Insights with Laura Stoneman, Group Health and Safety Manager for the Federation.

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Laura Stoneman, Group Health and Safety Manager for the Federation.

Due to the pandemic being a rapidly evolving situation, the Federation is monitoring daily guidance from Public Health England, the Foreign Office and the Department for  Education. Our academies routinely track  the latest guidance advice and where required are regularly updated via the appropriate channels. To view up-to-date guidance, click here. To view the Health Foundation’s A timeline of national policy and health system responses to COVID-19 in England, click here.

Who we are and what we do

As part of our growing COVID-19 enquiry across the Federation and in our academies, we sat down with Laura Stoneman, Group Health and Safety Manager for the Federation. As Group Health and Safety Manager, Laura advises on Federation wide Health and Safety issues and carries out visits, audits and inspections of academy premises alongside providing guidance to academies on their management and application of health and safety legislation and best practice.

LS: “I have been at the Federation for a total of six years, I started at Harris Girls Academy Bromley as Resources Manager, where I stayed for three years before joining the central team in my current role.

During my time as Resources Manager, I was lucky to work to support and oversee health and safety on an academy level first, before transitioning to the central team.  With this unique perspective and understanding of health and safety on the ground, I am able to make decisions and provide support to academies in a way that I feel is most appropriate. I remember vividly that as part of my move up, recalling what I needed on ground level and starting from there, was key to the role.”

This is even more important to my role as Group Health and Safety Manager at a large MAT. With just under 50 academies and growing, understanding the different sites and their individual needs is key to providing the appropriate support and guidance and continues to be as we’ve seen through the pandemic.

Everything so far.

Talking to Laura about some of the ways in which things have dramatically changed since the start of this year, she walks us through the timeline and how we have responded:

LS: “Looking at where we are now, the academies have done incredible work. As a central hub, we have been working around the clock to interpret, deliver and advise on guidance to academies since the beginning.

Initially, the response was immediately reactive in trying to understand what was needed to keep our school community safe. This has changed to a degree as we are beginning to understand and are more familiar with the guidance. Supporting the academies in interpreting the guidance was and remains a key part of our central role. This, of course, takes many different forms. Whether that be, ensuring that we can provide accessible resources, such as PPE, and guidance notes to better assist schools in understanding the many different requirements and changes. It is safe to say that this is the busiest my team and many other teams across the Federation have ever been. The collective support and hard work of all of our schools and central teams is truly admirable and great to see our academies push forward during this trying time.’

Shifting gears as we go on

As this continues to be an evolving situation, being adaptable to the evolving needs of staff, students and parents’ is something that continues to be an important aspect of health and safety provisions and demands a responsive body. Amongst the most popular talked about in the news, anxiety and mental health related needs is a priority in the transition to the ‘new normal’ for schools. As part of a wider reach initiative, academies across London are engaging with mental health practices and dedicated wellbeing check-ins to ensure that staff and students feel heard and understood during this time. On this, Laura adds:

LS: ’Understandably, there is some anxiety across academies. Particularly around whether they are doing the right thing by the guidance and following protocol accurately. Understandably so, this air of caution is in everyone’s daily life, but I think it is particularly present in our line of work given the proximity to young people and community and our duty of care to them.

I think as a central team, our job is to ensure they feel understood, supported and feel confident in their understanding of the guidance and how best it should be executed. Most queries were to get a centre check on the protocol, whether it be someone’s contact with a COVID-19 positive individual or planning group activity. Ensuring they got the right advice or support in any capacity was down to us consulting internally and with DfE guidance.

The academies themselves have always been distinctively unique in their practices and it has been very rewarding to see how they have initiated wellbeing and health practice to best suit their site and community.’

It takes a village

Laura’s direct relationship with on-the-ground academy staff allows her to be ‘on the in’ so to speak with how staff and students are currently navigating guidance and the new protocols during this time. Nationally, over a third of teachers are feeling stressed and anxious about their mental health and wellbeing, according to a YouGov survey. As mentioned before, there is great awareness to the pandemic’s effect on both students and our staff, as we work closely within our networks to support and assist our staff during this time. Laura points out that in her own engagements with academy staff and across the federation, there is a communal strength in us:

LS: ‘I don’t think I’ve spoken to anyone who hasn’t shared the same sort of right, let’s get it sorted attitude. I think we all just want the best for our people and students. From what I’ve gathered on the teacher perspective, they all want to teach. They want to see their students back in class, engaging with their peers and learning as they would normally. No one has come back to me with a I’m not doing this! and I honestly think that is a testament to everyone’s hard work. It’s just really pulled us together, as educators, as key workers, as people.’

Where we are now

As we move more into Autumn term, we heed closely to Government guidance and monitor daily practice to ensure a safe environment for all of our academies, staff and communities. To learn more about how we are navigating COVID-19, click here. Next week, we will explore the perspective from on the ground, with Principal Peter Groves of Harris Academy East Dulwich.


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