Dear Parents and Carers
A sincere thanks to all those parents who got in touch last weekend to voice words of support as we evicted our uninvited guests and to those who offered to help with clearing up, these messages do mean a lot to us and are lovely to read. Also, a big thanks to all students, parents and staff as everybody had to change their plans at very short notice which is never ideal.
There was a certain weary acceptance of yet another “operational challenge” to hit us this year, a year which has already given us a ransomware attack, strikes, the return of the word “affordable” by the Government which is the term they use just before ripping about 450k out of our budget through unfunded pay and bills etc., and now we have the travellers. Lacking the eloquence and indeed Latin of Her late Majesty the Queen, I couldn’t refer to an “annus horribilis” as she once did, though my choice of adjectives last Thursday may have conjured up a similar mental image.
One of the big frustrations is the fact that we have a height barrier to guard against this, however it does have to be opened when a trip comes back to school as per Thursday evening. We were being watched, as within seconds the travellers appeared, blocked the gates open and some got on the premises. The site team got it closed and then, as the call went out, the leadership team arrived. Mr Aynsley, fresh from one of his cycle rides, jumped in his car, got to school quickly and blocked the drive. He then tried to turn away the travellers, resplendent in his cycling lycra which he had appallingly matched with his shoes for work. Miss Hawkes also arrived and between them and the site team, suffered a tirade of abuse and threats etc. until the police arrived. The officer who arrived first sprang into action by making copious and detailed notes on his clipboard. He then told us to let a few more into school to ease issues on the road (by now they were backed up past the private school) and to also allow all the people who use the sports facilities in the evening to get off the site. After some more heated words and manoeuvring we ended up with 10 units on site and many more were turned away. Whether it was the police, the site team, the barriers, the staff or Mr Aynsley’s lycra/formal shoes combo, I am thankful to all of them for managing to limit this. A few of us spoke to the travellers on Thursday night, tried to get them to go, tried to reason with them and tried to stress the disruption to your kids, especially those doing exams. Nothing useful came back I’m afraid so we had to close to most students as you know. We felt we could protect the exams but keeping 1800 kids safe with travellers on the field was just too much of a risk.
In terms of eviction, we arranged for the bailiffs to issue the notice on Friday morning and the change in law in 2022 now makes trespass a criminal act in certain circumstances (i.e. closing a school), so the police issued theirs also. At this point, I have to say the guidance and support from the Police Traveller Liaison Officer was exceptional, as was the advice and prompt actions from the bailiff company. So, whilst they ended up staying where they were on Friday, and it has to be said they did keep themselves to themselves and remain as far away from the buildings as possible after our Friday morning tête-à-tête, they did then leave in the evening. Not before causing a mess on the field though. One popular game I watched was to empty a bin all over the field, remove the red casing and put a small child in the metal bin part before re-fixing the red casing so all you could see was a child’s face peering out from the gap where the litter goes in. They then pushed it onto its side before booting it, complete with child, all over the field – great fun. Some of the other mess wasn’t quite so easy to clean up and whilst I didn’t personally see a giant dog who could wipe its own backside with sports socks, it must have been there as the alternative explanation is disgusting. So thanks to all those who offered to help clean up but we got the pros in for that and got it all disinfected as well.
As ever, when we are faced with an issue, I take comfort in the company of your brilliant and very funny kids (well most of them). I don’t include the two Year 11s who we found Thursday night propped up on our gate having a late-night smoke with their new besties from the camp on our field (advice and guidance given), but the rest of the kids were great. I can’t share the thoughts and ideas they gave us on Friday on how to solve this particular “operational challenge” but I appreciate them thinking of us.
So, thanks once again for your patience last weekend, a scene that one colleague politely described as “sub optimal” when they saw the caravans. But every day is a learning day and we move on.
Have a great half term!