I think we can all agree that the past 3 months have been unprecedented, scary at times and stressful. It has been bewildering, confusing and downright baffling at times. It is my belief that SBMs have worked harder than ever before over this period and delivered much more than we believed we were capable of. The prominence of the sector has never been higher.
I have never been prouder to call myself an SBM. And I think the main reason for this is that we have connected as never before. SBMs connecting across the internet has truly been a representation of the adage of the sum being greater than its parts and it has been a blessing. Something really powerful and positive to come out of a horrendous situation. I salute and thank each and every one of you.
So what exactly have SBMs across the country been doing? This list is going to be far from exhaustive but here we go - we have delivered free school meals be it by voucher, hamper or other methods so that our most vulnerable students didn't go hungry, despite there being no system or approval for funding in place initially. A ropey system was then introduced with which to battle, and battle we did, adding pressure for improvements which eventually came.
We added our voices to put pressure on the Government to issue Free Meals over holiday periods and then acted swiftly when approval was given. We pored over guidance at all hours of day and night, translating it into reality in our schools only for it to change.
We sourced PPE, additional cleaning supplies and other equipment to make sure those on our site were kept as safe as possible (most of us were proactively sourcing stuff even before lockdown - yes, despite repeated denials, the psychic ability is getting better).
We sourced, organised and operated holiday clubs when required to keep provision going over Easter for Key worker and vulnerable children (funding promised then un-promised).
We organised refunds for trips that were cancelled, sorted insurance claims and battled those not willing to refund.
We made sure that ICT kit was available to staff and students where we could so that they could either work from home or access school resources.
We facilitated the delivery of distance learning by working with ICT teams and teaching colleagues. We reorganised our sites to fit social distancing rules, marking it up so distancing is clear. We navigated complicated DFE returns. We worked on additional cleaning rotas and maps to minimise bubble cross over. We rejigged Health & Safety policies, looked at infection control and worked on the mother of all risk assessments.
We liaised with Unions, kept in touch with our staff (making sure wellbeing was a priority) and kept communications going. We kept financial records to claim funding that was promised but is now being pulled back and we cut whatever expenses we could because we KNEW that ultimately school finances were going to take a massive hit so we needed to mitigate what we could.
In the midst of this we also did our regular jobs - yes, the bank reconciliations, payroll returns and reconciliations, month end, statutory checks, HR, premises jobs, budget, etc. All still needed to be done. Yes, the jobs that keep us busy without the pandemic have continued. And we have continued to do them. What we have also done alongside all this is we have supported each other. Very publicly.
In a profession already acknowledged to be lonely, at the start of the pandemic we quickly banded together, recognising that the best way to chart a course through these unprecedented times was through a shared hive mind.
And it worked. Our solutions have been swift and effective coming up with plans and highlighting issues before guidance even appeared in our in boxes. We have sourced resources proactively still keeping within our best value principles.
Our planning has been on point. We have been able to scaffold those in need (and we have all needed that virtual support at some time or another). We have shared resources freely. We have looked out for great deals and solutions (and highlighted bad ones). We have asked questions and debated the best way forward. We have also become more vocal, highlighting inequality and putting on pressure on to implement change and improve systems. We have provided strong leadership within our schools and it has been noticed. Headteachers have been saying repeatedly how they could not have managed to keep their schools safe and functional so they could stay open without the care, diligence and gumption shown by their SBMs.
The contributions made by SBMs have been directly recognised by Baroness Berridge and the Unions. WE have done this. Us. Together. By truly connecting we have become much stronger as a profession. We now need to keep going.
In my opinion #SBLconnect has been one of the most positive forces for SBMs during the pandemic. Many of us have used the hashtag to ask questions, highlight issues and to ask for support. The network has grown exponentially and really excellent conversations have been facilitated. Recently @SBLconnect branched out with the #sblteabreak recognising that most of us are not taking any form of meaningful break in the day, such is our devotion to our to do (or ta dah) lists.
The tea break has provided a life line to many who have been feeling isolated and alone with no-one who they feel they can talk to about what they are doing and experiencing. It has also allowed the twitter hive mind to share ideas and good practice in another, less formal format, so others don't reinvent the wheel - almost brainstorming. We have put faces to names and in many cases new friendships have been made. We have proven ourselves to be a friendly, knowledgeable, supportive and welcoming community - I can't be alone in feeling like this is a step change?
Now, we have the opportunity to build on this. Staying connected and together means that we are most definitely stronger.
Thank you #SBLconnect - you have been a godsend. Exciting times ahead.