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Open Letter to UCC Community

Please see a heartfelt message from Mr Solly below:

Open letter to the UCC community

I normally start my communications to staff with ‘Dear Team UCC’.... This letter, however is addressed to everyone associated with our school; staff, students, parents, governors. We are all ‘Team UCC’ and never have I felt that this was more important than right now.

I write this at 3am on Wednesday 17th March 2020. 2020 - the year we should be celebrating our centenary as a school, but in fact we have something quite different on our hands. A milestone in our lives not many of us would have predicted, but one we need to face together.

It’s 3am, I can’t sleep and I’ve got a million thoughts in my head. I am normally a pretty good sleeper, but I woke up an hour ago with cramp in my foot - it was momentarily very uncomfortable and once I’d finished hopping around the bedroom, I got back into bed and had ‘a moment’. I think the enormity of what we dealt with yesterday as a school community finally dawned on me, along with what might lie ahead. I needed a cuddle from my wife, I shed a few quiet tears and reflected on yesterday at UCC and what it meant. I’m not ashamed in any way to share that with you, maybe years ago I might have been, but I’ve learned that if I am to lead this school in the best way possible I have to be myself. That means being honest, transparent and prepared to share my vulnerabilities with those who I feel so privileged to lead. At the start of my headship career I might have considered this to be a weakness but I now know that it is probably my greatest strength. It is hard being a headteacher, but I think it is the best job in the world and I love leading this school.

Taking the decision to partially close was extremely difficult. However I know with 100% certainty it was the right call at the right time; our staffing levels had become so severely depleted overnight and during the day it became clear that we could not safely continue to educate all our students in the same way we normally would do. It was a pragmatic and necessary call to make and thankfully I have a brilliant team who provide support, challenge, advice and guidance that enable us as a school to make key decisions like this. The staff yesterday were truly magnificent.

However, I am not ashamed to admit that I am worried. I am worried about the health and well-being of our staff, our students and all our families. I am worried about how we will all adapt to a very different way of living over the next few months and the impact this will have on us all. I am worried about our most vulnerable students; the young people for whom school is the safest environment for them, whose home lives are chaotic, unpredictable and sometimes unsafe. We have plans to support these students during a period of closure, and I dearly hope we are able to support them throughout the challenges ahead.

But I am also optimistic and hopeful. Our school community has shown resilience, solidarity, positivity and a fantastic team spirit throughout this week. I know we will need that more than ever over the coming months. I bang on about our core values everyday but this is where we need to demonstrate them the most - especially kindness. Sometimes a crisis can bring out the worst in people; my challenge to our school community is for all of us to collectively ensure this brings out the best in us. Be kind. Genuinely kind. Support those in need wherever you can, look after your loved ones and show kindness to everyone around you. I am sure you will feel better for it.

My coach, John Rowe, who works with many leaders at UCC, has helped me understand the importance of bringing myself to my role as Principal. It cannot be an act, a showcase, an alternative persona adopted for each school day. Leadership has to be authentic, genuine. I used to think I had to compartmentalise aspects of my life to be the best possible headteacher, to cope with the pressure. I’ve learned that this is deeply unhelpful and unhealthy. The pressure is a privilege, one I embrace each day and one which I meet by ensuring key decisions are made with our core values at the foundation. I know I have to ‘be present’ and be myself in all aspects of my role. I genuinely embrace the responsibility of guiding our wonderful school; it is a huge honour to lead our brilliant staff and our amazing young people on a daily basis.

I don’t know what the future will hold over the coming weeks and months, I don’t think anyone does. But I do know that our school has an important role to play in supporting our young people during a period of uncertainty. I’ve recently stolen a phrase from the GB Athletics coach Tony Minichello, ‘normalise don’t traumatise’; I think this is really pertinent right now. If we accept that the world is unpredictable and often chaotic, then we can make key decisions from a position of being ‘tension free’ and with clarity of thought. This is how we will approach the key decisions that lie ahead for us as a school community. Decisions will be made with the best interest of our staff and students at heart, and from a tension free position. Your children will need you to help them normalise what lies ahead, not create a trauma out of it.

I also have been thinking about a fantastically simple but critical mantra I picked up from listening to the explorer and broadcaster Monty Halls - ‘choose your attitude’. When the chips are down and we are faced with a crisis, often the only thing we can control is our response, our attitude. This will be important for us going forward, by choosing to be positive, optimistic and full of hope, this will help us overcome our forthcoming challenges.

Like you, I have many questions. I want to know how the government will support young people taking examinations this summer. I want to know about how schools can remain open whilst at the same time we are expected to be exercising social distancing and mass gatherings. I want to know that people in our communities will be looked after and have the necessary resources. This uncertainty is unsettling for everyone, especially young people. I have no doubt it is amplified considerably them. They need the adults in their lives to provide them with reassurance, calmness and stability. Talk to your kids, use the resources online to help them understand what is happening and what we can all do.

Times like these put everything in perspective; for me it really shines a light on the things that are most important in life. Being happy, safe and with the ones you love. I know I need to phone my parents more than I do - I think the coming months will provide us all with the opportunities to communicate more with the people we hold dearest.

I am sure I will need to send out regular communications over the forthcoming weeks and months, probably several throughout the course of today. None of them are likely to be as long, rambling and as personal as this. Indeed, I expect that they will need to be functional, pragmatic and full of information. However, I feel that it was important to share my current thoughts with you. After all, you entrust us to keep your children, the most precious people in your lives, safe everyday and therefore you should know and hopefully be reassured that we always will make key decisions about our school in a decisive, measured and sensible manner and always in the best interest of our students and staff.

I am gutted we had to partially close UCC from today onwards. I am genuinely sorry for the difficulty this will be causing some families. I am also disappointed that at some point in the near future we will probably have to fully close for a sustained period, whether that is a directive from the government or through a lack of staffing. We will do our best in whatever circumstances we face and we will work together collectively as Team UCC to support and guide our young people through these uncertain times.

Thank you all so much for your kind messages of support and thanks over the past few days. This means a huge amount to the staff.

Yours faithfully
Mr B Solly