The ‘Roadmap to Recovery’- the five ‘Rs’ and an approach to the wider re-opening of our 21 primary, secondary and special schools in the East of England.

Stephen Chamberlain is CEO of The Active Learning Trust.

On the 18th March 2020 the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced that:

“After schools shut their gates from Friday afternoon, they will remain closed for most pupils-for the vast majority of pupils, until further notice.”

On the 28th May, at an ‘Extraordinary Meeting’ of our Trust Board, our Trustees, after a close examination of our framework for decision making, compliance with Government and Public Health England guidance and a close scrutiny of our Risk Assessments agreed to the ‘phased re-opening of our schools from the 1st June onwards.’

Much has happened during the last ten weeks to help us formulate our roadmap to get to this stage and to point to our future destination over the coming weeks and months ahead.

We have based our roadmap around the five phases of the pandemic and its aftermath identified by McKinsey and discussed by Sir David Carter in a recent publication for Ambition Institute on ‘How governors and trustees can help schools make sense of the future.’The five ‘Rs’ are:

  • Resolve
  • Resilience
  • Return
  • Re-Imagination
  • Reform


There is a no roadmap or blue print for ‘teaching during the time of a pandemic’. Undaunted by the challenge, our schools made rapid provision for our vulnerable children and those of key workers to keep them safe, engaged in learning and to support the wider national strategy. Within days we saw a rapid engagement from our staff in delivering lessons and creating highly imaginative and stimulating home learning activities via a range of online and social media platforms. This was achieved alongside comprehensive plans to maintain contact with children and their families to ensure their safety and well-being.

Our central team quickly mobilised to support our schools in the effective delivery of free school meal vouchers (that’s a whole blog on its own) and re-purposed our whole professional development programme and took it, in a matter of days, completely on line through Microsoft Teams. We created a weekly Trust newsletter to help us engage with our 1000+ teaching and support staff and set up a Mental Health Support Team to support them as they adjusted to new ways of working whilst also  looking after their own families.

We are fortunate to have highly effective, professional , experienced and adaptable schools leaders who were quick to find solutions, plan under pressure and lead their teams effectively to resolve the immediate key issues. At the same time, we recognised that in order to maintain momentum we would need to look ahead and plan carefully for the potential re-opening of our schools.


‘Resilience’ could be aptly defined, in the present circumstances, as the ability to ‘overcome the unexpected’. Having resolved some of the initial challenges of closure, we began to think about how what we needed to do over the coming weeks and months as schools might re-open more widely. We wanted to ensure that whatever we were putting in place could become sustainable and that our strategies would help give our schools and their leaders the best tools, advice, guidance, support and leadership tools to survive the challenges of the ‘Return’ phase ahead.

“We are drowning in information whilst starving for wisdom”

As we started to plan for our schools to reopen, we realised that there was a huge amount of information to assimilate, digest, interpret and build into our planning for the future. It was for us and our headteachers potentially overwhelming. We realised that all Trust and school leaders would be in the same position but it was our responsibility as a Trust to protect our headteachers from being overwhelmed, to undertake the best advice and guidance and to provide them with the support needed to make the best decisions for each of their schools on an individual, case by case basis.

So, we began to plan for our ‘Return’ phase by engaging with the wider sector. As a Trust we are members of the Confederation of Schools Trusts and our staff, Trustees, Chair and executive have all benefitted by being able to engage through on line meetings, workshops and updates with other trust CEOs and the DfE. We have worked together to translate a wide range of information, guidance and policy into safe, practical and sustainable and plans for the future. As CEO, I am also part of the Cambridge and Peterborough Local Authority and CEO Network where we have been able to work together and support each other to plan in a consistent way across a local region and network.

What stands out for me is the ways in which the sector has come together with a determination to collaborate and resolve issues across both the maintained and academy sectors and underpinned by a clear moral purpose and civic responsibility. This is the sector at its best and has set firm foundations for the future as we start to reimagine the future and work together to reform and embrace new ways of working to deliver a world class education in this country.


As a result of our collaboration with the wider sector and the work of our central team we have been able to:

–       Create an easily accessible Trust-wide toolkit of carefully selected resources and plans for our headteachers to draw on in their planning. The toolkit includes: a range of templates; school and individual staff risk assessments; models for future planning across a range areas including SEND, working with parents, professional development, pupil well-being; advice on use of PPE and templates of customisable signage and other practical resources.

–       Create a single ‘Risk Assessment’ model across the Trust based on the recommended ‘Hierarchy of Controls’ and drawn from a range of models. It includes 17 broad areas and 175 criteria based on the checklist submitted by unions. We have a central team in place with expertise in a wide range of areas, including Health and Safety and Compliance to assist heads in completing RAs to a high level. This helped our Board of Trustees to robustly examine our processes and control measures in order to approve the wider re-opening of our schools. We have also developed a model for reviewing risk assessments with each school on an exemptions basis to ensure they are ‘live’ and responsive.

–       Use the Trust Data Intelligence Systems to help consult with families to help shape our school opening plans and to respond to any concerns from parents. Each school undertook a feasibility study of what provision would be possible for Nursery, Reception, Year 1, Year 10 and Year 12 in the context of each individual building and the available staffing. We also developed a series of questions that could be shared with parents across the Trust and sent out with the proposals for each school so that every parent could make an informed choice about whether they wished for their child to return to school. The most helpful questions to help us plan were:

  1. With the suggested phased-re-opening on 1st June, will you be sending your child in if they are in one of the proposed groups?
  2. As time goes on, if schools open fully to all pupils one month before the close of the Summer term (as suggested by the government) will you be sending your child in?
  3. As a result of staff shortage (i.e. staff illness, staff with underlying health conditions, shielding) it may mean that your child will not be taught by their regular class teacher/member of staff. How would you feel about this?
  4. Please select the option that best reflects your feeling at this time:
  • I will return my child to school as soon as I can because I believe the risk is minimal;
  • I have to send my child to school due to work/other commitments but am confident risk is minimal
  • I have no choice but to return my child to school due to work/other circumstance but would prefer not to
  • I will not send my child to school until they return with their sibling
  • I will not send my child to school because I still believe there is still considerable risk
  • I will not return my child to school until the start of the school year in September
  • I do not want my child to return to school at the moment, but may change my mind at a later date in light of further information from the government
  1. My child has access to a device (iPad/laptop) for their home learning.

There are over 9500 children across the 21 schools in the Trust and within a week we had over 4200 responses, the majority from the key groups identified for a June return. The data was obviously useful for each school in developing their plans for re-opening as they were able to assess the number of children requiring a place as well as able to take into account and respond to parental concerns and anxieties from the comments in the free text sections. As a Trust we were able to see that only 25% of parents who responded intended to send their children back to school and, when analysed further this was an average of around 40% of the identified cohorts (Range 24%-48%). The responses on a potential later return to school gave an early indication of parental intentions and has allowed us to work with our school leaders to see what might and might not be possible in terms of provision between now and July.

The huge number of responses to Question 4 has also given us a very clear indication of parental concerns and anxieties. Data showed that:

  • 29% of our parents would return their child to school as they believed the risk was minimal compared to 17% who thought here was still considerable risk;
  • 32% of parents did not want to return their child to school at this time but might change their mind at a later date;
  • 6% had to return their child to school but would have preferred not to if given a choice;
  • 12% stated that they would not be sending their child back until the new year.

This Trust-wide data has helped is support out headteachers in their planning and risk assessments and allowed us plan for potential increase in numbers over the next two months. We have also been able to strengthen our trust wide risk assessments to address any concerns raised by parents and determine where individual schools may require additional support.

  • Develop our ‘Recovery Curriculum’ framework by working with colleagues to determine a model that meet the needs of those returning to school and those who may be remaining at home. The ‘Recovery Curriculum’ framework is an essential component of our thinking and planning across all key stages so that our individual schools can create and adapt the curriculum materials to meet the needs of their children and context. The basis of the model is to provide some reassurance to our children and young people with opportunities to listen, question and discuss their feelings and experiences over the last few months. The framework also seeks to establish routines and structures to the days to help them adapt to the new learning environment and new ways of learning.

Some of our school leaders and teachers have been highly creative on using technology to blend real lessons with live broadcast to other rooms or across ‘bubbles’ and record these to share with pupils who may be at home so that there is some shared experience. In the longer term, assessment and tracking will be used to establish gaps and evaluate the needs of individuals and groups for the future.

We have a complete analysis of staff who will need to remain at home for a significant period of time due to underlying health conditions and risks. They will be working together ‘virtually’ across the Trust and across key stages, as part of our Virtual School, to create and deliver learning for those who will be remaining at home. We have used the last ten weeks to review our Trust core curriculum frameworks so that there will be some coherence in the core subjects right across the Trust in the primary curriculum alongside other resources such those provided by the Oak National Academy.

Re-Imagination and Reform

With the wider opening of our schools we are journeying a little further down the road on our roadmap to recovery. I was reminded of this quotation from Earl Nightingale:

“All you need is the plan, the road map and the courage to press on to your destination”.

 As I work with our wonderful headteachers and my Trust team, I am not convinced that life at the moment is quite that simple.

Our destination is not yet clearly defined. It may be somewhere over the horizon and therefore impossible for us to judge the distance we may need to travel to get there. It may be to a destination very different to we had in our minds when we set out. We may need to plan a number of routes to get there safely. What I do know is that we as a Trust and as a sector have the courage and resilience to meet whatever challenges we might face.

As we enter the ‘return’ phase we still need to ‘re-imagine’ what learning in our schools will look like in September and beyond. This may lead to lasting, exciting and sustainable ‘reform’– a new horizon for education but we have the ‘resilience’ to deal with the present challenges first.

There is a great deal spoken about ‘resilience’ at the moment. Someone once defined ‘resilience’ as ‘accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.’ I think if we took this view, we would be failing our schools, our children and young people and our communities.

We can re-imagine a better future. The word resilience comes from the Latin ‘resalire’, which means ‘springing back’ and that is what we will do together. So perhaps ‘resilience’, as previously mentioned is best defined as being able to ‘overcome the unexpected’. Having achieved this to some degree, we now need to think about how what we have started to put into place can become sustainable. There is a need to carefully consider the capacity we need in the system to survive the challenges ahead. For surely, the true goal of ‘resilience’ is not to accept less, not just to survive but for us, together, as an education system and, for the sake of our schools, children and communities to thrive.