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Esher Church of England High School

Esher Church of England High School

Esher Learning Trust

Our Unpredictable World .... February 2021

Our unpredictable world…

The current situation has made the whole world incredibly volatile and schools have been affected enormously.  We all hear and read regular updates of the state of schools and whether they will open or stay closed, what will happen around assessments and testing, whether the students transmit the virus or not.  This has been a continual narrative and one which constantly shifts as political leaders try to balance the conflicting demands of public health and student learning.

A VUCA world

At EHS we have drawn inspiration from an unlikely source; US military leaders after the end of the Cold War.  They described the new world from their perspective as being a VUCA world (referred to in Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’), standing for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, and this certainly resonates with our current situation in the following ways:

Volatile: given the pandemic we have to be able to respond to changes in infection rates and public health needs.  Long term planning is difficult and schools have had to balance the needs of the wider community to those of our students and staff.

Uncertain: even the immediate future is hard to predict and, given the volatility nationally, schools have a wide range of scenarios to plan for, which puts pressure on the students who understandably want certainty and clarity.

Complex: we are fully committed to playing our part in the wider societal response to the pandemic and yet have to reconcile the often conflicting demands around public health, student learning, mental wellbeing, technological challenges, exams and assessments, staff health and workload, and our legal obligations for our school community. 

Ambiguous: there is constant subtlety and nuance to messages in the media and directions schools receive and many aspects that conflict – staying open to as many vulnerable and critical worker students as possible undermines wider public health; providing great online learning favours those with good home structure and resources, however hard we try to resolve this.  All these need to be evaluated and decisions made.

A VUCA response…

In response we have taken the same acronym and hung our approach at EHS around the same letters:

Vision: we are united around our approach – giving the best possible learning provision and building positive relationships with our students.  We are delivering great live lessons and our priority remains to those who are most vulnerable at the moment and we welcome them to learn in school and support them if they stay at home.  Our staff team have been fundamental in all this and have been  exceptional.

Understanding: our relationships across the school are built on this principle and we actively seek to understand other people’s situations and respond accordingly.  This is applied across staff teams, with our parents as well as with our students.  We are deliberately curious to find out what we could do to help people and have adapted our expectations of our community as everyone struggles.

Courage: we have taken bold steps and had many unforeseen challenges along the way.  Throughout the past 10 months we have kept parents and students informed of our plans and acted with clarity, sometimes making some brave decisions. Our communication has always been non-partisan as it doesn’t help to undermine those making decisions in a public health crisis, despite it often being easy to do so.

Adaptability: in a swiftly changing circumstance we have been agile to adapt quickly when the situation has changed.  Building on our great relationships and clear communication, this has meant we have been able to respond proactively and take our community with us.  This has often required us to re-configure work and ditch methods that have just been designed, yet we have done all we can to ensure our students have had the best possible opportunity to learn.

Underpinning all our actions we have frequently returned to our school’s values to provide the glue that binds us together – wisdom, hope, community and dignity.  The future continues to look uncertain and we are all in such a difficult situation yet we hold to a message of hope that there will be a better day to come when we will emerge from this, able to pick up with our wonderful students and help them fully flourish again as they return to their school.

Mike Boddington

February 2021