Head Teacher’s Blog 5th March 2021
As we come to another milestone, with all students returning to school next week, I thought I would share a few reflections of what I have seen and heard of our school community in the past nine weeks.
I have been struck time and again by the amazing level of sustained engagement from students and by examples of real creativity in getting benefit from working in a different way.
Similarly, I have been lifted by the enthusiasm I have seen from members of staff, sharing continual learning and ideas about new ways of working in response to each new challenge.
In school, I have been struck by the great atmosphere amongst those who are here. Students working hard on remote learning and building community with people they might not normally talk with.
I have enjoyed the online dance sessions and other activities that have emerged to try to keep some enrichment and difference in this time when our options have been limited. One example of that has been the Creative Writing Group, who are working on a time capsule to capture their experiences of this unique time.
As always, without dismissing the experience of anyone who is feeling worn down, anxious or who is grieving at this time, as I reflect today I am feeling lifted by the reminders of God’s goodness and the way it can transform every situation.
With that in mind, I share a prayer that was shared with me by one of the Sister’s of Notre Dame. It seemed perfect both for the season of Lent and for this point of yet another change in our routine.
Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknowing
Give me faith to leave old works behind
And break fresh ground with you
God of mysteries and surprises
I trust you to be stronger than each storm within me
I will trust in times of darkness
And know that I am in your hands
Students in Y10, Y11 and Y13 will have received this week a short video from their respective heads of year, giving a brief update on the planning that is going on in school for how their exam courses will run for the remaining weeks and how teachers will gather evidence to support the decision on grading. I hope that your children have shared it with you and that it provides reassurance for any who are anxious.
There has been a great deal of hard work and quality thinking that has gone on already and some sensible plans are already in place. Things will be developed as we work with students and respond to where they are and as we get further detailed guidance and resources from exam boards before the end of this term. Ultimately, as expressed in the video, teachers are clear on the aim of ensuring that every student gets a grade that fairly reflects their knowledge, understanding and skill and that they are not disadvantaged in that by the disruption caused by Covid.
Teachers will be sharing more information with students in form time when they return to school next week.
Lateral Flow Testing
Thank you for getting consent and registration forms back so promptly and I am sorry for the error in some appointment letters that were sent out incorrectly. I hope that the further letter sent yesterday cleared up any confusion this caused.
We will do the best we can to make this odd start back feel as painless and reassuring as possible for all students. I have included answers to the most frequently asked questions that we have received about testing, which I hope will be helpful or reassuring to anyone who has similar questions.
Public Health Measures
Last week, I included in my blog a summary of the key public health measures that will continue to operate in school. I don’t want to repeat that again, but I do just want to emphasise a couple of key points that the public health team have highlighted.
The main point that the local Public Health team have again asked me to highlight is that the provision of the asymptomatic testing only adds another layer to control of the virus. All the other measures are needed just as much as ever as none of them on their own will prevent transmission of the virus in school. In particular, the public health team remind everyone that anyone with Covid symptoms should isolate along with their household and should book a PCR test at one of the testing centers.
The Department for Education have also issues some more detailed guidance around the wearing of face coverings this week.
They are recommending that secondary aged students and staff in secondary schools wear face coverings whenever they are inside buildings, including inside classrooms. They have said that schools must strongly encourage students and staff to follow this recommendation as an extra measure to give the best chance that the numbers of cases continue to fall.
We will be doing just that, through our routines and reminders. We are mindful that some students will have exemptions from wearing face coverings and others for whom there are different challenges (e.g. impediment to communication) so it will be form tutors who will speak to students who are not wearing face coverings, rather than having all staff picking this up through the day. Form tutors will either seek to resolve any problem with the student (most often providing a face covering because they have lost or forgotten theirs) or where there is a reason that the student can’t wear a face covering, the form tutor will make a note in the students’ journal. If you need to raise a concern about your child being able to wear a face covering at all times while inside buildings, please do put a note in the journal for the attention of the form tutor or get in touch by email.
The risk assessment that informs our work is available through the website, along with a commentary that explains the key ways in which we apply that in school.
Given the fact that there are still people testing positive with Covid in the City, even with lockdown, we can expect at some point that a student will test positive. If this happens, the student and any contacts of that student will have to isolate as part of the measures to reduce the chance of transmission.
We hope that the numbers of cases will continue to fall to make this as rare as possible and doing all we can to follow measures will only support this hope.
However, in the event that students do have to isolate for a period of time, the following information serves as a guide to how we will support them with remote learning;
- The curriculum plans for each subject are available on the school website. These plans state what the students will be learning about each week in all of their subjects, and include further information for how to access the work.
- Students will be expected to join their form time Teams session at 9am each day. This will enable them to stay in contact with their form tutor, to ask any questions where they might need help, and to still engage with the form time curriculum during their period of isolation.
- Whilst working at home, we advise students to follow the usual timetable of subjects for the day (the lessons that they would be attending if they were in school).
- Teachers will set work for each of those lessons on the class Teams group.
- Students will need to go into the Teams group for their subject at the time that each lesson would start in school. The resources for the lesson will be there ready for the students to access.
- Students will be able to join part of the lesson live so that the teacher can give them instructions for the work, and any explanations for new learning. This won’t necessarily be for the full duration of the lesson, but it will be an opportunity for students to have live interaction with their teacher that will further support with the independent work that has been set.
- Students should check for a message on the Teams group from their teacher. This will give them further information for what time they can join the lesson live.
- Students will then be able to work independently on the tasks set and submit it once completed.
That is all for this week. I have included the frequently asked questions about testing on the next page. I have also attached two documents to this blog, a letter from Greg Fell, director of public health, who asked for the letter to be shared with all parents. The second document is a “Back to School” document is from the Sheffield Parent Hub with details of some online sessions to support parents with strategies to help the return to school. Some of the sessions have already taken place but there are others next week.
I look forward to seeing all of the students back next week.
For now, God Bless
Lateral Flow Testing in School – FAQs
1. How are the initial three in-school tests being conducted – are students testing themselves or will someone assist them?
Students will self-administer the tests unless they or their parents have requested someone to assist them.
2. Are the people who will supervise/assist tests school staff? Have they undertaken appropriate training?
The staff running the testing are a mixture of our own school staff and some external staff from a company who have run testing for other organisations including universities.
All staff have been trained together and many of them have been running testing for staff on site since January.
3. What are the arrangements for testing in school:
The tests are being done in the Salle. We have set up individual booths, with screens, round each testing bay, following the layout guidance from DfE.
Students who are waiting for the tests will wait in our training room above reception and, following the tests, will wait in the classrooms that are next to the Salle. The scheduling has been organised so that the number of students in each waiting room will always allow for distancing to be maintained and the rooms will be set out with chairs at an appropriate distance. A number of pastoral staff and senior managers will be on duty around the test to ensure that the students are ok.
Students will be told the results of the tests as soon as we have them, so that they can return to lessons as soon as possible if the result is negative. Parents will get a text as well, though there may be a delay on this as this is connected to the NHS Track and Trace service. We have to upload results to this service and they will then send the texts.
We anticipate that the overwhelming majority of tests will be negative – it is entirely possible that they will all be negative. This is based on the experience of asymptomatic testing in other settings. However, if any student has a positive result, we will make sure that they are told individually and we will also contact parents immediately, not least because we will have to ask parents to collect them. A member of our pastoral or chaplaincy team will accompany the student to wait somewhere for their parents to pick them up and will be there to make sure that they are ok and that any questions they have are answered. It is not lost on us how it might feel for a student expecting to be going back into lessons following lockdown only to be told they need to go home again. We will want to do all we can to manage it supportively and sensitively.
4. Is participation in the initial three tests in-school a pre-condition for access to the home testing regime which follows?
I am sure that if there are individuals who do not consent for the initial in school tests, but later would like to start testing at home, we will be able to manage that.
The purpose of the government guidance that there are three tests in school first is to be assured that parents and students are using the kits correctly. This guidance is a way to manage this across the whole country.
This is combined with the DfE’s wish that as many students as possible are tested at the point of re-entry into school to minimise the chance that the re-start of school leads to an immediate increase in transmission amongst school aged children, which amongst other things would lead to further disruption for some due to isolation. The three ‘in school’ tests approach therefore aims to reduce the chance of any immediate increase in transmission upon restart at school while helping to assure in a manageable way that students are able to self-test before moving to home testing.
5. Will pupils be reminded about potential complacent infection control behaviours, such as reduced social distancing and increased mixing, which may follow from negative results (particularly important in light of the high level of false negatives this type of test has been shown to produce)?
The local PHE guidance has been very strong on this and it will be a feature of our guidance to staff and the messages to students. We will do all we can to reinforce the message that testing is just another layer of protection and that none of the measures are ‘virus proof’ on their own, but taken together they make it much harder for the virus to spread.
6. Are there arrangements for pupils anxious about in-school testing to collect test kits and do them at home?
Our pastoral team are in the process of making bespoke plans with families who have been in touch around this.