Here York High’s Head of School, Rod Sims, looks back on the highs and lows of the past academic year

THERE is nothing more important than education and quite rightly this is why so many people have an opinion on education.

During the pandemic schools have been placed increasingly in the spotlight.

We hear all the time about what politicians think, what the unions think, what social media thinks but how often do we listen to the staff and students in the school? I can only comment on York High and our experience.

Whilst they may not have said openly, the students were delighted to return to school in September to re-establish contact with friends and to return to routine.

Our students coped with staggered starts and finishes, masks in corridors, one way systems, split lunches and in what is often overlooked, no extra curricular activities which are often the highlights for students.

What stood out for me is how resilient our students were in coping with the changes: they just got on with it.

Without a doubt our staff at York High were so keen to make it work for the students that there was a real sense of exhaustion by Christmas.

So many voices outside of education were talking about catch-up when the last thing our students needed was more pressure.

We didn’t label the students - we assessed what we needed to teach and when. Our students did not even know they were catching up.

Christmas was a time of chaos.

Would we return after the holiday?

When the answer was ‘no’, we went straight to Plan B teaching virtually through Google Classrooms.

There was a massive sense of relief from parents that they did not have to take on the teacher role again.

It is overlooked that away from the many distractions of a school lots of students thrived with remote learning.

Are parents evenings better online? Well there is certainly no queuing for appointments.

As lockdown ended, testing came next.

We set up our own testing centre as we thought it unreasonable for our students to travel across the city for a test. Over a 1,000 tests in five days and only then did we realise our Year 7 students had never been in the main hall before.

During this year we had held no main hall assemblies; such an important part of our sense of community.

The return after the second lockdown was difficult. It wasn’t easy to establish relationships in the classroom when students were wearing masks. Imagine wearing glasses and a mask all day.

Yet again the students bounced back.

Our Year 11 students were magnificent in their attitude to the exams that will support their Teacher Assessed Grades.

It had been such a tough year for the students and more than ever we were determined to put them first.

This is why we did not cancel our prom and thanks to the new national guidance we can now go ahead.

Putting students first is why we are also holding a summer school for the Year 6 students joining us in September.

From my point of view as Head of School government advice could have been quicker and clearer.

National planning has always felt short term, especially around GCSEs.

There has been a financial cost in low numbers in Year 7 next year - without an open evening decisions are made on outdated views of the school.

The Ofsted process has been delayed and we are so desperate to show everyone that we are now a good school that we wrote to Ofsted and invited them to come and inspect us.

My reflection on the year would be that our school is not a faceless institution.

It is made up of pupils, staff and parents all with their own lives and thoughts that make them who they are.

During this year all of us have united to get through these difficult times.

Anyone connected with York High can hold their head up high and be proud.