Principal's Update 17th December 2020
Dear Parents and Carers
As we approach the end of term I just wanted to write and thank you for your support for what has undoubtedly been one of the hardest sustained periods of time during my 14 years as a Headteacher.
The last 11 months...
Since February all schools have been on a huge learning journey; from the first outbreak when we were desperately trying to keep the school running. This was despite suddenly losing large numbers of staff (and students) with symptoms through to right now where we are trying to figure out how we can routinely test all staff weekly (we have 300 plus) and provide serial testing for students and staff who might have been a close contact from January based on the Government guidance that we received earlier this week. These will be Lateral Flow tests and so provide a very quick response, however, between now and January we will be trying to find a site on school for this to happen along with training and putting a team together to carry out the tests.
Throughout these times the whole school team have responded to these challenges with optimism, energy and a never ending source of determination that we will always, without fail, do our best for our students and our community.
We have learnt a huge amount about:
• how to plan days which allow our Critical Worker, EHCP, Vulnerable, Year 10 and Post-16 students to all continue to access face to face learning during the height of a global pandemic
• inventing a system from scratch of determining how to award grades for thousands of external examinations in a fair and robust way
• remote learning and how to use Teams to deliver lessons
• how to use knowledge organisers to help learning for everyone
• how to run a large school across a split site whilst keeping six year groups as far apart from each other as possible throughout the day and still delivering all of our normal lessons and other support services that our students and their families expect from us
• creating a system, within a day or so, at the start of the pandemic for getting vouchers home for food for our most vulnerable families
• how to set up our own tracking system to ensure that when we are made aware at any point across the week or weekend of a positive case we can deal with it quickly and efficiently
• how to get the overwhelming majority of our students to consistently wear face coverings around our site and spend large amounts of time in the open air waiting to be collected in order to avoid crowded corridors and all staff time to clean down all their desks
We haven't always got things perfect straight away but, thanks to your feedback, we have been able to constantly improve, learn and incrementally improve all of our systems over time. Thank you for taking the time to get in touch with all your thoughts, both positive and areas to improve, throughout this time. We really appreciate your help.
We are delighted that over this term the learning of our students hasn't, compared to many other schools both locally and nationally, suffered from as much disruption as might have been expected considering what we have seen elsewhere. This is probably a combination of good fortune, well planned and executed systems and, most importantly, parents, carers students and staff all individually playing a part in stopping the virus coming into the College and then acting quickly once it is discovered.
However, as we can see from the current situation in Year 8, we are far from out of the woods. Whilst there is hope on the horizon with vaccines being rolled out I still think that things will continue to be difficult for the next few weeks at least and so it is really important to remain vigilant and not become complacent.
In terms of Year 8, unfortunately we have seen more cases this week with some cases in different populations within the year group. Many of these students were already self-isolating during their infectious period and so there was no further action for us to take as a school. As always, we have been in constant communication with Public Health England and the Health protection team at Devon about every case and will always follow their advice. While we are committed to providing a great education for your child the health of our students and staff, their families and the local community is paramount to us. Their advice, at the moment, remains that community transmission is higher than in schools and that they are happy with our systems and procedures so it is safe to keep the year group open.
Our attendance figures indicate how well we have done collectively with families, students and staff working together. We are currently approximately 5% higher than other secondary schools across Devon and 14% higher than schools nationally, so together, we have done a really good job at keeping the virus out of our school and when we have found it, again together, we have isolated it quickly. Well done to everyone and hopefully we can continue this in the new year.
1. I know that this will be difficult, but over the Christmas period can you please try and ensure your child does not meet up for large gatherings. We are aware that some older students tend to meet regularly around the town or in the skate park and know that in such crowds, where social distancing can't be maintained and face coverings are often not worn, transmission will happen quickly with younger people often tending to be asymptomatic.
2. We are having an increasing problem with parents and carers dropping students off right outside the school gates at the start and end of the school. Now that the Tennis Centre car park is closed for those having vaccinations we think this problem might get even worse and put our students in greater danger. Wherever possible can you please park a little distance away from the College to enable everyone to leave safely. Thanks for your help.
Free School Meals at Christmas
If you think you may now be eligible for Free School Meals due to a recent change in your family’s circumstances, you can apply online through the Devon Citizen’s Portal to check if you are eligible as soon as possible. This is the quickest and easiest way for your eligibility to be assessed and you will get an instant decision. Alternatively, you can call our education helpline on 0345 155 1019. To ensure that they receive the free school meals holiday vouchers for this Christmas period they must apply by Friday 18 December 2020.
Those families who already receive Free School Meals should also have now received a voucher which they can cash in at a range of supermarkets. If you have any questions about this or you have not received your voucher in the post please visit Free school meals holiday voucher scheme - Coronavirus (COVID-19) (devon.gov.uk)
End and start of the holiday period
Please remember that are finishing early on Friday with
Year 11 leaving at 12:55
Year 10 leaving at 1:05
Year 9 leaving at 1:10
Year 8 leaving at 1:15
Year 7 leaving at 1:20
Post-16 leaving at 1.25
Buses will leave the college coach park at 1.20 (post 16 and year 7 students who catch a bus will be released from lessons early to ensure they catch their bus). Any student catching the 57 bus will need to catch it from Exeter road.
Hot food will be available at the first break.
Please encourage your child to return straight home and not hang around in large groups.
College will re-start on Tuesday 5th January 2021 however we are awaiting details on a Government announcement made today which talks about the possibility for remote learning and/or staggered starts during that period. Hopefully we will have more details tomorrow!
As mentioned earlier we also learnt this week that, starting with secondary schools, we will be expected to set up rapid testing sites in our schools. Unfortunately, schools don’t appear to be being given any money to do this and so we are also trying to figure out what this will mean for us since the current Government expectation is for us to recruit a team or find staff from our existing staff or approach retired people so that we can test all staff weekly and students and staff who have been a close-contact.
We are expected to have this running in January and so there is some online training for an hour being provided by the Government tomorrow afternoon to find out more. Once I have attended this I will hopefully have more details and so we will let you know our plans in due course. If you happen to know of any recently retired nurses or volunteers with experience who might be able to help, then please contact me at the College.
If you test positive over the holiday period
Just a quick reminder that in a previous update I laid out what you should do if you test positive during the holidays.
We will have a team on standby up to, and including, Christmas Eve and so please use the email address PositiveCovidCase@exmouthcollege.devon.sch.uk to let us know so that we can keep others safe by contact tracing.
After that point please get in touch with the NHS/PHE and follow their guidance online.
If you are having to self-isolate at the start of the new term please contact firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday 5th January at 8am.
It only remains for me to say once again thank you so much for all your support during this very difficult year for everyone. I think together we have done a great job in keeping our young people safe and provide a high quality educational experience under the circumstances!
Have a great Christmas and peaceful new year.
Exmouth Community College