Head Teacher’s Blog 9th April 2020
Here we are in Holy Week, albeit very different from any that we have known in the past. I know that many people are managing to engage with this most important week in the Churches calendar through streamed masses and video conferencing liturgy with their parish communities. I am looking forward to being able to follow Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday through virtual church (or ‘Vurch’) through my own parish and I’m grateful to the people who are making this happen, many who are members of our school community.
You may have seen the video message which the Pope sent around the world at the start of Holy Week. It is very compassionate, understanding and connected to the challenges that people are facing around the world. The Pope reminds us that the events of Holy Week and Easter are especially powerful at this time when things are darkest and when many may find it hard to have hope in goodness.
The Heads of Year have included a link to this short video in this week’s PowerPoint that they have sent to the students in their year groups. This is something our pastoral team are doing each week and it really is an excellent resource, including some tips on wellbeing, some activities to do, some ideas for prayer and even a joke of the week. It is a great way to help maintain some sense of connection with the wider life of school when we are apart from one another and I hope our students are aware of it and find it helpful.
As I wrote last week’s Blog, we were just getting the advice from the government on how the Joint Qualifications Council are going to award GCSE and A Level exam grades this year. Mrs Bullars arranged for the letter which JCQ put together to be sent out to parents and students, so I hope you have seen this. I have included a summary of the information that we have under the notices in this Blog.
Before I move onto the notices, I will just highlight the materials for our Lenten Services that I mentioned in the last Blog. Students and staff have worked to make these available so that members of our community can take some time to use them to help us pray and be together in spirit. Suzanne will be sharing the service with students via Show My Homework and you can access it through the following link:
Mr Cain also highlights the ‘Show Must Go On’ series on YouTube, where stage productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals are being streamed for free. This week, on Good Friday at 7pm, it will be Jesus Christ Super Star. It will be available for 48 hours only. The link is below.
I leave you with a Lenten prayer shared by Mrs Rigby, head at St Catherine’s primary school.
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16)
We have all been forced to a much lonelier and quieter place than we expected this Lent. Thankfully, many of us have reached out to our friends, families, children and colleagues offering support and guidance and we have shared laughter right across the world making positive use of the technology that so often causes damage to our lives.
When I feel alone, please bring the warmth of relationships into my life
Please cover my thoughts with hope
Please send your love into my heart
I know you are alive in all I experience
May the dawn of spring speak to my soul, may the trees remind me of life.
May those I cherish, respect and learn from, nourish me with your love and goodness.
As I connect with the new world around me, I give thanks for all those who love me and for those who care for me.
Help me to receive your hope and joy in my heart, to embrace your life flowing into mine.
Help me to remember that I live and breathe as part of your family and I dwell safely in you.
I am not alone –
Together, we pray for all who are sick, all who are worried about loved ones and all who are grieving.
Y9 and Y10 reports
Teachers have produced reports for students in Y9 and Y10 in lieu of the parents’ evenings that we had to cancel. There have been some technical issues with collating, sharing and checking these remotely and so, to help ensure accuracy of the reports, we have put back the date when they will be shared with you until after the Easter break.
We aim to make those reports available to parents on Friday 1st May.
Students in Y11 and Y13
- In summary, the main things for you to know are as follows
Teachers will be asked to provide grades that they believe students would have achieved in this summer’s exams taking into account all the evidence that we have seen from their work over time with us and using our experience of seeing how students typically turn that into exam success.
- Teachers are also going to be asked to place grades in order of confidence.
- The exam boards will use this information, along with other information including the past performance of students from each school, to generate exam grades that reflect the sort of pattern of grades we would expect to see nationally.
- There will be an appeals process, though this is likely to focus only on any situation where there may have been an obvious error in the process (some information being missing, etc).
- There will also be an additional opportunity in the autumn for students to sit exams if they are unhappy with their grades.
- Teachers are not allowed to discuss in any way or share with students or parents the grades that they are providing to the exam boards. This is a strict rule put in place by the exam boards to try to ensure that the process is applied fairly and consistently for every student and that nothing is taken into account apart from the evidence that teachers have seen over time from the students, in the work they have done in lessons, homework and assessments.
While this is very different from anything we have experienced before and I understand that some students may feel anxious about the uncertainty, I would encourage you both to trust the process and to trust what your teachers will do.
By way of reassurance about the process, I can tell you that at Notre Dame we do take an ‘exit poll’ of expected grades at GCSE and A Level every year for internal purposes. In a normal year, these are not shared with students or the exam boards, but are simply used to check and improve our own assessments in school to help us to be as accurate as possible and they also help us to quickly spot any grades on results day that look wrong and where we might need to seek an urgent review of marking. I can tell you that over the last few years, those exit polls have been incredibly accurate, predicting almost exactly the final performance of students across the subjects. I share this to give you confidence that your teachers do have a strong track record in assessing the work you do throughout your entire time in the school and predicting how that will translate to exam performance.
The work that the exam boards will then do with those predicted grades will check them against past performance and alongside the predictions for students across the country to ensure that the process is being applied sensibly across all schools. They will, for example, take into account that students at Notre Dame have a long track record of making excellent progress from their starting points at the end of primary school (for GCSE) and from their GCSEs (for A Level) and so will expect to see similar performance reflected in your grades this year.
In short, as I said last week, there is nothing that students can do or need to do at this point so I would encourage them to trust the work of their teachers and the steps taken by the exam boards to ensure that all that you have worked on and learned during your time at Notre Dame will be fairly reflected by the grade that you will be awarded.
As we move toward the summer, we will look at ways to support students with picking revision back up should they wish to sit any of the exams in the autumn term, but the aim of the exam boards is to get grades out to students in good time to decide if this is an option they want to pursue and to prepare accordingly.
Private candidates are those students who have been studying independently for an exam and plan to use a school as an exam centre to sit this exam. This will often be students who are resitting GCSEs or A Levels alongside another course in school.
Teachers will be allowed to submit expected grades for these students if they have got sufficient evidence of the work that those students have been doing. For example, if a student has been attending a high proportion of lessons and submitting work over time, a teacher is in a good position to make an assessment of their likely grade.
However, if the teacher has little or no evidence of the work that the student has been doing prior to school closure, then the exam boards have instructed that teacher must not submit expected grades.
Students in Y10
All of our Y10 students would have been sitting their first GCSE this summer in the subject that they have been studying in their mid-sized block. At the moment, there is no final decision about whether exam boards will award GCSE grades to students in Y10. This decision is subject to further consultation and is expected in good time before teachers need to enter their expected grades (at the end of May).
We will certainly do what we can to contribute to that consultation and make a case for students in Y10 to have the same approach applied as those in Y11 and Y13. I can tell you that I have already had some feedback from the Head Teachers’ union that I am part of, who have said that this issue has been highlighted by many schools and that Ofqual and JCQ are very sympathetic to the concerns of Y10 students in the discussions they are having.
It is possible, however, that the JCQ will decide not to award GCSE grades to students in Y10 if they do not believe that they will be able to fairly moderate and check teacher assessments. If this is the case, they will likely advise that students can sit their GCSEs in the extra exam session in the Autumn. Should this happen, we will ensure that we use the time over the summer term and in the Autumn to support and guide students through revision and preparation to put them in a strong position to reap the rewards of all their hard work through the last two years.
As I said in last week’s Blog, teachers will not be setting work over the Easter holiday, so that students and staff know that they can take a break and that no work is expected of them over this time.
Heads of Year are putting together some suggested activities for students and their families if they are seeking inspiration for how to spend holiday time in lock down. This is in addition to the tips and links that I included in last week’s blog and which are copied again below. I want to be clear that there is no expectation that you do any of these activities. They are offered in case you are looking for some ideas.
Students coming in to school over Easter
This is a message for the small number of students who are coming in to school over the Easter break in order that their parents who are key workers can continue to get into work.
Those students will not need to wear uniform to school over those two weeks as it will be different to the provision that is running during ‘normal’ school time.
Students will need to bring in a packed lunch as the canteen will not be operating over the Easter break. Where students are entitled to a free school meal, we will make sure that there is lunch provided.
- Childline - for support
- UK Safer Internet Centre - to report and remove harmful online content
- CEOP - for advice on making a report about online abuse
- Internet matters - for support for parents and carers to keep their children safe online
- Net-aware - for support for parents and careers from the NSPCC
- Parent info - for support for parents and carers to keep their children safe online
- Thinkuknow - for advice
Maintaining good mental health:
Government advice on school closure
Ideas if you’re stuck for how to make the Easter Break feel different
https://www.actionforhappiness.org/coping-calendar - Action for Happiness is a website promoting wellbeing, positive mindsets and kindness. This link will take you to a calendar of activities that they have produced There is also a free app with daily activities and positive quotes
https://www.youtube.com/user/thebodycoach1 - Joe Wicks will be doing a 30 minute live workout at 9am every day. This is perfect for Monday’s when our form group has PE at 9am. There are also lots of great workouts on there for the students to help them stay active during this time, exercise releases endorphins – the happy hormone!!
https://stories.audible.com/start-listen - For as long as the schools are closed Audible are making a large collection of Audio Books available for free. These books are aimed at young people so is perfect for our students to help them engage with reading.
https://www.justcolor.net/ - A huge range of adult colouring pages that are free to download and print. These are a great way to relax and calm yourself. May be a good way to end the day to help students wind down.