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It already seems like a long time ago since we quietly said goodbye to 2020. The uncertainty surrounding the education sector – and indeed the entire county – always meant the opening days and weeks of 2021 were likely to be busy.

And so it has proved as our schools have successfully negotiated a return to home schooling and a programme of in-school testing.

I think we all knew a national lockdown was once again on the horizon with perhaps the only shock being the actual length of lockdown – taking us to the February half-term.

Though seeing the national figures rise over the last few weeks, it is perhaps not altogether surprising.

Once again, the Government guidelines and national advice meant our school teams had to swing into a different action with little notice. That was certainly the case within our primary schools.

But all of our schools – and the entire education sector – have once again stood firm and quickly moved with impressive guile and unstinting commitment.

The first week of 2021 has already seen some astonishing achievements.

Utilising some of the lessons from last year, our schools rapidly provided a comprehensive home schooling programme, with a commitment to providing the best five and a half weeks possible of remote learning.

This included providing devices for young people who needed them and taking up the offer of additional internet access for families without fixed broadband access at home.

Alongside this, all our secondary, special and middle schools have successfully established Covid testing sites within their buildings and have begun testing students and staff.

Challenges of course remain. The list of ‘critical workers’ has increased and this has in turn meant more parents who fall under this category choosing to send their children to school.

This is a national issue and has led to a request asking critical worker parents to keep their children at home, where it is possible.

We are also still awaiting more guidance after it was announced that GCSE and A-level exams will once again not go ahead this summer.

This latest news does present some opportunities – and particular for Year 11 students who can start thinking and even studying for subjects that they plan to take in the sixth form.

This will give them a welcome head start alongside additional maths and English sessions that we are planning for specific primary year groups.

By the time I write my next newspaper column next month, we will be close to the Government-set deadline of Monday 15th February to review the impact made by this latest lockdown.

In the meantime, I am continually proud of how closely our schools work together and we will once again share plans and ideas throughout this period – both within our academy trust and with neighbouring schools and trusts.

Our united vow across all our schools is to offer pupils the best possible education during these challenging times.

By Tim Coulson, Chief Executive of Unity Schools Partnership

“The first week of 2021 has already seen some astonishing achievements.”