Richard Daws Interview

As GGLT prepares for the first phase of the move out of lockdown, with more children returning to classrooms this month, the trust’s chairman Richard Daws reflects on how we have coped with the pandemic so far

How well do you think the GGLT schools and central team have handled these extraordinary circumstances?


It has been really impressive to see how the trust has performed in response to the challenges of Covid-19. Sarah Baker, the heads, teachers and support staff have reacted so positively, keeping schools open for vulnerable children and families of keyworkers as well as organising online learning for everyone else. They have really taken account of the fact that every individual is faced with different experiences and pressures.


How has the board supported schools in the face of such uncertainty?


The power of the internet! Just as lessons moved to remote learning online, we made our monthly meetings virtual so we could maintain taut and robust governance. While our role remains mainly strategic, the pandemic has brought a need for us to be a little more involved operationally and with flexibility. The vice chair Jean Dourneen and I have been in close contact with Sarah and her team. We also set up a core group of trustees to act as a sounding board and to give tacit approval to the risk assessments that were needed.


How does this filter through to the individual schools?


We have link trustees for each school and their role has been to make sure that every governing body is made aware of what is going on in response to the emergency. All the governing bodies have also moved their regular meetings online. The emphasis is on making sure school leaders feel supported, reinforcing decisions and adding value.


Have there been any particular challenges?


The Government advice on how to reopen schools to more students wasn’t completely clear and in the end it was left to individual trusts. Our leadership team felt that the suggested date of June 1 for primaries to bring in reception, Year 1 and  Year 6 pupils was too soon and chose to aim for June 8. That was a big decision but in hindsight has proved a very good call. The spike last week  in cases of the virus in north Somerset, leading to the closure of Weston Hospital, shows how changes can come close very quickly. We have found that we cannot safely bring back all the suggested age groups yet, but we are making a start with nursery and reception children from June 10.


How do you feel about the next phase, coming out of lockdown?


We are looking forward to extending provision. It is clearly a big adjustment and we will have to react to events as they unfold. But we have to get back to normal. There is no such thing as zero risk. There will be consequences of the pandemic, not all of which we can predict, but we can already see that the impact of not maintaining levels of education for our young people will be felt for years to come.


What has GGLT learned from the emergency?


So much that is positive has come out of this, both in our schools and communities and more broadly. Because we are a relatively small MAT (multi academy trust), we have been able to have a personalised approach to the pandemic. Relationships are that much closer and we understand our communities, Those are benefits that have been of real value to us.


And finally …?


I would like to say a huge Thank You to everyone for their hard work. Leaders, governors, trustees, teachers, staff, students, families, the trade unions, suppliers - a whole range of stakeholders have played their part in getting us through this crisis so far and I am confident that, although there is hard work ahead, we will emerge even stronger than before.