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Retired head teacher of Wateringbury Primary School speaks of effect of pandemic on children


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A newly retired head teacher says some school children will be "blighted" by time away from the classroom during the pandemic.

Chasey Crawford- Usher, 60, who left Wateringbury Primary School in November after seven years in charge, says a negative home learning experience can have long reaching consequences for a child.

Watch: Retired Wateringbury Primary School head teacher Chasey Crawford-Usher

Ms Crawford-Usher, who plans to return to education but in a different role come September, said pupils may "check out and decide that school isn't for them, some will just be feeling stupid and continue to fall further behind and that's not their fault.

"They will be blighted by a myriad of ways, it's up to us to try to figure what we can do."

She is worried pupils may be missing out on the "building blocks" of learning and the socialisation and structure of a classroom.

The former head believes the attainment gap will widen between children from a disadvantaged background, and more privileged ones, as more families struggle through the pandemic.

She said: "There are individual success stories but generally we haven't closed that attainment gap so we have to consider what's behind this and we know it's down to poverty.

"If you think about what's happening now our country is even more divided in terms of haves and have nots through this pandemic, increased number of people finding it difficult to make ends meet, all the strain that puts on families, so it will be an even bigger problem.

Recently retired Wateringbury Primary School head teacher Chasey Crawford-Usher
Recently retired Wateringbury Primary School head teacher Chasey Crawford-Usher

"Schools do incredible work to support children from disadvantaged but now imagine what else is coming back into school, even greater needs, greater gaps, greater disadvantage."

The thought of how disadvantaged children are falling behind in the pandemic keeps her "up at night", she says, and plans on returning to work after a break, in a role perhaps where she can help teachers and pupils who need extra support.

Ms Crawford-Usher, a mother of three girls, entered teaching aged 44, after working in advertising and marketing at Young and Rubicam, which she described as "super fun" and the "day of expense accounts", before starting her own holiday tour company.

She started her teaching career at Woodlands Primary School, in Tonbridge before arriving at Wateringbury.

Amongst her achievements, she is particularly proud of increasing awareness of fitness and healthy eating, and its role in wellbeing.

In 2019 she appeared on TV, on This Morning to defend her decision to ban children from handing out sweets on their birthday, a story which was also picked up by numerous national papers.

Wateringbury Primary School, where Chasey Crawford-Usher was head teacher for seven years
Wateringbury Primary School, where Chasey Crawford-Usher was head teacher for seven years

As the pandemic approached and then engulfed the country, Ms Crawford-Usher found her role changing, with more focus on process, protocol and paperwork, and less time with the children. She would work 70-80 hour weeks.

She also has a long term lung condition, with abnormally widened airwaves, making her vulnerable to Covid-19.

Although she worked from the school, she had to be incredibly careful about contact with children and staff.

She said the she felt it was time to leave and left the school in an "extremely strong position in terms of our protocols and procedures for running the school in a pandemic and a very strong leadership team", with a structure for dealing with evolving situations.

She thinks the pandemic and the ever changing demands placed on classrooms and teachers have been harder for smaller primary schools to grapple with than for larger secondary schools.

She said: "It's often overlooked that if you're running a small school you're not doing less work, it's the same amount of work because we have got to go through the same paperwork, the same system, same protocols, the same risk assessment, but there might only be one person who is full time out of the classroom to do all of that and that might be the head teacher.

"Many head teachers also have teaching responsibilities, so the pressure on heads are absolutely phenomenal at this time."

She added: "There's going to be quite a lot of early retirement for head teachers, there will be a lot of burnout."

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