Simon Warburton was appointed Principal at Ely College in September. It has been an interesting first term for the new Principal, who has not only had to find his feet in a new school but has also navigated the challenges of Covid-19 guidelines for schools.
Reflecting on his first half term, Simon said: “It seems odd to say given the circumstances but it has been a great first half term at Ely College and I have been blown away by the support of the Ely community, staff, students, Richard Spencer and Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust. Starting a new role is never easy, let alone in the midst of a pandemic, but I am lucky to work in an incredibly positive and caring environment where everyone works together.”
When schools reopened in September, Boris Johnson made it clear that all students were expected to return to school as usual. The college currently have an attendance figure of over 96% so far this year which is over 10 percentage points higher than the average for schools across East Cambridgeshire. The college have had just one positive Covid-19 case since coming back in September and following guidance from Public Health England, only 32 of 200 students in the year group were asked to isolate.
Simon continued: “Our attendance figures are really positive and show that staff and students trust the measures we have put in place. We know the impact of the virus has varied from school to school and we are thankful to have a strong parental community who are trusting our judgement. We took the guidance very seriously from the start and broke the college up in to zones with different year groups in each area. This meant we had to spend a lot of time and money over the Summer refurbishing an additional block to ensure it was a high-quality learning environment for our students and staff to work in.
“We are very lucky to have a fantastic relationship with our parents and they have been so encouraging and supportive, even when we had our positive case. All decisions are made with input from staff and our Student Council and we take their feedback very seriously.
“We have paid a great deal of attention to the message we put across to students, prioritising their wellbeing and mental health. We are not sanctioning students who do not wear a face covering and prefer instead to emphasise compassion and thank students for wearing a face covering. We have introduced a Mask of the Week competition to raise awareness of wearing face coverings in school and to make it a more fun experience for our students. We have a really compassionate environment, and everyone wants to do the best for each other.
“One of our biggest challenges has been cost. We have received very little additional money from the government and have spent a lot on refurbishing classrooms for zoning and cleaning. It is tricky balancing finding the money for vital cleaning products, while continuing to provide high quality education.”
Looking ahead, Simon is mindful that changes could be coming in the near future. He said: “I am aware we are in the East of England and the infection rate is not as high here as in other parts of the country. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next half term and what changes this might bring. The challenge for me is always to ensure my staff and students feel supported. Like many workplaces, some of our staff have not had a week off since March and so my priority for half term is making sure we all get some downtime ready for another half term - whatever that may bring.”