Sutton Coldfield’s newest headteacher says he was ‘excited’ to take over Plantsbrook School – and feels tremendous pride with the way the school’s team has taken on the challenge of a new lockdown.
Jason Farr, 51, took over at the Upper Holland Road school at the start of 2021, following the retirement of Tracy Campbell, who was head at Plantsbrook for nearly 20 years.
And Mr Farr, who was previously deputy headteacher, said that after just a few weeks in the job he felt ‘uplifted’ by the response of staff to the latest lockdown challenge.
He said: “Taking on a new position in the current climate is always going to be a significant challenge. I was excited, really looking forward to it and perhaps a little nervous too.
“But having been at Plantsbrook since 2007, I know the team here very well indeed, and I knew I could rely on them. I have had the benefit of so much support, it has been genuinely uplifting. I’m feeling the warmth of the people I work with and the support of staff, students and parents.”
Plantsbrook is now once again looking after vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers, while providing an ambitious expanded curriculum of remote learning for students working from home.
Mr Farr said the school had learned the lessons of previous lockdowns – and had been preparing for months for the current situation.
“We have responded dynamically, and with agility, to a very rapidly changing national picture, and staff have done that very smoothly,” he said.
“This lockdown picture is vastly different to lockdown 1 and 2. We learnt lots of lessons in 1 about trying to do the right things for our students. At the time, we were having to think on our feet by prioritising our time on our exam groups, for instance.
“When we came out the other side of that lockdown, and took stock, we all agreed that the lack of contact with some of our younger students, and those that weren’t in exam groups, was something we wanted to avoid if we were placed in that situation again.
“So, we started planning in anticipation of self-isolation and further lockdowns. We put a lot of time into it, a lot of training and a lot of collaboration.
“When we came back in September, we were prepared for that mix-and-match of blended learning, with children who were self-isolating at home, and children in the classroom. That’s what we are doing at the moment. We have hit the ground running with this latest lockdown.”
Mr Farr, who is married and has two daughters, said he had been ‘staggered’ by the positive response from parents to the remote learning being organised by Plantsbrook.
“I’ve lost count of the amount of positive feedback we have had from parents via Twitter and email, telling us we are doing a great job, and that their children are occupied 4-5 hours a day.”
Mr Farr said Plantsbrook has a team regularly in contact with more vulnerable families, and he encouraged parents to get in touch if their child is having a problem with their learning.
“It’s by no means perfect,” he said, “but I’m happy with the model we have in place. I also couldn’t be more delighted with the buy-in we have had from the staff, who have shown themselves to be really optimistic, resilient and incredibly hard working. To have a team of people like that behind me has made my first weeks as headteacher significantly easier.”