Mister Quoted (not ‘misquoted’)

I got a text one evening this week telling me I was in the paper, and asking if I knew.

I had to say I was a little surprised; when the Sheffield Star had phoned earlier that day, looking for a quote, I had declined. They were running a story about ‘wider opening’ and the shortage of places for children who either wanted to return to school themselves or whose parents needed them to.

As a rule I don’t comment – the City Council has a publicity team for just such a purpose, and I have no intention of ever stepping out of line. I did not know what side, if any, the newspaper was going to take, whether I would be directly quoted, used slightly out of context, quoted in full, or what. I have a suspicion, perhaps wrongly and unfairly, about the motivation of the printed media (sensationalism, the need to sell copy, the limited space to tell the full story in a banner headline and three paragraphs, and cynicism borne of being a Liverpool Red by birth and upbringing). No comment was given, with a reason provided as simply not having the time.

I did go online to read the article the next morning: https://www.thestar.co.uk/education/key-worker-parents-told-children-cant-return-sheffield-primary-school-monday-2880713

Basically they had a full story from one letter I sent out to parents. It is published also on our website (because we post letters to parents there for reference and easy location) so it is freely available. We don’t slap a big copyright sign on it so they were free to use the text, I suppose. What amused me, though I suppose I could have been cross, was that the article makes it sound like I have provided a host of quality quotes.

They don’t have chapters 2 and 3, because they haven’t checked back, either with me or I guess with whoever provided the story initially – there is more to tell already and I imagine there will be more to come yet.

Since then we have put out a survey to parents asking, effectively, for applications for places from 22nd June. We are open for responses for another 21 hours as I write this. I imagine we are going to be impossibly over-subscribed.

This I already presumed when I completed a return to Sheffield City Council on Wednesday, explaining the peculiarity of our situation – we have no shortage of children to place but a lack of places to put them, and all of them children of critical workers or others in the priority group. On Wednesday I had a telephone conversation with SCC Commissioning, Inclusion and Learning Services on what we need, in terms of premises and staffing, to meet need. I suggested a minimum of 8 classrooms, a hall or two, a second kitchen, about 9 teachers and guaranteed funding to cover the costs for a term – say £150,000. That would only allow us to house the current critical workers’ children demand. To bring all of Y6 back as well we’d need 50% more of everything again.

So the story ‘printed’ in The Star was fair, and I think my writing was fairly good. Only one sentence was manufactured, which I felt wasn’t bad in one whole article. Sadly, incredible as it seems, we cannot safely accommodate all the children in the priority groups – we simply have an very large number (and proportion) of critical worker parents, which combined with our non-expanding classrooms and high pupil : teacher ratio means we do not have the capacity to hold the required number in groups of the size dictated. Yes, austerity has compounded the problem, as has years of relatively low funding, expansion of pupils on roll way over the original design, losing admission appeals, and the lure of a fabulous local community that means so many professional people live in the catchment area.

I shall end on an upbeat note: we have been open ever since schools were ‘closed’, through the holidays as well as the term. We have had more children attend than the average, a greater percentage attend than the average, a greater percentage of ‘vulnerable’ children attend than the average, a greater increase in numbers attending since Sheffield schools were told not to expand than the average increase in Sheffield (I know that seems to make no sense, and yet it is true), and we planned for the second earliest expansion date. Our website has experienced a 300% increase in traffic – year group blogs are as popular as ever, and the Covid-19 FAQ is also popular. We will safely expand further in a week’s time, having learnt from a two-week period with an extra 44 attending. We remain hopeful of another, small, expansion in numbers before the end of term.

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