Head Teacher’s Blog 4th December 2020
It has been a particularly challenging couple of weeks in school for students, families and staff facing a larger number of Covid cases than we had seen up until this point. I have included an update below on what has been happening, but I just want to say a big thank you to staff in school who have been doing the significant extra work on track and trace in addition to maintaining all the normal things that need to happen. Thank you as well to students and their families who have had to isolate and who have been so understanding and supportive, as disruptive and frustrating as this can be.
We have seen generally higher numbers of members of our community test positive for Covid over the last two weeks, with 43 cases in total. Some of these look to have been isolated cases as we have seen up until now, where the person has caught Covid out of school and there has been no transmission in school. However, there have been clusters of cases in 3 year groups in particular where there is evidence of some transmission in school leading to other cases.
We notify every reported case to the public health team (PHE) and we discuss our response to every individual case with the help line. With the increased number of cases and the evidence of some in school transmission, we had a bigger review meeting, looking at all the cases with a team of PHE experts to review the actions taken so far and to look at anything else that may be needed.
As you will be aware, part of our response was to fully close two year groups (Y10 and Y9) for a few days, in addition to the general work done to isolate everyone identified as a contact of anyone who has tested positive. The guidance is to avoid full bubble closure if at all possible, as we and PHE do not want to add to the disruption to education and family life that the pandemic has already caused. However, in the case where there was signs of in school transmission and where the number of identified contacts already made up the vast majority of the year group, it made sense to close for a period of of time. This ensured that there could be no further spread of the virus, protecting students and families and also helping to get back to a less disrupted time in school as quickly as possible. It also allowed teachers to concentrate on supporting home learning, rather than trying to support in class teaching for a small minority and remote learning for others, enabling them to focus on what would be likely to be best overall.
I must say that the PHE review was a very reassuring process, both in the quality of the advice and support we received and in the encouragement that we are doing the right things. This was particular reassuring to me and other colleagues who are obviously concerned when we see a number of cases in school.
In short the key things learned from that review:
- The PHE team were happy with the procedures we have in place to minimise the risk of transmission in school and the way in which we can track and identify contacts.
- Encouraging to see that even when there was some transmission in school, it looks to have been contained within year group bubbles, i.e. it does not look like there was transmission to a different year group or between students and staff.
- Particular factors that we have seen in the last two weeks that may have contributed to in school transmission were just the higher number of cases in the first place (more chance of meeting someone who has COvid) and also the fact that we have had some members of the school community who were symptomatic while in school. I must stress that in all cases, these people did not have any of the typical Covid symptoms (temperature, cough, loss of sense of smell) at first and as soon as they did, they stayed home. They did exactly what they had been told to do. However, it is likely that they had Covid without knowing for a period of time while in school, leading to a greater chance of transmission.
On this last point, then a key message to take away is that students should stay at home if they are at all unwell, even if it is very mild and the kind of thing they wouldn’t normally think about staying off school for. If they don’t have the typical Covid symptoms, then it is unlikely to be Covid, but by keeping an eye on it at home until they feel better, we make sure that no-one is unknowingly coming in with the virus.
Once your child is feeling fully better, they can come back into school, but if the symptoms develop into any of the typical Covid symptoms, you should then get a test and everyone in the household should begin isolating.
There is always the risk of transmission of Covid in school, even with all the measures in place and we have certainly seen that first hand in the last two weeks. However this risk is and remains low due to the measure that are in place in schools. It is worth noting that for the first 11 weeks of term, while we had a number of isolated Covid cases in school, we did not see contacts of these students catching Covid. This is what has been seen across schools in Sheffield and is a real sign that following the Covid rules in school does make a big difference. It is also understandable that this lack of in school transmission can lead us to become a little more relaxed in how well we follow those rules. However, our experience in the last couple of weeks is a great reminder that the risk is still there and therefore every individual needs to remain vigilant in following the guidance that applies to them at all times.
We certainly hope to have a less disrupted run in to the end of term, as we want the students in school. There are grounds to be hopeful for a reduction in the number of cases in school in the coming weeks as a result of the steps taken here following PHE guidance and also because the overall number of cases in Sheffield, while still high, is coming down rapidly. As noted above, we can all help to keep the chance of transmission low by maintaining our efforts in following the Covid
rules in school. We know that they have worked for the majority of the term and have helped contain transmission even in the last couple of weeks.
GCSE and A Level Exams Update
Yesterday, the government announced further modifications to GCSE and A Level exams. These modifications have been made in response to two key issues:
- Concern about the very different way in which Covid disruption has affected different students and how this affects preparation for exams
- Concern about a lack of contingency planning in case individual students miss exams due to Covid disruption
We are awaiting the detail but here is a summary of what has been announced.
- More generous grading than usual, in line with national outcomes from 2020, so students this year are not disadvantaged
- Students receiving advance notice of some topic areas covered in GCSE, AS and A levels to focus revision
- Exam aids, for example formula sheets, provided in some exams giving students more confidence and reducing the amount of information they need to memorise
- Additional exams to give students a second chance to sit a paper if the main exams or assessments are missed due to illness or self-isolation
- A new expert group to look at differential learning and monitor the variation in the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on students across the country
The concerns expressed across the country have been reflected by some students and their families at Notre Dame. I understand and share those concerns as do all my colleagues. While we await the detail, I am at least happy that there is some clarity both around a commitment that exams will go ahead and that there is a recognition of the worries that students have about the fairness of those exams.
This does help students and their teachers at least focus with more confidence in controlling what we can control in preparing for those exams. Whatever the final detail, that work will not be wasted for anyone.
This is probably a good moment to reflect on the very positive picture painted by the recent monitoring for Y11 and Y13 students. Of course, there are individual stories and situations where education has obviously been negatively impacted by Covid disruption. However, the overall picture in the monitoring reflects what teachers are telling me, that they are incredibly impressed with the resilience and adaptability that the students are showing and the way in which that is making a big
difference in mitigating against the disruption. It is one more reason to be so proud of these young people.
Advent fund raising update
Talking of reasons to be proud, thank you for the tremendous response to our appeal for the collection of goods to support those who are struggling more than ever this winter. We know that this time of year always affects the most vulnerable worst and Covid has increased the numbers of people who need support at this time of the year.
The response to the appeal has been incredible so far. It does not surprise me, but it is no less heart warming. I know from talking to the different charities we support, that as well as the practical help made by this generosity, those who receive the food and other goods appreciate the fact that they are not forgotten and that they are loved and respected.
Mr S Davies