Head Teacher’s Blog 16th October 2020
Earlier this week I caught a few minutes of an episode of ‘The Repair Shop’ on TV. If you’ve never seen it, it is a programme where people bring valued possessions in a poor state of repair to a team of people skilled in various crafts. I share it because in this particular episode, a lady had brought a carving made by her Father, on which he’d put the following message:
“Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday and all is well”
It struck me as a really simple and helpful thing to hold onto during these times of uncertainty, which place a strain on our mental health and that of our children.
Of course, for many people, all is not well today and we are all very conscious of that. However, reflecting on my own experience, it is certainly true that most of the things I worry about for the future never turn into reality and even those that do, pass with time and I find that I am able to cope with them. I pray that we can all hold onto that bigger picture, especially if we are at a time when we are becoming overwhelmed with worry or anxiety about the future.
I am mindful as I write that particularly of students who face exams this year. We had the news this week that GCSE and A Level exams will be delayed by three weeks. For many, myself included, there is frustration that this does not really address the valid concerns that students, their parents and teachers have about the vastly different ways that Covid has affected and is likely to continue to affect different young people. While a sense of frustration is understandable, I am aware too that allowing that to dominate our thinking can lead to anxiety, which in itself is unhelpful. We somehow need to keep our focus on what we can control and make the best of that.
I know that there are many parents who have written to their MPs to ask that their concerns are heard in the continuing discussion about exams and I and other colleagues in school and round the country are certainly taking a similar approach through the professional organisations that we are part of. Beyond that, teachers are doing all they can to make the best of their situation as it is and I know that students are doing the same.
Attached with this Blog today is an update on work around our Home Learning Curriculum and our recovery plan, to give you a bit of a window into some of that work by teachers, looking at what has been happening and our next steps.
Before I go on to some other notices and updates, I share some words from Sr Anne Marie, a Sister of Notre Dame who is Head at Notre Dame Southwark. They have certainly helped me to keep my focus on the things of value and the things that I can control in these times and I hope that they do the same for you.
“Education is a work of faith, where every job, even the most insignificant, becomes great in God’s eyes. Education is an act of hope, hope in a better tomorrow, hope for the future of all people. Education is a work of love, love for God and for those God sends into our care. Education is a work of prayer, which transforms our own hearts to keep the vision alive. Through our work in education, we can develop, not only the spirituality of our students, but our own spirituality too. St Julie called education the greatest work on earth. We are heirs and trustees of this Notre Dame tradition. Let us treasure it, nourish it and develop it.”
News and notices
Support for charities
Last Friday, our 6th students working with staff did a great job in marking World Mental Health Day through the “Hello Yellow” theme. The link below takes you to a video that the 6th form students made to give you a flavour of what happened during the day. There is a link at the end to the just giving page that they have set up in support of mental health charities. My thanks to the students and staff who led on this and to all who got involved.
I would also like to share with you some individual fundraising carried out by Fred in Y9. He made and sold some cakes in school, raising over £120 for the Archer Cathedral Project. I was particularly impressed by the way Fred thought so carefully about the Covid restrictions to make sure he could do this in a safe way. He was keen to find a way, in these different times, to continue to support charities who are really struggling when fundraising has been so heavily affected by Covid.
Covid situation in Sheffield and in Notre Dame
We had the first confirmed positive test for Covid for a member of our community in a few weeks over the weekend. I can assure you that all the procedures were followed in liaison with the test and trace teams and that the students identified as contacts are isolating.
We have had updates on the general picture across Sheffield schools and they very much reflect our own experience. What we see is that most COVID19 incidences in Sheffield schools and childcare settings are single cases amongst staff, children and young people rather than outbreaks with transmission in school. This reflects the fact that the majority of virus transmission is in the community and relates to households.
In short, it is reassuring that the measures that we and other schools have put in place, in line with the public health advice, appear to be working in reducing as far as is possible the risk of transmission in school. At a point when some are becoming weary with the rules, it is a helpful encouragement to stick with them because doing so really does make an important difference and allows students to continue to come to school.
It is clear how much our parents and students value that education and time in school in the attendance figures we are seeing. Not counting students who are rightly staying at home because they or someone else in their house has symptoms or where they have been identified as a contact, our attendance is running at 96%. This figure is in line with what we would normally see this time of year and is significantly above local and national averages. In other words, apart from times when students should not be in school for Covid related reasons, they are maintaining the averages that we see in normal times. Again I thank students, parents and indeed the work of staff that is maintaining that culture of engagement with school even in these difficult times.
Some parents have asked if there will be any additional measures in school given the recent introduction of the tier system and Sheffield being identified as being at high alert. We have not had any change in the guidance from public health teams. I can assure you that we will continue to follow all guidance as we have done so far to date.
Thank you for your support in backing the Covid rules with your children. Please do keep reminding them, as we do in school, that they must take the regular handwashing opportunities and back this up with use of hand sanitiser. Please also remind them why it is important to wear face coverings when moving around in corridors in school and at all times when on public transport. Finally, thank you and please continue to keep children at home if you or anyone else in your household has any Covid symptoms and please follow test and trace advice if your child is identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive whether that is being a contact in or out of school.
Remote Learning and Recovery Plan
I will leave you with a summary of our work and planning around remote learning for times when students are not able to be in school and also our wider recovery plan for identifying and tackling the different ways in which lockdown and Covid has affected the education of students.
On both the home learning plan and wider recovery plan, we must of course be realistic in remembering that there is no substitute for being in school in a whole variety of ways. We must also remember that education in normal times demands time and energy from students, teachers and parents and so recovery planning is largely about prioritising our time and energy differently to address the situation as it is. There is some additional funding and access to tutoring that we expect to come on stream from the government in the coming weeks and we have of course developed some new ways of looking at remote education that may provide us with some additional and different things we can add compared to more normal years.
A large part of the work on the recovery plan to date has been about really understanding the needs of the students, to make sure that the activity we do in and out of class and the use of time and resources is carefully matched to the situation as it is.
Teachers have been reviewing their planning for home learning, in response to their experiences, and those of the students, over the term. To align this as closely as possible with in-school provision, our priority is to ensure that students working remotely can follow the same curriculum sequence as those students who are in school. With this in mind, after half term, you will see an updated curriculum plan for each subject on our website. This will outline what your child will be learning about in school, and how they would access this if they are working from home at any time.
What you will see on the plans:
The plans will be arranged under the following headings:
1. How you will access home learning:
This will include the details of where your child can access resources, videos, or pre-recorded explanations to support their learning. Where teachers have planned to host live lessons through Microsoft Teams, this will also be explained. You can expect your child to be logging on to Microsoft Teams or their SHMW account, as directed by the plan.
2. How you will be able to interact with your teacher and gain feedback on your work:
We understand that the lack of direct contact with teachers can be hard for students if they are working from home for any period of time. Teachers will include in the plan the ways that students can continue to interact with them, and gain feedback on their work. This could include using the chat function in their Microsoft Teams groups to ask questions, or through online submission of work via SHMW.
3. Retrieval Focus:
These are the activities that will help your child to recall previously learnt knowledge. You can expect this to involve a short quiz, or selection of questions that will help with making links to previous topics. This is to support long-term learning.
4. What you will be learning about this week:
This will state the overarching topic or skills that your child will be learning about that week. This will be the same for all students, whether they are working in school, or from home.
5. New Learning:
This is the new knowledge or skills students will be developing to build their understanding. You can expect your child to be directed towards videos that include explanations of new content, or towards pre-recorded input from the teacher. In some subjects, your child may be asked to join part of a lesson on Microsoft Teams so they can listen to explanations live.
Teachers will summarise the different sorts of activities that your child can complete to help them to learn and practice what they have been taught. This will include giving advice and direction to students about what to do if they are stuck.
Online tools to support with home learning:
Students will be using Microsoft Teams or SHMW to access work. We are currently providing training for all students and staff on the use of Microsoft Teams. Year 7-9 students are doing this as part of their IT lessons, and older students are receiving reminders through form time. Teachers are planning for how they will use Microsoft Teams to support home learning, as outlined on the curriculum plan.
You will know that we have asked students and parents to complete a survey about access to IT equipment. This is because we have some additional IT equipment that we can loan out to students in order to support them with home learning, and we want to ensure that we loan this equipment where it will have most impact. Any laptop loans will come with academic mentoring to ensure that students get into the best habits with home learning, and to ensure we remove any technical barriers so that students can take full advantage of the loan of equipment.
Parental feedback on home learning:
Thank you to those parents who have already provided feedback on any experience of home learning for students who have been required to self-isolate. We will formalise this by asking you to complete a parental survey next half term, so that we can continue to use your feedback as part of our continual review of how things are going.
The school has a Covid Recovery Plan to ensure we use the resources we have at our disposal to support students upon their return to school after lockdown. We cannot do everything, therefore this plan prioritises our efforts around what the evidence base tells us is most likely to work.
Our priority is ensuring the highest quality Teaching and Learning. In the context of the recovery plan, this has meant teachers first revisiting lockdown learning with students during the initial few weeks back, to find out what students are and are not secure on from the lockdown period. This has helped teachers to plan adaptations to lessons for the remainder of the year, with a focus on revisiting previous learning. Teachers will also be focussing on ensuring students know key vocabulary and will be spending time developing our students as independent learners, so that they are better equipped for any future periods of self-isolation/partial lockdown etc. Staff training time is being prioritised for members of staff to adapt their planning so that students can revisit past learning. It is also being used for teachers to lay out their simplified curriculum plans for each year group.
It is also important that we support students who are new to Notre Dame with their transition process, particularly at Y7 and Y12. For those of you who have children new to Notre Dame, you will know that much of the transition programme was re-designed to be carried out on line rather than face-face.
In ‘normal’ years we receive Y6 SATs scores for children arriving in Y7. These help us to understand the trajectory children are on at the point they join us. This year, Y6 students did not take SATs as they were cancelled. We will instead be asking Y7 students to sit some nationally standardised and validated assessments to help us capture this information. We will then use this information, alongside ongoing teacher assessment to ensure that students in Y7 are properly supported and challenged. We will be sending out more information about these assessments to Y7 parents in the week after half term. Students should not worry about these assessments as they are designed to be done without any preparation.
We have also spent the first weeks of this term collecting information from subject teachers, form tutors and students. We are in the process of identifying cohorts of students who may benefit from additional targeted or small group support. All students completed a wellbeing survey recently and their responses are also feeding in to this process. Some of this small group and targeted support will be provided within school by pastoral and curriculum staff, and some is likely to be provided by organisations outside of school, including those that from part of the subsidised National Tuition Programme. This more targeted support will start being put in place after half term where we feel it will be most likely to have impact, and when the full range of organisations who are able to provide support has been published.