Update from Principal James O’Connell | 11 May 2020

Dear Parents/Carers,

You will have heard the government’s latest announcement this Sunday and we now have some idea of what the rest of this term will look like, although this is still quite uncertain.  It seems quite likely that we will have Year 10s and 12s in later on in June or in July if possible.  If so, we will have them in whilst following social distancing procedures and this, of course, poses challenges, but we have already begun plans for this and I summarise some below:

  • Staggered starts, ends and break times for all students on site
  • Monitoring all staff and students on arrival in school
  • Compulsory hand washing and/or alcohol wipe stations on arrival in school and before all break times
  • One way corridors
  • Reduced class sizes
  • Reduced movement between rooms for students
  • Guidance and monitoring to ensure social distancing occurs in break times
  • The wipe down of rooms, doors, handles, etc, several times each day

Having said this, I’ve spoken to or received emails from a number of staff and parents who are understandably concerned about what the future holds in terms of school and continuing the education of our students in recent weeks.  We recognise that there are no guarantees or perfect ways of dealing with this situation.  We will not be trying to force staff or students to come back to school when they or their family are at risk.  This will not be straightforward, but we are planning for contingencies and will adapt.  More guidance and clarity will no doubt emerge over coming days and the next week, and I’ll keep you updated as we adapt and prepare.  This will most likely mean that Years 7-9 remain learning from home for the whole of this term, and this also poses challenges.  We may need to teach Year 10s in two halves, to maintain distancing, whilst also providing learning for students at home.  This won’t be easy, so please bear with us as we work this out.

There are further possible measures and ways of adapting but how we return to ‘normal’ schooling will very probably mean a very different way of operating together even in September.  Obviously, the implementation of a reliable track and trace app and/or a vaccine could change everything.  However, I’m aware that some students/parents are going to have very significant and justifiable concerns about a return to school due to their own health concerns or the need to shield for other members of the family.  It is the same for staff and we currently have a significant number who need to do the same.  Many of them are already agonising over what will be the ‘right’ thing to do.  Again, I don’t have definitive answers yet but we will commit to listening to and working with all staff, students and their families in order to make the next stage work as well as possible.  Please be assured that I will not be taking a coercive approach and telling others what they have to do in what is a challenging and new situation for us all.

I’ve enjoyed speaking to quite a few students and parents over the last week and I hope that most if not all of you have received some contact from us.  It isn’t easy for many juggling the many calls on our attention at the moment, but I continue to be really impressed by so many people’s response to this situation.  I believe that it’s really important to look for the silver linings or opportunities in whatever confronts us in life and many of you and our students are doing this.  Some students are significantly developing independent skills and grappling with the effort it takes to resist distractions at home and complete work on their own, without easy access to a teacher or someone to help.  I don’t know about you, but I was still seriously struggling with the skills of prioritising, motivating myself and working independently when I was in my early twenties.  Some of our students are making significant advances in this respect at a far younger age.

Reports continue to come in of students who are volunteering and helping elderly and isolating members of our community by shopping for them and in other ways.  There is also a lot of amazing creative energy being displayed in some quarters.  One story shortly to appear on our website concerns our Ten Tors teams who – with the annual, extreme endurance challenge cancelled this year – took part in their own ‘Ten Chores’ event instead.  Brain-child of Geography teacher, Steph Waters, the event involved students camping out in their garden where possible and performing ten chores at home or around their community.  The camping out was certainly completed by most participants and one student, Victoria Jeffs (Year 10) impressively also walked a total of 35 miles in her garden and the local dog-walking field!  Always dangerous to mention some students because there are many others also worthy of mention but another inspiring student is Harry Addicott (Year 11) who has used his unexpected time to complete eleven work related ROSPA and UKATA approved training courses for work via the Human Focus training organisation.  If you have news to report of what your son/daughter has been up to and their achievements, please could you email their respective head of year with this news.

We continue to be aware of some significant hardships and challenges for many families.  If your son/daughter has had to face or deal with anything significant at this time which we may not be aware of, please could you email their head of year with this information too.  This will enable us to best support you and prepare for the return to school as and when this happens.  On this front, please be aware that there are quite a lot of avenues for support and more agencies are setting themselves up to be on call and support families at this time.  One such support which we would recommend is the school nurse system.  Local school nurses offer a free and confidential text service called Devon Public Health Nursing ChatHealth.  Any young person aged 11-19 years old in your household can talk directly to a Devon school nurse in confidence about relationships, how they are feeling, bullying, self-harm, smoking or any other concerns by texting 07520631722.  They are available 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.  For more information, visit the NHS ChatHealth website.

Another inspiring story of the moment which is close to our hearts is that of Geoff Warne and his wife Christine Mayne (Head of Year 7 and our Transition process).  Geoff was diagnosed with MND (Motor Neurone Disease) last year, having only retired from TCS last summer.  Many of you will already know about the amazing Go Fund Me page which has been set up to support Geoff, to help fund the extra equipment and adaptations needed to support him as he deals with the effects of this disease.  Geoff and Christine have been overwhelmed by the support that the fund has already received and by the comments and tributes to Geoff.  The response has been incredible but not surprising.  As many of you know far better than me, Geoff has been a huge part of Teignmouth Community School, the wider community and local rugby for decades.  He has positively affected the lives of so many that there is huge support and affection for him, now more than ever.  Over £20,000 has been donated so far and Geoff is already considering how some of this funding might be used to also support other causes such as MND research and/or to promote rugby or other causes close to his heart.  If you would like to read the justifiable plaudits, contribute and/or post your own comments to and about Geoff, please visit the Go Fund Me Page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/diy-sos-to-help-geoff-warne

Much less exciting news from the O’Connell household is that Sunday is my new worst day of the week.   Sunday has become the new family cleaning day and, with everyone spending a lot more time in the house, a lot of cleaning is required.  Two rooms regularly look like the fall-out zone from a nuclear attack (I’ll leave it to you to guess who they belong to) and I’m getting tired of the ‘discussions’ around why it is important to open windows, pick up clothes of the floor and even hoover!  The slightly more exciting news of this week is that we have a mouse in the house – spotted four times so far.  After some debate an ethical trap has been sourced.  The mouse is either very canny, an escapologist or doesn’t like choc-weetabix, but no joy so far!

Hopefully, useful links are contained again below.  We have collated all of our advice and guidance around our school closure in one place which now shows at the top of the central menu on the front of the website, here: School Closure Quick Links

Best wishes

James O’Connell