches left at the end of a vey long night. People are at home with a cup of tea and conversations are productive and slick because nobody wants to unmute for feedback fear. Parents Evenings are now thriving through the power of Firefly. Parents can take a minute from working and log on, no fuss, no threatening visit to a school hall where memories may be stirred up.

Covid has brought trauma, sadness and sheer confusion for everyone but we must learn to take something from this slice of history and I am not sure whether we want to burst our bubble too much.

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