She explained: “If we’d waited to reopen the school until September, it would have created untold anxieties.
“For staff, of course, but for the students because of the barriers that I can’t control like IT access.”
Ms Gage’s Victory Academy in Chatham, Kent, has created a raft of ‘family bubbles’, treating groups of up to 15 like one household and these are set out to make sure pupils can spend time with their friends. It’s just one of the ways the school has supported them.
“Our priority is safety first,” stresses Ms Gage. “Their academic progress is extremely important to us, but we know that students need to feel safe and supported in order to learn effectively.
“So much work has gone into this, but I feel better seeing children. It’s reminded me why I’m doing the job I am. The reason I do this job, especially in a deprived area, is because I’m passionate about transforming life chances.”
On the first day, around 60% of eligible pupils returned and the school benefits from having a large site, meaning there’s plenty of room for each bubble. Communication with parents has been vital and if they’re worried about their child’s return Ms Gage has invited them in to see the safety measures for themselves.
“I want more students here, obviously, but we will only do what is safe for these children, regardless of what other people are doing,” she says.
“It’s quite a strict regime that we have put in place, it’s quite tight. I’m very aware that students who have been at home, much like the rest of us, can get out of habits so we know that some students haven’t done any work – and if they have, we don’t know how much.”