A Year Like No Other

Sharon Bell
Sharon Bell – Chief Executive

For those working in education, 18 March 2020 was a defining moment – it was announced that there would be a period of mass closure of schools, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since WW2. Here at Services For Education (SFE) we teach music in schools, and we provide training and development for teachers and school leaders. On that day, with that one announcement, our world looked very different.

This week I will have been with SFE for one year – a year like no other. I certainly wasn’t asked about leading through a pandemic at my interview! As I reflect on the past year, I have been thinking about the DNA of SFE – and the three attributes that have shone, and will continue to shine, through the team every single day.

Top of the list is creativity – from day one of lockdown our aim was to keep delivering for our customers. Our colleagues in educational settings needed our support then, more than ever, as they faced school leadership during a pandemic. Music had to stay alive for the children and young people of Birmingham and beyond. Seemingly overnight, with a phenomenal effort from colleagues across the organisation, we transformed into an organisation with a virtual learning platform and embraced on-line delivery, across our whole product portfolio.

As a Music Education Hub, we receive an element of our funding from the Department for Education, via Arts Council England. However, beyond that, as a stand-alone charity, our ability to operate is entirely dependent on our income (for lessons, consultancy or training) from schools, parents, supporters and friends.  With schools having closed, we were (and continue to be) very vulnerable financially and this gave an added urgency to the need to transform our delivery.

Throughout that period, the team role-modelled resilience, which is often defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” That definition suggests a one-off event – but of course the challenge posed by Covid-19, is that it is an ongoing rather than an isolated occurrence. As each week goes by, new challenges emerge for SFE, but the team have been relentless in their determination to meet them head on, and I am incredibly proud of what they have achieved.

As I reflect on SFE, I see a highly talented team – some of that is very visible to an external audience, whether that is through our team of education advisers delivering virtual training and consultancy, or in events such as the Virtual Youth Proms which was a high-profile series of virtual performances in July. Of course, none of these more visible events would be possible without the talented teams who have transformed their approach to make it possible to deliver ‘service as normal’ whilst working from home.

Working in education and the arts, we operate in two sectors which have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, and everything that has been achieved has not been without personal cost to our colleagues. Our Board of Trustees have been very supportive and given a considerable amount of time to overseeing our governance. As we continue to navigate  extremely uncertain times, we know that we have more challenges ahead, but as I reflect on my first year, today is a day to celebrate and thank the amazing group of people who I have the privilege to work with.

(sharon.bell@servicesforeducation.co.uk; twitter: @sharonbellSFE)