Headteacher turned coach warns pandemic could deepen crisis in profession already under strain

Headteacher turned coach warns pandemic could deepen crisis in profession already under strain

A CONTROVERSIAL return to the classroom this week holds extra significance for Suneta Bagri who fears the pressures of a pandemic could bring an already struggling profession nearer to breaking point.

Improving wellbeing mental health in education is central to the mission of the former headteacher who is striving to transform the wellbeing culture in schools across the country – a subject that, as teachers prepare for post-COVID teaching practices, has never been in sharper focus.

Suneta Bagri, Every Teacher Matters, Cultivate Coaching & Consultancy

Between 2015 and 2019 Suneta ran schools in Birmingham, Daventry and her new home city of Coventry and is now the founder of the new Every Teacher Matters Project and Network, which delivers mental health first aid training and coaching in educational settings.

Established under her business umbrella of Cultivate Coaching & Consultancy, the network marks a personal milestone for the passionate campaigner who now believes she is fulfilling a life’s destiny.

And it comes at a time of reported ‘crisis’ in a profession which is reported to be losing nearly half of its new cohorts within the first three years of qualifying.

Suneta, 43, said: “The profession was in crisis even before COVID came along but now there are extra concerns for teachers to contend with, including the fear of contracting the virus, the pressures of having to work in bubbles and the huge emphasis on risk assessments. That’s all they’re able to focus on at the moment whereas usually they’d be focusing on the teaching and the learning aspects.”

She added: “Teachers are burning out due to a number of reasons – workload, lack of autonomy, lack of control and a narrow curriculum which relies completely on rote learning of facts. It’s all about gearing them up to just pass tests rather than take part in deep rich learning experiences which serve them for life.

“Schools have become more like exam factories, ramming Maths, English and Science down their throats while squeezing out other creative arts and just getting children to achieve certain thresholds and it doesn’t matter, if in the process, that holistic character of education is lost.

“The politicians back in 2012/13 did us no favours unfortunately with the landscape of education moving away from local authority schools to academies which just turned some school leaders into power-driven individuals taking their focus away from teaching and learning. Their priority and moral compass has been changed and it’s gone off in a direction that is not about the children any more. That personally makes me very sad.

“Politicians are making decisions when they have absolutely no clue about what actually goes on within a school environment.”

The youngest of three siblings born to immigrant parents, Suneta harboured dreams of becoming a teacher and effecting change from a young age – but was forced to overcome cultural traditions, discrimination, and a lack of parental support if she was to succeed.

“My passion for learning developed at a young age. My parents’ priority was to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, meaning that getting a good education was secondary,” recalls Suneta.

She added: “My father’s aspiration for me was to find me a suitor when I turned eighteen. His wish? That I work in a bank. As this would make my marriage proposal ‘attractive’ to ‘potentials! University certainly wasn’t part of their plan for me but eventually it was agreed I could go if I funded it myself so I maintained a part-time job all week and throughout the holidays whilst also studying full time.”

“I fought hard, really hard for the privilege of an education and discovered a love of learning that has carried me through my entire life. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher when I was still at primary school. I loved school and I was very grateful for the opportunities that I had. I loved everything about my school, it was my happy place, and it became my dream to become a teacher at the school where I was taught.

And so it was to be when Suneta graduated and took up her first teaching post, aged 21, at her former primary, Holy Trinity CofE School in Kent.

After just a year in the role she met her husband Tej before settling in Coventry, going on to take up a variety of teaching roles in schools around the West Midlands.

But she was soon to find herself facing a very different kind of challenge outside of the classroom – and one that brought an abrupt halt to Suneta’s teaching ambitions. Twelve years ago her second child was born with a severe genetic condition so rare, it has still not been diagnosed today. Overnight Suneta became a full-time carer to Roop, who overcame all the odds.

Suneta Bagri, Every Teacher Matters, Cultivate Coaching & Consultancy

Suneta said: “It is nothing short of a miracle really. But everything about my son’s needs was complex, which required around-the clock care. His condition was so rare it baffled the medics, he was referred to as a medical enigma and this remains the case to this day. His prognosis was bleak and after the first year of his life, due to his failure to thrive, we were told to prepare for palliative end-of-life care. I honestly don’t know how anyone can possibly ever prepare to do that. All I can say is that at the time his suffering was so significant, that I just wanted it all to end.”

Roop, who relies on the support of a part-time home carer, has been left with little speech; delayed learning; complex dietary needs (he was tube fed until the age of eight); sensory processing disfunction and severe allergies.

But years of research, therapies and campaigning, with the support of specialist consultancies around the world, have drawn no medical conclusions. It’s this journey that’s led Suneta and Tej to recently fundraise for the charity SWAN (Syndromes Without A Name) www.undiagnosed.org.uk by taking on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge.

“Having invested in personal development, I had a strong mindset, I refused to focus on anything other than what I wanted, a healthy boy.

Two-and-a-half years later however, and now as a mum of three, Suneta felt the time was right again to pursue her career ambitions, going on to take up four headteacher roles.

“I believe that being a head teacher is a position of great responsibility, not power. Responsibility for others is an opportunity to serve and help others, “giving back” is another core value of mine.

“Although I made myself available in this way, it was incredibly demanding and emotionally draining. So I took to self-care like I was a woman obsessed!

Self-care is not a luxury within a role like teaching or leading, but a necessity. I focused on self-care more than ever during my time as a headteacher and used all known resources within my toolkit to survive the challenges. This was hugely beneficial and really helped me to manage as well as I did with all of my responsibilities at home and at work.”

“I began to use coaching strategies in the schools that I worked in and prioritised staff wellbeing as of equal importance to the children’s.

She added: “It was reflective of who I am. People are important to me. Relationships are important to me – connection is important to me. Helping others to be the best they can be is my true purpose. As a teacher, helping children to become better was my goal, as a headteacher helping the adults to be the best they could be became my goal.

“This approach was really working for the school communities that I led.  Where staff were valued, acknowledged and invested in – progress was an inevitable and natural part of the school improvement journey.

“By the end of 2018, I was absolutely convinced that key to a school’s success was indicative of the wellbeing of its staff. Experiencing first hand the impact of poor mental health, overwhelm, and burnout had on myself and many, many teachers that I was working with, I felt that something had to be done, so I decided that to see the change… I must become the change.

“I decided to leave my senior role to focus my time and efforts on supporting other teachers with their personal growth and development, which meant I could continue to have a positive impact upon future generations.”

Suneta Bagri, Every Teacher Matters, Cultivate Coaching & Consultancy, Steve Waters
Suneta Bagri and Steve Waters, of The Teach Well Alliance, who are collaborating on the new Every Teacher Matters Network.

And so Every Teacher Matters Project was born.

And already it’s inspiring educators and entrepreneurs alike. Suneta is now an advisor for the Mental Health Foundation as well as a Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching and has earned recognition in several national awards programmes.

And she is about to announce the launch of her new Every Teacher Matters Network Membership, being rolled out in different parts of the country, in collaboration with the Teach Well Alliance, based in Manchester. https://www.teachwellalliance.com

But what is her ultimate ambition for the network?

“I want teacher wellbeing to become high profile and I want to be able to make systemic changes that make a difference to initial teacher training.

“Eventually I’d like to see that personal development and wellbeing coaching become a common feature for head teachers and teachers in schools. I would like to think we will completely break the stigma around mental health in schools.”

“My argument is, if teachers aren’t being given the environment to be able to look after their own mental health, then I don’t know how they can be expected to identify the triggers in the children they teach.”

Visit: https://sunetabagri.com/

Good option for entertaining the family in post-pandemic school holidays

Good option for entertaining the family in post-pandemic school holidays

AS we’re still getting to grips with the realities of a post-pandemic lifestyle – while the rest of the school holidays span ahead of us – there are now fewer ways that we’re comfortable in spending our family time.

So when Go Ape in Coventry recently reopened after lockdown it presented a tempting option in our ‘neck of the woods.’

Go Ape, Coombe Abbey Country Park, COVID-19, safety measures, Coventry

Set in 500 acres of historic woodlands at Coombe Abbey Country Park, there is no shortage of excitement – but also with a choice of courses for different thrill levels.

My teenage sons and three friends took on the Tree Top Challenge which is open to all experience levels (over 1.4 metres). But this doesn’t mean it’s a pushover for the more confident adventurers as there’s a mix of crossings cleverly designed to test everyone’s limits.

If you’re supervising someone younger, you’re not restricted to following in all their footsteps as the crossings do split off in various places offering different challenge levels while reuniting at the other end.

Go Ape, Coombe Abbey Country Park, COVID-19, safety measures, Coventry

And, despite traversing a few of Go Ape’s 35 courses over the years, the boys were delighted by Coombe’s new elements, such as a dual Tarzan swing and the exclusive Alpine zip-to-zip – a series of zip wires. Exclusive to Coventry, this feature soon has you swinging through trees with abandon, culminating in a 200m double zip course landing. Plummet – a vertical drop from a 12-metre-high platform is currently suspended but, from previous experience, I can report, is particularly exhilarating.


The zip to zip provides a thrilling finale to a course that, in my opinion, helps Coombe stand out from the others we’ve experienced.

For the younger ‘apes’ there is also The Tree Top Adventure (for all ages over 1 metre) and Tree Top Adventure + (for six plus and over 1.2 metres).

Compared to our first visit just after it opened last spring, the woodland area has matured and now and, more than ever, participants feel like they’re truly swinging in the trees.

But, in a new climate of cautiousness that’s been forced upon us, did we feel reassured by Go Ape’s COVID safety measures?

The equipment is regularly cleaned, there’s a hand sanitisation station, screens at the booking kiosk and distancing is encouraged between groups on the course. Instructors also wear visors.

Even the pens we borrow to sign the waiver form are deposited back into a separate container for wiping down once we’re finished.

But it’s the peace of mind of the open air and sensible, yet unobtrusive, safety measures that left us feeling comfortable on the day.

What better time than post lockdown to appreciate the freedom of the great outdoors – and from what better vantage point than the canopies of beautiful Coombe Abbey Country Park.

So swing on by, you won’t regret it.

Further details at: https://goape.co.uk/locations/coventry

New business helps lift pandemic cloud

New business helps lift pandemic cloud

TWO Leamington friends are hoping their new enterprise will help boost local business efforts to re-emerge from the challenges of lockdown.

Carl Barlow, from Cubbington, established Fog surface sanitisation company this month after adapting his private jet and helicopter valeting business which was suddenly grounded by COVID-19.

Fog, COVID-19, lockdown, Carl Barlow, Barry Sant, Rise&Shine
L-R Carl Barlow and Barry Sant

Headed up by ex-RAF engineer Barry Sant, the pair, forecast Fog will help lift a cloud in the aftermath of the pandemic, also pledging to employ other financial ‘victims’ of lockdown in the process.

Carl, who launched Rise&Shine for the aviation sector 20 years ago, said: “Due to the virus, aviation has been very badly hit so my business needed to look to other fields to generate more income. As we were already providing a fogging sanitisation service to aircraft – and as we were starting to receive requests to fog jet centres and non-aviation vehicles, we realised there is a need for this outside the aviation industry as well.”

He added: “We are truly focused on employing within the local area, to people who lost their jobs due to the virus.

“And everything from vehicle graphics to clothing merchandise to print has been locally sourced to assist as many businesses as possible.”

The Fog machines are designed to thoroughly sanitise all surfaces in any space, by dispensing non-toxic and eco-friendly disinfectant in a super fine mist of protective particles.

And customers are warned not to be alarmed by the appearance of the ‘foggers.’

“We turn up looking like Ghostbusters! We only wear the full personal protective equipment because we’re working with it all the time and are following the product manufacturers’ recommendations. The product is completely safe due its non-toxic and eco-friendly properties,” said Barry Sant, who was recently reunited with his childhood friend after seeing an appeal on social media.”

The ex-RAF and civil aviation engineer is able to call upon his 24 years working in the aircraft maintenance when heading up the new operation.

Barry Sant, Carl Barlow, Fog, COVID-19, lockdown

Depending on which cleaning agent is used, it can provide protection against pathogens and viruses for up to eight, 10 or 30 days after each procedure.

He said: “A motor creates a high- pressure air output to produce a very fine fog to enable the efficient application of various disinfectant solutions to a variety of hard and soft surfaces that are active within five minutes.

“It can be used anywhere that you have customers, staff or the general public – pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants, public transport, vehicles, gyms, shops etc. and is already used in hospitals and other healthcare settings as one of the products is certified as a class 2A medical device. All products are food safe and one is even Halal certified, in accordance with Islamic law.”

He added: “People have their own care and maintenance and cleaning regimes to complement the initial disinfection, such as further sanitisation of the common touch points like door handles and light switches.

“There’s no reason why people can’t do the fogging themselves, with the correct equipment and PPE and disinfectant, but most people want to leave it to someone who has got knowledge and experience in carrying out the procedure and not have to worry about the initial outlay of buying all the expensive equipment.

“Also, every time there’s a procedure carried out they receive the official certification which businesses need to produce.”

Barry Sant, Carl Barlow, Fog, COVID-19, lockdown

As demand in Fog’s services grows, the entrepreneurs predict a new shift towards the long term importance of surface hygiene post COVID.

Barry said: “I’d like to see the business grow and eventually become national because the issue with the COVID virus isn’t going away in the short or medium term. We’re all in for a long ride with this.

“The elephant in the room is obviously COVID-19 but when you go to shops on the bus, for instance, you’re also being exposed to many other micro-organisms/viruses etc. – they’re just not in the news all the time. You’ve got the potential to pick them up at any point at any time from anywhere so a regime that can initially have been put in place due to the coronavirus, could have a longevity because of the nature of what it actually does.

He added: “This is all very much a steep learning curve and educational process, not only for the businesses carrying out this nature of the work, but also for business owners and members of the public. We can help them find a way through.”

Visit www.foggingnow.com for further details.

My post-lockdown first night dining experience

My post-lockdown first night dining experience

FIFTEEN weeks after being plunged into lockdown, one of the biggest freedoms we’ve been denied was this weekend re-gifted to us – and I wasted no time in taking advantage.

Whilst good food and drink have not been in short supply over recent months (my waistline will sadly vouch for that!), it’s the social setting and convivial atmosphere of the pub and restaurant experience that I’ve missed most.

The Globe, Tasca Dali, COVID-19, lockdown, restaurants, pubs, dining

So, upon receiving an email invitation to book a table at one of my favourite local hostelries, there was no hesitation.

It was only on the lead up to our visit on Saturday night however, I started to question my (usually very sound) judgement. Social media – and headlines – were piling on the pressure to ‘stay at home.’ We were constantly reminded of ‘second spikes’ and ‘local lockdowns’ were very much in the news.

Was I being irresponsible in taking the family to step out into this brave – and as yet untested – new world? Should I, like most in my social circles, steer clear for a while longer to observe how things ‘pan out?’

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to cancel on more than one occasion last week. The overthinking mum and the logical fact-driven journalist were at odds.

But the favourably low local COVID statistics added much-needed perspective.

And as a PR professional who works with many small local businesses, I also felt compelled to lend them my support.

I had witnessed first-hand their struggles for survival throughout lockdown and had long told myself that the moment I could do my bit to help get their tills ringing again, I would.

And after all, I reasoned, my family were due some celebrations in lieu of three birthdays, a significant wedding anniversary, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and other assorted milestones. So, suitably reconciled, off we headed to The Globe in Warwick.

The restaurant, in Theatre Street, was very much in the spotlight for its ‘first night’ audience.

On researching their COVID-Security measures, I was satisfied this chic gastropub, part of the Oakman Inns stable, had customers’ safety at heart. These included restricted numbers, discrete screens between some tables, disposable menus, cutlery brought to the table, signs to keep traffic flowing one way, an abundance of hand sanitiser and the option of at-table ordering via an app.

Would this infringe on the restaurant dining experience I’d so sorely missed? Would first impressions of the ‘new normal’ have us rushing back for a repeat performance or re-joining the more cautious supporters of stay at home? After all, a meal for four at your average south Warwickshire gastropub comes at a not-insignificant price. Would it still be a price we were willing to pay?

The Globe, Tasca Dali, COVID-19, lockdown, restaurants, pubs, dining
Discrete screens have been added to booth seating

I am delighted – and relieved – to report that, for us at least, the answer is yes. The overall dining experience was not that dissimilar to that of pre-lockdown. Considering this was reopening night, the team at The Globe handled their new regime with reassuring confidence and calm. Their genuine delight at being back on the front line of hospitality was clear to see. The servers we spoke to have missed the buzz of their restaurants as much as we have.

I was surprised to find a lack of face masks however. Whilst only optional for serving staff, it struck me that this may have offered an increased level of reassurance among more nervous diners, especially when they leaned over to collect plates and glasses from the table.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our long-anticipated family meal out and am pleased I didn’t talk myself into succumbing to that last-minute cancellation. In fact, buoyed on by this, we are heading out again next weekend, this time to Tasca Dali in High Street.

I am particularly pleased to support Tasca which has been much missed in the town. But it was a close call for this award-winning – but famously compact – Spanish restaurant which narrowly avoided hanging up the closed sign for good thanks to a recent change in the 2m distancing rule.

The restaurant can now accommodate double the number of diners than planned – although full capacity will still see a third fewer customers catered for on their busiest nights. There are still struggles ahead.

Whichever pub, restaurant or café you’re most looking forward to again frequenting, for that peace of mind it’s worth first checking up on their safety measures.

The Globe, Tasca Dali, COVID-19, lockdown, restaurants, pubs, dining
Signs and sanitiser are going to become familiar sights.

Make sure they are accredited as COVID-Secure and plan ahead such as downloading their apps. And don’t be shy to contact them with questions in advance of your booking. Businesses will be sympathetic to your nervousness to return through their doors and will work with you to offer as much reassurance as possible.

Many also offer outdoor dining which – on the finer days – can be a great compromise for those not ready to yet take the leap across their thresholds.

We are so lucky in south Warwickshire, to be surrounded by a fine choice of eateries and drinking holes and I, for one, am looking forward to reacquainting myself with most of them over the coming weeks and months.

Whilst I am clearly no scientist – and there is no such thing as zero risk – I am reassured that, if you choose wisely and follow the measures and advice in place, it is possible to once again enjoy our favourite restaurants and pubs safely, whilst also doing our bit to reignite the local economy.

Now I’ll definitely drink to that!

The Globe: www.theglobewarwick.co.uk

Tasca Dali: www.tascadali.com

Satisfying our appetites – until ‘normal’ service resumes (Review)

Satisfying our appetites – until ‘normal’ service resumes (Review)

AS we all come to terms with a new ‘normal,’ one of life’s treats we’re missing most is dining out at our favourite restaurants.

While hospitality businesses across the country are busily preparing to re-open their doors with appropriate COVID-19 safety measures in place, many are working hard to bring as much of the experience as possible into our homes instead.

My much-loved local of 20 years, The Hatton Arms is among them.

Hatton Arms, COVID-19, lockdown, deliveries, takeaways, review

This popular country pub on the edge of Warwick was sadly forced to hang up the closed sign soon after a much-trumpeted refurbishment and relaunch in February.

Four months on and now gradually re-emerging from lockdown, the Hatton Arms is still managing to hold firm to its principles of locally sourced fresh seasonal ingredients, with its recent unveiling of a reduced down version of the pub’s new lunch and dinner menus.

With hubby’s birthday at the weekend, I decided it was a good opportunity to put their meal delivery service to the test, so, with 24 hours’ notice, we booked a time slot and put in our food orders via email.

Delivery was very prompt and the food arrived piping hot.

Hatton Arms, COVID-19, deliveries, takeaways, review, Warwick

While more limited menu, the menu has been carefully considered to include a little something for all tastes, from pies and burgers to fish and chips and ribs and even Classic Caesar Salad. Vegetarians are also catered for

We took advantage of the keenly priced Burger Bundle – any two burgers and two desserts for £24.95, opting for the Double Stack BBQ Burger (double stacked chargrilled chuck steak burger with mature cheddar, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle and BBQ sauce on a ciabatta bun) and the Double Stack Buttermilk Chicken Burger (double stacked buttermilk chicken breast, mature cheddar, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, garlic mayo and Hatton hot sauce on a ciabatta bun).

Other members of the family chose Fish and Chips (beer-battered haddock, chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce) and a dish called ‘BBQ Heaven.’

Hatton Arms, COVID-19, takeaways, deliveries, Warwick, review
Double Stack BBQ Burger

All were given a big thumbs up, although a word of warning about BBQ Heaven. With five lemon and thyme chicken wings, buttermilk chicken, rack of BBQ pork ribs and skinny fries, this meal is not one for the faint-hearted. In hindsight this could stretch to two people and, while at £19.95, it is the menu’s most expensive option, it actually represents excellent value.

Keep an eye on their Facebook page too for specials.

A small but tantalisingly tempting selection of desserts – chocolate brownie, white chocolate and strawberry cheesecake, fruit crumble or mini cinnamon doughnuts with chocolate dipping sauce – are all generous is portion size. From personal experience I can say the fruit crumble is among the tastiest I’ve had. (And I like to think of myself as a crumble aficionado I’ve indulged in that many!)

All in all we were agreed, this was a very satisfying birthday banquet. Now we’re eyeing up the mouth-watering Sunday Roasts for another weekend. I’ve read positive reviews about these too!

This country pub has established a reputation among locals and visitors for authentic dining and classic British cuisine made with the finest ingredients, often sourced direct from the Hatton Estate.

It is also known for its beautiful sweeping views of the idyllic Hatton Locks. And Hatton Walks has now been re-opened at weekends for guests of the Hatton Arms to enjoy from 9am onwards.

Double Stack BBQ Burger

There are three different circular walking routes that take in the Grand Union Canal, local public footpaths and some beautiful private paths across the Hatton Estate to Hatton Country World. Free walks guides are available to download online by searching for ‘Hatton Walks Warwick.’

While the team has been busy managing social distancing and limiting visitor numbers as well as tidying up litter from the canal towpath, manager Stephanie Ward is also keen that customers consuming their Hatton Arms breakfast baps and coffees, follow the countryside code when visiting the Hatton Locks area. Extra bins have also been provided to help with this.

She said: “We are desperately missing our loyal customers and can’t wait to be able to welcome you back inside our doors again soon. We are awaiting further guidance from the Government on when this can happen.

“In the meantime we’re delighted to be able to continue serving our menu and wish to thank everyone for their invaluable support.”

Hatton Arms, COVID-19, takeaways, deliveries, Hatton, review, Stephanie Ward
Stephanie Ward

Takeaways can be available for collection or delivery between 3-8pm on Fridays, 12 noon-8pm on Saturdays and 12 noon-6pm on Sundays. The full menu can be found at: https://hattonarms.com/takeaway-order-form/ Same day orders can be made from midday by calling 01926 492427. Pre-orders can be made by emailing enquiries@hattonarms.com

Generally speaking, while restaurant food deliveries are a deliciously welcome distraction from our own kitchens, I think we’d all agree they are no real alternative to the authentidc dining out experience. But keep supporting them so we can one day (soon) be back to enjoying the original mine host hospitality in a form that we know and love.