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Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership, reflects on a challenging 12 months for schools

It is the time of year for looking back and reflecting on the past 12 months.

Certainly when we review 2021, much like the year before it, it is one that will never be forgotten in the educational sector.

It has been a year that started with another national lockdown and a return to home schooling and ends with more Covid-19 uncertainty surrounding our schools and all our lives.

Tim Coulson
Tim Coulson

Not for the first time in this year’s columns, I write about the amazing hard work of everyone involved in our schools who have constantly worked with great commitment and dedication.

At the start of the year, the focus was largely on home schooling. Every day, great work was being produced alongside YouTube videos explaining testing procedures in schools and stories of laptops donated by kind-hearted individuals and businesses.

But despite the impressive work going on in and out of schools, there was something that didn’t feel quite right.

Our classrooms were built to be full, rather than for the handful of students still attending school in those first couple of months.

So Monday, March 8, 2021, will always be a memorable day for me. The world was sadly still battling the pandemic, but one slow sense of normality returned when schools were allowed to reopen once again.

Testing was ramped up inside schools during those first few days, but students soon got back into an educational routine alongside the social elements that so many, too many, had been missing out on.

We all know that it hasn’t exactly been smooth since March.

We started with school bubbles, face masks in classrooms and other social distancing measures.

The so-called ‘pingdemic’ was another issue that affected schools so deeply and we end the year with most schools having faced, or are still facing, huge challenges through student and staff absence.

Yet our staff and schools have met everything this year with huge resilience, flexibility and determination.

They have kept going and overcome every challenge to provide the best possible education for every child.

I will always be in awe of everything they have achieved and successfully overcome during another turbulent year in education and wider society.

But I would like to end the final column of 2021 with a ringing endorsement from someone who has experienced the last 12 months in one of our primary schools.

Asked why she loves her school so much, Year 5 pupil Lily writes: “I’ve gained so many amazing friends, been taught so many amazing things and there are such kind staff and teachers.”

Words that I am sure are felt and repeated across schools up and down the country.

May I end by wishing our schools, staff, students and communities a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

-- Tim Coulson is chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership