Head Teacher’s Blog 26th February 2021
At the end of this week of announcements, I certainly feel some joy in being able to move forward with some plans and, above all, look forward to seeing all our students back with us. I hear and feel myself some anxiety about the many things that are still unknown about our future, but we have a few more things that we can control to make the best of.
This Blog is mainly given over to plans for welcoming all students back and I have included at the end a copy of the information I sent out on Wednesday and I have noted below a few key things to highlight.
Before I get to that, however, I want to briefly update you on our planning following yesterday’s announcement regarding exams. In summary, the announcement has confirmed that:
- Teachers will decide on grades based on evidence from assessment of the work students have covered.
- There will be no external algorithm involved as was the case last year
- Teachers will be able to draw from a range of evidence which can include materials which exam boards will produce.
- Teachers will submit grades by 18th June, giving as long as possible for students to work with teachers to continue to improve their expertise in each subject and to gather evidence that gives the best and fairest reflection of their knowledge, understanding and skill.
- Exam results days have been pulled forward to 10th August for A Level students and 12th August for GCSE students. This is to give more time for any appeals to be heard, particularly for A Level students, before University places are finalized.
- All students will be able to make appeals without charge
We are awaiting detailed guidance that teachers will receive from exam boards on the way in which evidence can be used to arrive at grades and also the way in which exam boards will carry out moderation and quality assurance to ensure consistency. Until we get this guidance, there will still be some questions which students (and their teachers) will have that we can’t answer. However, I do hope that the announcements help reduce the anxiety that some students have been feeling as a result of not knowing for certain what would happen.
Whatever the detail in the guidance from the exam boards, there are a few things I can confidently assure students of.
First is that teachers want you to do as well as you can. That is why we come into the job. The work that teachers will continue to set and the guidance they give will be designed to help you improve your knowledge, skills and understanding in the course and to keep doing that until the day you finish the course. By doing that, you will also be providing teachers with as much evidence as possible that helps them to give a grade that fairly reflects what you have accomplished.
Second is that we understand that some students are anxious because they worry that everything they do will be judged and could affect their grade. Teachers will make sure to be clear about which work will be used to contribute to final assessment and which work will not. As we get more guidance, teachers will be able to be even more clear about how they will use evidence to assess students’ final grade.
I would also say, to any student who is feeling anxious that work their doing could affect their grade, to try to turn that round in your head. If you’re worried, it is probably because you are thinking about work affecting your grade badly. However, the truth is that teachers will be looking for positive evidence that shows your strengths, not reasons to knock your grade down. So in reality, any assessed work you do is affecting your grade in a good way, as the worst it can do is not add anything new to the evidence we have so far.
Finally, I want to say again how impressed teachers have been with their exam classes in Y11, Y10 and Y13. Again this week, one teacher I was talking to was saying that even if exams had gone ahead as normal, he was not worried about his classes as based on the evidence he has seen from them, they were in as good a place as any group of students at this stage in the year. That is testament to the hard work and resilience that students have shown and I would hope that gives every student confidence in the way they approach these last few months of their exam courses.
School Re-opening to all students
As noted earlier, I have copied at the end of this blog the information about re-opening that I sent out on Wednesday. Planning is well underway for the testing programme and teachers are reviewing their plans for lessons. Heads of Year and form tutors will be including some information and guidance in virtual form time and assemblies next week to help students feel well prepared to come back into school.
I just wanted to highlight a couple of points from the re-opening plans.
I start by making it absolutely clear that testing is not compulsory and that it requires the consent of parents on behalf of their children, or in the case of our oldest students, their own consent. That being said, if there is any parent who has any concerns or questions about the test, I would ask you to get in touch with us at school as we would hope to be able to put your mind at rest. By testing as widely as possible, we add an extra layer of protection against the risk of transmission of Covid which is obviously good in itself and it also reduces the chance of further disruption to in school education.
On the subject of testing, we do need consent forms and registration forms sent back to us as soon as possible, with all returned by the end of Tuesday 2nd March at the latest. If you don’t think you have received a form or you are having difficulty getting it back to us, please get in touch so we can work it out with you. We do need confirmation of who is coming for a test so that we can manage the process safely and by having the consent forms and registration forms in early we are able to do a lot of the preparation in advance, making everything much quicker and easier for students on the day. On Wed 3rd March we will send out appointment times to all families who have returned consent and registration forms.
A final point I have been asked to stress by the director of public health is that testing is for asymptomatic students only. Anyone with Covid symptoms must stay at home and book a PCR test (the normal Covid test) through the website at one of the testing centers. Even if you are unwell with symptoms other than a cough, temperature of loss of smell/taste, we would urge you to be more cautious than normal and stay at home. While you cannot book a PCR test with symptoms such as headache or stomach upset, we know these might be Covid so we would urge students with these symptoms to stay at home even if they would normally come into school, while the symptoms last.
We know that this is really hard, especially after so long in lockdown, but we also know by doing this alongside the asymptomatic testing we are giving ourselves the best chance to avoid anyone passing on the virus in school and everyone ultimately gains from that.
There is link below to some DfE guidance for parents about the return of all students to school.
Return to school and testing schedule for students
We urge you to return the consent form and registration form for the COVID testing in advance, as this greatly helps with the running of the testing process. Both forms can be returned to firstname.lastname@example.org with all returned by the end of Tuesday 2nd March.
On Wed 3rd March we will send out appointment times to all families who have returned consent and registration forms.
Fri 5th March
Y11, Y12 and Y13 come to school for testing appointments only. Students will be given appointment times to come to school for their test. These will be sent out once we have received consent forms. Students must enter through the St Joe’s gates on Riverdale Road for their test appointment. Students should not arrive before their appointment time as they will not be able to enter school beforehand. Students will return home straight after having their test. They must not congregate at the school site.
Mon 8th March
All Y11, Y12 and Y13 students back to school – normal timetable running through the day for these students.
Y9 & Y10 students whose parents have consented to a test will be tested and then join lessons if they have had a negative result.
Students in Y9 and Y10 whose parents have consented to a test will be given an arrival time to come to school. Students should not arrive before their appointment time. Students must enter through the St Joe’s gates on Riverdale Road for their test appointment. They will be registered and go for their test. Following the test, students will wait for the result. If they have a negative result they will go to their lesson and will continue in school as normal for the rest of the day. If a student has a positive result, we will contact you and ask you to collect them as they will need to isolate, as will the rest of your household.
Students in Y9 and Y10 whose parents have not consented to a test will return to school on Tuesday 9th March.
Students in Y7 and Y8 will work from home on Monday 8th March. Teachers of the lessons that they would normally have on their Monday school timetable will have set activities and provided resources to support home learning in those subjects for that day. There will not be any live teaching through Teams on that day as there will be extra demands on all staff in school to support testing and getting students settled back into routines.
Tue 9th March
All Y9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 students will be in school for a full day as normal.
Y7 & Y8 students whose parents have consented to a test will be tested and then join lessons if they have had a negative result.
Students in Y7 and Y8 whose parents have consented to a test will be given an arrival time to come to school. Students should not arrive before their appointment time. Students must enter through the St Joe’s gates on Riverdale Road for their test appointment. They will be registered and go for their test. Following the test, students will wait for the result. If they have a negative result they will go to their lesson and will continue in school as normal for the rest of the day. If a student has a positive result, we will contact you and ask you to collect them as they will need to isolate, as will the rest of your household.
Students in Y7 and Y8 whose parents have not consented to a test will return to school on Wednesday 10th March. Teachers of the lessons that they would normally have on their Tuesday school timetable will have set activities and provided resources to support home learning in those subjects for that day. There will not be any live teaching through Teams on that day as additional staffing will be needed to support testing and return to school.
Repeat testing of students
There will be a schedule of repeat testing for students whose parents have given consent in the following days, from Wednesday 10th March. Students will come to school as normal and will be called from lessons for their repeat test.
The rota will be:
Y11, Y12 and Y13 follow up tests; Wednesday 10th and Monday 15th March
Y9 and Y10 follow up tests; Thursday 11th and Tuesday 16th March
Y7 and Y8 follow up tests; Friday 12th and Wednesday 17th March
After this point, those students who have had 3 tests in school will receive home testing kits and will be asked to test twice per week at home. There will be instructions with the kit, including information about how you should share results with school.
This continued testing will add an additional layer of protection to help minimise the risk of transmission of the virus, along with all the other measures that are in place in school. This helps to keep students, staff and their families safe and also minimises the amount of face to face teaching lost due to students having to isolate as contacts of someone who has tested positive.
Members of staff in school will also have home testing kits so that they are able to self-test twice per week.
Home learning in the event that students have to isolate
Teachers are revising their plans for teaching now we have the guidance from the DfE about the return to school. This will include planning for support for home learning if individuals or groups of students have to isolate at any point due to Covid. We will provide updated details on how we will do this shortly.
Of course, our first aim is to minimise that disruption by minimising the chance of transmission in school. We will need your support and the support of all the students in following the public health measures that, along with testing, act as a series of ‘layers’ of control to make it harder for the virus to spread. I have summarised those measures below, most of which will be familiar to you, but some have been changed or strengthened in the new public health guidance.
Public Health Measures
In short, we will be operating the same measures that we were during the first term, with the following addition:
In line with reviewed government guidance, students and staff will wear face coverings when inside school buildings, including classrooms apart from those for whom there is an exemption. Teachers will be able to remove their face coverings to help with communication when they are working from the front of the classroom, as they will be at a 2m distance from students.
This will make routines easier to establish as there will be less putting on and removing of face coverings. There will be obvious times when students won’t wear face coverings inside, i.e. when in the canteen to eat or when doing intensive physical exercise (e.g. PE where everyone can be appropriately spaced out).
The other measures that students will be familiar with will still be in place, with some amendments based on review of our risk assessment and updates to the guidance:
Students and staff should not come into school if they have Covid symptoms. As before Christmas, we extend this advice to cover the other less typical but still quite common symptoms of headache, nausea, diarrhoea, fatigue and muscle ache. We would ask that anyone who has these symptoms does not come into school, but works from home. If students or staff develop any of the key Covid symptoms (persistent cough, temperature or loss/change of sense of smell or taste) they should get tested and begin following the rules around isolation.
Along with the routine home testing, following this guidance should minimise the chance of anyone with Covid being in school, which is the best protection against its spread.
Students and staff should wash hands and/or sanitise their hands regularly. To aid this, we will have sanitiser near the door to every classroom. Students will be reminded to sanitise their hands whenever they enter or leave a room.
Ensure good ventilation in classrooms and other shared indoor rooms. This will mainly be by having windows and, if needed, doors open when the room is occupied.
Follow the ‘catch it, kill it, bin it’ rules
We continue to have an increased number of cleaners in school all day every day to maintain an increased rota of cleaning and re-stocking of sanitiser, soap and wipes.
Students and teachers will wipe down shared surfaces and resources before and after use.
Staff will maintain appropriate distance from students and from each other. Students will not always be able to maintain distance in a busy school, but should do so whenever possible. As a reminder, students must always avoid physical contact with each other, should try to avoid being face to face with someone at a distance of less than 1m and wherever possible, should keep at least 1m and preferably 2m away from others.
Meetings will continue to operate remotely wherever possible. This will include parents’ evenings, which we will continue to run through the video appointment system. Parents should not come on site without an appointment. Where parents need to meet with staff, wherever possible, this will be organised as a remote meeting.