End of Term Letter from Principal | 16 July 2020
As we approach the end of term, there is still a lot to do and communicate to you. Apologies for the length of this letter. I won’t continue to bombard your inbox with updates over the holiday, though there may be one in August as we prepare for the start of the new academic year, in response to whatever the situation is then. Please do share this information with your son(s)/daughter(s).
What follows are some separate sections regarding key information that will be of interest to different groups, and then a final section on our plans for re-opening in full.
Summer provision and work
The Government has clarified that schools are not expected to remain open over the holiday and teachers will not be setting and collecting work over the summer break. Parents can find out what childcare will be available over the summer holiday on the Pinpoint Site. If at any time you can’t find childcare, you need to complete the Unable to Find Childcare Form and the Devon Early Years team will then arrange for one of their team to contact you. Updated information on those settings that will be open during the summer holidays will also be posted on the Devon County Council website. Please note that this is parent funded provision.
We do recognise that some students may be concerned about having gaps in their knowledge and understanding of the curriculum if they were unable to complete work during the school closures. Others may want to stretch themselves and complete additional enrichment tasks. We will be sending out a separate document at the end of this week which will list, for each year group, basic expectations around what students need to have caught up on or completed by the autumn in order to be ready for the new academic year. This is particularly important for students in Year 10. We will also list some optional, enrichment tasks which have been selected to give students who choose to broaden their learning some additional avenues and resources to explore over the summer.
Exams Information for current Y10 and 12 and for Year 11 and 13 concerning Summer 2020 Results
Results days on 13th August for A level and 20th August for GCSE remain events to be celebrated and we are looking forward to seeing lots of our Year 11 and 13 students back in school after they had to leave us so abruptly. Separate letters are being sent out this week about the results collection and students will be invited to book an appointment to collect their results so that we can minimise large groups of students arriving together and keep everyone safe. There will be people on hand in school to give advice including careers’ advisers, our Sixth Form team and representatives from the leadership team and each faculty. We understand that there are many questions in this most strange of years and the forthcoming letter will explain more.
For current Year 10 and 12 students, there are of course questions about what exams and assessments will look like next year in light of the last three months and the suspension of normal schooling. I appreciate that the unknown causes anxiety but I would ask you to try not to worry too much. The exams have so far been reduced slightly in content in some areas next year. There is a consultation underway between schools, the Office for Qualifications and the Department for Education and the debate is ongoing about how much exams should be further reduced next summer. They are at present likely to be delayed and not start until June of 2021 to allow as much teaching time as possible. Our Year 10 and 12 students will be in the same position as all young people of their age. We (senior leaders and heads of subjects) have been looking at our curriculum plans and content and will be formatively assessing all Year 10 and 12 students in September once they have settled back into school. This will not involve mock exams but an analysis of what students have completed and their understanding in order to diagnose where they are currently sitting. From this point we will adjust our curriculum and target the government’s promised catch-up funding to address gaps and enable all to be able to achieve. We have not been able to submit grades on our reports this term but we recognise that this is really important for students in key exam years. We will send out this information as soon as possible and by the October half term in order to ensure students in Years 10 and 12, and their parents/carers, have a clear idea of where they are and what they need to do.
Remote learning provision
As an appendix to this letter I’ve included the summary results from the survey 127 parents completed on our remote provision last week. I think it is fair to say it presents a reasonably positive but mixed picture. Some students have got on well with remote learning and some parents have been full of praise and had good experiences via their children. Others are more mixed and critical in their responses and have been frustrated by the experience. I am not satisfied that this is good enough and we were perhaps slower than we might have been to put some things in place. We can be more consistent and our greatest challenges are:
- To reduce the number of online learning platforms being used
- To produce a unified diet of virtual and recorded content as well as tasks
- To be more consistent with feedback and tracking students’ progress
- To communicate more consistently and regularly with all students
We need to be ready for the possibility of another, potentially sudden, lockdown next year and it is for this reason that we will be sending out another document clarifying what our remote learning provision will look like if this is needed, before the start of next term.
Return to school in September
We are very much looking forward to having all students back in school in September. Information from the government to parents about schools re-opening in full for the new academic year can be found here. The guidance states that in terms of education our priority, quite rightly, should be to, ‘Teach an ambitious and broad curriculum in all subjects from the start of the autumn term, but make use of existing flexibilities to create time to cover the most important missed content.’ In terms of controls, it states that, as much as possible, we should reduce contact by grouping children together, avoiding contact between groups and use forward-facing desks. There is an acceptance that it will often be impossible for students to maintain social distancing when they are in full class groups and the emphasis is therefore very much on avoiding the unnecessary mixing of students, particularly between year groups. The guidance states that we should consider staggered breaks/lunchtimes to minimise time spent in corridors and continue to emphasise thorough hygiene and hand washing.
We have flexibility within the guidance and we need to consider our local context and conditions. In this respect, we have some considerable advantages. Most of our students come to school on foot and few use public transport. We don’t have lots of school buses which could lead to large groups of children arriving together and tending to gather. Also, we have a large site with plenty of space and fresh air between classrooms.
With all of this in mind, we have a secure plan which I believe prioritises the safety of all whilst also giving the maximum emphasis to our core purpose of educating our students. Our full, updated risk assessment for September can be found here. This, and all of the details that follow, could of course be adapted in light of changes to the situation or updated governmental guidance. All students will be briefed on the detail of school routines and procedures carefully at the beginning of next term. Our key ideas and the information that you need to know at this stage are as follows:
- ESSENTIAL: Please ensure that if anyone in your household has COVID-19 symptoms, your child does NOT attend school. Please phone the Student Service Office by 9.30am in the first instance on 01626 774091 (best option), or email firstname.lastname@example.org Any child or staff member who develops symptoms in the school day will be sent home immediately. Parents will be contacted immediately by school to make arrangements for their departure. If anyone in your household, or your child, tests positive for COVID-19 you MUST inform us.
- ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: The government has advised walking or cycling to school wherever possible to reduce the use of public transport. We have three entrances/exits into school and encourage students to use all of them. We don’t need to stagger or amend our start and finish times. On entry into school, students should sanitise at the marked point and go straight to their tutor or first lesson. If students arrive late to school they must go to Student Services to sign in as usual. They must not gather with other students.
- ATTENDANCE: Attendance at school will be compulsory for the vast majority of children. The government relaxed the rules on attendance during lockdown but this changes in September and the normal rules apply: ‘School attendance will therefore be mandatory again from the beginning of the autumn term.’ If you or your son/daughter are worried about their return to school, please contact us and we will support and discuss. We do know that for some young people with health concerns there are real challenges and relevant questions to be answered. Absence should be confirmed to the Student Service Office by phone or email in the usual way.
- PPE: Students and staff will in general not be wearing face coverings in school unless the guidance changes. The government advice is clear that this is not necessary for most people. If face coverings are used on public transport to get to school, they must be removed and safely disposed of or stored before entry into school unless it is agreed differently for some in specialist cases.
- HYGIENE: Students will be expected to follow strict behaviour rules relating to physical contact with other students, and keeping their hands clean. They will be expected to wash their hands regularly, and/or use hand sanitiser.
- GROUPINGS & MOVEMENT: In order to maintain social distancing as far as possible, we have designed one way systems in various parts of the school which can become congested. We will brief all students on this at the outset of the term. During social times, as well as separate places/times to buy food, each year group will have separate designated zones to use. They will not normally be permitted to mix with different year groups in school.
- EQUIPMENT: It will be more important than ever that your child has their own equipment in school to ensure that this does not need to be shared. Please check that your sons/daughters are properly equipped at the beginning of each day.
- UNIFORM: We would like students to return to school in full uniform this September. Government guidelines are clear that this creates no extra risks for students or staff in terms of safety, and that excessive, daily washing of all garments is not necessary. This makes good sense educationally as uniform promotes identity and good behaviour, and this signifies a return to some sort of normality. On days when students have PE, we will allow students to attend school in their PE kit and we will clarify expectations in due course. We will make allowances for students who have been unable to purchase new uniform at the start of term and if parents are struggling with the costs of uniform please communicate with us; we do have some funds to support where there is financial hardship.
- FOOD: Our school canteen will be open in September and we will have an additional servery in the KS4 Common Room for Years 10 and 11. We would encourage all parents to consider giving their son(s)/daughter(s) a packed meal for school but hot food will be available as well as free meals for those who are entitled to one. Food will only be served in Break 1 (see below) as this minimises the risks of students mixing and potential virus transmission.
- ADAPTED TIMETABLE, ZONES & TWO STAGGERED BREAKS: We have carefully considered all of the risks and recognise that students mixing in a crowded canteen is our highest risk in school. It is for this reason that we are moving to two 30 minute break times and staggering break 1. This will enables all to get food and enjoy their social time in a safe manner. Each year group will also be designated a specific area for social time. Students will be talked through procedures on their return.
We understand that some of you and your children will be anxious about returning in September, after some months out of school. Please be reassured that we are taking exceptional measures to make our school as safe as can be. We will be providing additional emotional and wellbeing support for all students, and we will be providing further opportunities to support learning where this is required.
Week 1, 7-11 September, Arrangements
In our first week back in September, we always had two training days planned for the beginning of this academic year. We also need to properly welcome our new Year 7 and help them transition into our school. They have not been able to complete the normal week plus transition into secondary school that they would normally undergo in the summer term and we recognise the importance of doing this as well as we can. We will therefore only have Year 7s and 12s in on the Wednesday 9th and Thursday 10th September. This means that for most students the first day of term will not be until Friday 11th September and this day will include briefings about the new timetable, structures and routines required for the new year.
I do hope that in the meantime you will be able to enjoy some of the summer holidays. I will be checking my emails over the summer and my senior leadership team and I will continue to monitor the situation. Please do get in touch if you have questions or concerns.