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A week in the new-normal life of a headteacher

After six months of virtual lessons, Harris Academy Peckham is open again. The Evening Standard spent time with Principal Rebecca Hickey to find out what it's like to have children back in school.


It’s a grey day for the start of the new school year but Principal Rebecca Hickey couldn’t be happier to see so many bright, smiling faces. The one issue is there are (slightly) too many of them, she confesses to a colleague as they stand welcoming students at the gates of Peckham’s Harris Academy.


Today is meant to be a year sevens-only induction but much to the barely disguised delight of staff, several older students have turned up at the gate, blazers buttoned and eager to learn. “It seems so cruel to have to send them home when they’re so excited,” says Hickey, pausing every couple of seconds to wish a timid-looking teen a good morning and happy start of term.


Principal Rebecca Hickey at Harris Academy Peckham.


She can hardly blame them for turning up three days early: since Covid-19 caused schools to shut down almost overnight in March, many students haven’t seen friends or picked up a book in six months. The excitement is palpable, says Hickey, executive principal of eight schools across the Harris federation, the largest academy chain in London. But there’s also some confusion: one poor year eight had a nasty shock this morning at the gates. “He thinks he’s still halfway through year seven.” 


Classrooms might have been empty since March but Hickey and her team have never been busier. Aside from “turning into a virtual school in 48 hours” to deliver a full schedule of online lessons on Microsoft Teams, staff have also been hard at work to equip families with internet, home-schooling tools and food provisions (60 per cent of students are eligible for free school meals). Among the resources delivered: 250 laptops, dozens of internet dongles, 1,500 school meals and 2,500 School Food Matters breakfast boxes from local restaurant partners including Wahaca.


To read the full article on the Evening Standard website click HERE.

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