8 January 2021

Dear Parents & Carers, 


It has been a tumultuous week, but one in which I have been very proud both of our students and the school’s teachers and support staff. As I sit down to write, there is heavy snow outside, but staff are working with the students of key workers in school and they are providing online lessons for those working from home. On the subject of snow, this is the first year I’ve had as a teacher in which, after the first flurry, a student hasn’t asked if the school is going to close because of snow. There have been some very significant developments this week, which we are continuing to process and think carefully about. Any week in which schools are closed for 6 weeks and GCSE and A Level examinations are unceremoniously cancelled is remarkable; the fact that there are so many other issues to juggle for families and schools compounds that.  

In terms of examinations, we are still waiting for Ofqual and the Department for Education to explain their plan for GCSE and A Level students. Nothing has yet been shared with schools and we are unsure how grades will be calculated. What we are convinced of, is that Years 11 and 13 should continue to work very hard, as any future grade will be based upon their work for the full two years of their qualification. There will be continued opportunities to improve and to demonstrate their ability.  


Up until Monday, we were told that lateral flow testing would be the key tool to keep students in school, and that we could be compelled to establish a test centre on site. We will trial that process gradually, but have grave concerns that those designing the planning and materials for testing have never actually encountered a school age child. However, as I noted in my last update, we are used to big projects and will make such a system work for our students if there are reasoned and logical responses to the questions that we have raised.


I thought that it would be sensible to offer some specific guidance for different year groups and, even though most students are not physically present in the building, a sense of how we will support their development in the weeks ahead: 


Years 7 & 8 - Should continue to familiarise themselves with Teams and to attend all lessons online. Please continue to let us know if you have any IT issues. We will have daily registration, regular assemblies and will also identify other opportunities for students to develop. We intend to have parents’ evenings in the summer term and to offer some form of information evenings prior to that date. Please be aware that there have been some class changes for Design Technology and it would be worth checking your child’s timetable via the SIMS App. Online DT lessons will start during the third week of term, as the department are supporting students who are sitting their BTEC exams next week and training new staff members.  


Year 9 - This is a very important term for Year 9. Our virtual parents’ evening is scheduled for the end of this term, and we will share additional guidance on our virtual platform regarding making an appointment in due course. There will also be a range of presentations and departmental information for our virtual open evening, which will be delivered via the website. We are still very keen to offer taster sessions for GCSE subjects and are thinking about how we might make this work online. Please contact the school if you require any subject specific questions regarding options, or if you need specific careers advice.  


Year 10 - It is very important that Year 10 continue to access live lessons and online teaching, as it means they will be covering the necessary GCSE content for 2022 exams. We will assess their progress when they return to school so that we can offer the correct intervention and support. We are also considering a range of online courses that students can complete to give them additional training and opportunities that will help with careers, subject specific knowledge and personal organisational skills. We are thinking very carefully about a plan for the remainder of their BTEC and GCSE courses so that they have every chance of success in 2022.   


Year 11 – I have shared our plans with Year 11 students in a recent letter (available here) and we have also contacted families regarding Monday’s virtual parents’ evening. 80% of parents and carers have already signed up, with bookings closing tomorrow afternoon. We will discuss strengths and areas for improvement, but do not yet know what system Ofqual will use. Please also be aware that offer letters for 6th form places will be issued by post next week, and Mr Wilbraham will share an update regarding the admissions process.  


Years 12 & 13 – Mrs Lennon has been in regular, detailed contact with 6th form students since the weekend and will continue to offer a high level of support. We will write to 6th form students over the weekend to outline how we will support them and what they need to continue doing. We have had some queries regarding UCAS grades and thought it sensible to clarify the school’s position. Students are aware from PHE lessons that UCAS grades are ‘optimistic’ and intended to support students in applying for the courses and universities that they aspire to. They are not centre assessed grades or final grades, as is explained by Mr Wilbraham and Mrs Lennon when they work closely with students to finalise applications in the autumn term. Please look out for an additional 6th form update over the weekend.


Remote Learning - We have been really pleased with how students have engaged with remote learning and online teaching this week. I wrote to you on 3rd January 2021 to explain that we intended to start teaching straight away on Monday 4th January, as the delay suggested by the Department of Education would have been detrimental to our students. That was clearly the right decision, as both staff and students have worked very hard this week and we feel that significant progress has been made. We intend to review our provision with regularity, to share good practice as a staff and to find innovative ways to keep students engaged. I was very honest in my recent update that we would have teething problems. We’ve realised this week that the same applies at home; with students learning how to use the new system too. Their conduct, behaviour and attendance have been excellent, but it is important to note that behavioural issues will be dealt with in the normal way, by contacting home. We will also closely monitor attendance – students need to participate wherever possible and should be ready to work each day. As referenced above, some departments are training new staff and working with Year 11 students, which is currently limiting their engagement with Years 7 and 8. In a similar way, we are also thinking carefully about the delivery of PHSE. We are keen to improve further, but feel positive about the first week online.  


Illness Reporting– Please continue to report illness in the normal manner. We need to know if there a reason for online absence and need to be made aware if any students test positive for Covid-19. This should be done via the usual reporting system, not via Teams. In a similar way, there may be teacher absence through illness. If that is the case, we will try to ensure that online resources are available, but it isn’t easy to adjust Teams quickly and our usual cover arrangements do not apply in the current situation.   


FSM Entitlement - The Department for Education announced a new scheme for Free School Meal Vouchers yesterday. We are currently reviewing the changes to the system and will make sure that support is made available to our families as quickly as possible. 


Laptops – We have spent the week navigating the bureaucratic labyrinth that is the DfE laptop ordering portal. We are still hopeful that devices will be sent to the school next week, but in the short-term have been repurposing school devices so that they are available quickly. We have provided a significant number now and will continue to make sure that all families have the resources needed to work remotely. Please continue to let us know if you need additional support.


In a difficult week, our school community has functioned very effectively. I started my update by referencing how proud I am of our students and staff. I also feel fortunate to work in a school where over 40 parents, with the requisite experience have volunteered to support the establishment of a testing regime if necessary and other parents have contacted us, asking if they can donate or buy laptops for other families struggling with IT. Those actions exemplify the best of our parent body and make me grateful to work within our school community.  


Thank you for your ongoing support, and take care. 


Mr O’Sullivan