Emyr Fairburn, headteacher taken from his school website with his permission
Emyr Fairburn: 'I was very keen to normalise things for the kids but also to keep them informed'

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Emyr Fairburn, headmaster, King’s Cross Academy, London

‘On the last day, it wasn’t the joyous end of term feeling you normally have. It was incredibly emotional’

After hearing the news from China, I scrubbed up on our school emergency plan — a 96-page document you never want to open. I read it but still thought it wouldn’t be an issue for us until the second half of February, when the news started heating up. After half-term, there was concern among parents who had been to affected countries on holiday. The guidelines were unclear; we didn’t know whether we were coming or going.

妖精视频Then the government started talking about social isolation and teachers, facilities and catering staff who developed symptoms had to stay at home. It was getting to the point that it was difficult to keep the school open. Supply agency staff weren’t available either.

To begin with, some parents were anxious and angry that we weren’t taking the decision to close, even though it wasn’t ours to take. There were a lot of rumours, which we tried to calm with regular emails to the parents. I met the staff every morning so they could share their own concerns.

妖精视频I was very keen to normalise things for the kids but also to keep them informed. We held assemblies for the children about coronavirus. Some kids got upset. They had heard their parents talk about it and taken the wrong messages. While parents might be reassuring, they forget what kids hear. They pick up on their anxiety.

妖精视频Our school only opened in 2015, so it’s still relatively small. Over the weeks, the number of pupils decreased as parents kept them at home. Some with good reason because they — or someone in their house — had compromised immunity. On the last day, there were only 90 pupils. It wasn’t the joyous end-of-term feeling you normally have. It was incredibly emotional. I was fine right up to the point that a parent who can be challenging was nice to me. I said: “Thank you so much. I’m going to have to walk off.” Then I cried.

妖精视频We started planning a lesson programme for pupils to do at home two weeks before the school closed. It’s to provide the children with a routine and continue to be part of the school’s community. We’re also calling pupils once a week to check-in. There was little direction from the government on how to continue education. Our teachers really stepped up and have also set projects for the kids over the holidays.

We also opened a food bank to help families on free school meals and we had to make an assessment on who might need extra help. As people lose their jobs, we expect the need to increase. KCA shares its premises with Frank Barnes, a school for deaf children who live across London, which means driving food to kids in different corners of the city.

Both schools are open for the children of key workers and will not shut over the Easter holidays. It’s unsettling for those kids. They aren’t with their friends and normal teachers. They worry about their parents’ safety. It’s hard to make sure four and five-year-olds keep to social distancing rules. You try to be practical, without scaring them.

I’m concerned about some children on safeguarding lists, whose families are out of contact. Some have witnessed domestic violence at home. That tension at home will be heightened now.

妖精视频I’m trying to recruit teachers, though I’m also worried about retention. We’re all reappraising our lives at the moment. I’m concerned some staff who left London to stay with their families won’t want to return.

妖精视频Meanwhile, I’ve got two children under two at home, where my husband is also working. We don’t have family nearby. It has caused me huge anxiety that we’d have no one to look after the children if we get ill.

Everyone is knackered and running on adrenalin; some of us have hit a brick wall. It’s all these things when you can’t see the end of it. It’s taken an emotional toll.

I was getting in every day for 8am until I became ill with the symptoms this week. I was tested in hospital on Tuesday and am free of coronavirus but have the flu. So our deputy headteacher has taken over.

As told to Emma Jacobs

Zoe Knight, group head, HSBC Centre of Sustainable Finance

‘I’m getting better at switching off. At first I felt it was just a 24-hour work environment’

CORONAVIRUS DIARIES Zoe Knight
Zoe Knight: 'If you’re at home, you have to make life happen' © rogerharrisphotography.co.uk

妖精视频It’s hard not being around people. It’s hard not having that other noise around you. The hubbub of computers clicking and people talking on the phone. It makes for a different experience.

I’ve done a lot more thinking — focused thinking, instead of working from task to task. There’s time to reflect a bit more on what the tasks are for, and what the input is into them.

In future I’m probably going to be open to working more from home, to be more productive. At work sometimes you race through things, because your task list is about deadlines. Whereas this whole thing, for me personally, is making my quality of thinking much better. This space is giving me more quality reflection.

妖精视频Another thing that’s good is that actually we are all more engaged with each other at work. As a team we connect together more than we used to. Before, in the office, you rely on just overlapping. Now we plan more catching up, and that consistency and routine is helping to keep us more connected.

A typical day still has a lot of meetings, there’s just not as much walking between them! It’s still pretty busy because on the climate agenda — my area is sustainable finance — there’s lots of work to do. My job is global in any case. So even from the office, a lot of the activity will take place over the phone.

Seeing each other’s homes on video calls adds another dynamic. It’s not weird, but I suppose it means that you can’t hide, can you? You can hide behind your suit that you put on every day. But I’d look pretty stupid if I had my jacket on, on a video call.

One thing’s for sure: we’ve been forced into doing things differently. This is a useful experience to demonstrate that, you know, you can innovate quite quickly, that you can change norms quite quickly, if you put your mind to it.

From a climate perspective, this pause in activity is good for the emissions profile. And what we’ll probably see in 2020 is a year of emissions falling globally. That buys us a little bit more time to really address the climate problem.

I’ve swapped the commute for a run. I’m fitter now than I was before because I’m running every day. It took about five days: the first five were a bit unproductive. Then I got into a routine.

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I’m getting better at switching off. At first I felt like it was just a 24-hour work environment. And I would just leave the laptop on, go back to it and do emails in the evening, and it was always on. But now I’ve adjusted to the new routine of making sure I close it down, and have something organised with friends in the evening, so that you’ve got a cut-off point.

I think I’m being more focused at making sure I’m seeing other people, because you’re not just bumping into people that you know, in the same way that you do when you go to work. You’ve got to consciously plan. My friends and I organise defined calls to socialise, like a brunch video call at the weekend. On another night I’m having “dinner” via videoconference with some other friends.

妖精视频If you’re at home, you have to make life happen. If you don’t arrange something, you’re never going to see anyone.

I think what has changed is people are friendlier. People might keep the distance, but I’m finding that more people are saying hello.

I’m in a slightly odd situation because I’ve lost both my parents and I haven’t any siblings. I feel like I have more empathy now than maybe I would have done if this had all happened 10 years ago, or 15 years ago. For many people it might be their first parent, or person that they’ve been close to, that they might lose during this time. There’s going to be a lot of grief. And if it’s your first time to lose a parent, it’s horrible.

And your loved one might be in the Excel centre, instead of at home, in a hospital or in a hospice. I just really feel for all of that.

As told to Leslie Hook

The Coronavirus Diaries are published every Tuesday and Thursday


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About this series

妖精视频The coronavirus crisis is changing all our lives in ways we could never have imagined. Coronavirus Diaries is an FT project which we hope will capture experiences from people in many different situations of trying to work - and live - in this extraordinary time.

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