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How COVID-19 affects new academies

Posted on: May 22nd 2020

Following on our ongoing conversation regarding the effect of COVID-19 on schools, staff and students across our academies, we talk to Gizle Landman, Head of Academy at Harris Academy Clapham about the effect of COVID-19 in the run up to opening.

Located within easy reach of both Clapham Common and Clapham South tube stations, Harris Academy Clapham is at the heart of Lambeth and serves a disadvantaged but aspirational community. The secondary school arises because of a shortage of school places as well as a lack of sixth forms offering an diverse academic curriculum causing some students to go out of the borough.  It will be an 11-16 school starting with Year 7 in September of this year, growing a year group at a time with our first Year 11 cohort starting in 2024. The Sixth Form will open on separate premises for Year 12 in September 2021.

 

  1. How long has the process taken to bring HACL to life? What has this been like?

The actual building design planning started at least 12 months before we broke ground for the first time in June/July 2019. I officially came on board as part of the Clapham team (with Sam Hainey as Executive Principal) in September 2019, although we both attended the consultation evenings in June.

It has been (and still is) a truly amazing experience to bring a school to life from its grass roots. I speak often with people who share with me that it must be ‘an exciting project’ and it genuinely is. We all know that a school is so much more than just the building (and I have had a steep learning curve there) and it has been all the fantastic interactions that I have had with prospective parents and students, new staff and local community groups and leaders that has made this process even more special.

 

  1. Can you talk to us about the effect of the outbreak on the prospective opening?

Obviously, things came to a halt with the announcement of the first lockdown in March and all work on the site was paused. However, we are very fortunate (and eternally grateful to Bowmer and Kirkland) that work on the site was able to resume after 4 weeks with all the necessary protective measures in place. Lambeth has also agreed to extend the working hours on the site, so the team is pulling out all the stops to make up for the lost time.

 

  1. How has it affected staff and the recruitment process?

We are very fortunate that we were able to recruit all of our teaching staff before the lockdown came into force. We made our last teaching appointment on the eve of lockdown! It was good that we started our recruitment of staff in December already with the appointment of our senior leaders. This meant that the spring term could be spent building the rest of the staff body.

We had always planned to recruit support staff from after the Easter break, and we were able to continue with that.

 

  1. What has been put in place to manage the preparation/recruitment process amidst the outbreak?

As a result of the outbreak, we have moved our whole recruitment process online. We have tried to keep it as true to the face-to-face experience as possible so that staff who are recruited during lockdown do not miss out on the Clapham experience. It is important to us that they understand (and can buy into) our vision and ethos so all interviews always start with a presentation from Sam and I about this. This is no different just because we are in lockdown. It does mean, of course, that you appoint staff without meeting them in the flesh. Of course, you engage with them via video but that is not the same as having a flesh and blood person in front of you.

 

  1. What precautions are you taking moving forward?

We are continuing our preparations for September while also putting in additional precautions as we go along. A lot of these (like additional hand washing facilities, individual stationery bags etc) are part of the wider Federation plan and we are able to tap into this already. We also have contingency plans in place for if we still need to be social distancing in September and if we are faced with another lockdown later in the year.

 

     6. What can you tell us about Harris Academy Clapham?

Harris Academy Clapham is a brand-new secondary school opening its doors for the first time in September of this year with 195 Year 7 students. It will grow over time, with a new intake per year, to a school of 975 students in Years 7-11. Our vision of ‘Everything is possible’ is embedded not only in our curriculum design and implementation, but also in the opportunities we will create for our students to continue to develop into the best version of themselves they can possibly be. The true Clapham Character will be tangible in all that we say and do – in our academy family, the local community and developing our students as true global citizens.

Alongside Harris Academy Clapham, we will be opening a Sixth Form just up the road from the Clarence Avenue site on Kings Avenue in September 2021. Even though they will be two separate academies, we very much see our students as being on a 7-year journey with us from Year 7 through to Year 13. As long as they meet the entry requirements, they will have priority for entry into the Sixth Form.

 

 

  1. What can you share about your own experience working under this circumstance?

It has certainly been an interesting one! Even though I was only directly impacted by the fact that I had to ‘move desk’ from the Federation head office to the dining room table. It was not like I was in a school and needed to manage all of that side of things. I have had to get used to online meetings rather than getting up from my desk and going to see someone in finance, HR or procurement for example. It was also important for me to establish a work routine very quickly, which I found worked really well for me.

 

  1. What have you learnt working through the pandemic? (As part of team building a new academy and as a member of SLT)

Adaptability and thinking contingency are probably two of the key things. The staff response, despite the pandemic, has been phenomenal. They have engaged so positively with our plans for September and have helped immensely in making the transition for our students into Year 7 as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

 

  1. What is next for HACL?

We have 14 weeks to go before the start of the new school year. This is when all the thinking and planning of the year so far comes together in something tangible and living. This is when the vision comes alive and becomes a reality.

 

  1. Any words of encouragement for teachers and support staff during this time?

This too will pass!

Stay true to that which is important to you. Use the fact that you miss seeing your students (and feeding off of their energy by teaching them) to remind yourself why you chose this profession in the first place.

 

  1. This week, we celebrate national teacher’s day. Is there anything you’d like to share to commemorate this time?

Teaching is a profession that makes other professions possible.

We can never overestimate the impact we have on the lives of the children in our care. It is profession like no other and, if anything, our current situation has highlighted the hugely valuable and necessary role teachers play in our society.

 

To read our previous entry with Gizle, click here. For more information about Harris Clapham, click here. Harris Academy Clapham is part of the Harris Federation, a progressive multi academy trust with a number of exciting new build free school projects planned for opening in the next 2-3 years.

 

As we continue to grow, we are interested to hear from dedicated leaders, teachers and support staff who share our vision for transforming education across London. Whatever stage you are in your career, we can offer you a supportive environment and collaborative network. As part of our forward-thinking and creative team, Harris provides a competitive benefits package and a chance to work amongst a friendly, open central network. If you would like to utilise your experience and skills to contribute to making a difference in education, browse your next opportunity here.     

 

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