Principal's Update 7th January 2021
“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Henry Ford
As we start a new year in another lockdown it feels like an appropriate moment to reflect on the current situation for our young people and to try and find the positives from the very difficult situation that many students and their families find themselves in through no fault of their own.
The quote above from Henry Ford feels appropriate when we think back to the previous lockdown since I believe the school and our staff are now far better equipped in terms of technology, skills and experience in delivering support and education to support our students and your children during this second full lockdown period.
The College will continue to be open every day with staff combining working at school and home as circumstances and their job role demand.
We will continue to look after our critical worker and pupil priority students during the day, deliver remote learning for all students and communicate regularly with those students and their families where we feel they may need additional support. In addition, we will continue with many other aspects of our work such as planning for the £17 million of campus development work that will start on-site this term transforming the learning environment for our students and community.
This time around though, as Henry Ford says, we will be able to begin lockdown again but this time more intelligently.
A new testing regime to better protect students, staff and our community
To begin with in this lockdown we are now able to offer rapid testing as part of our hierarchy of controls to keep students safe. Over the last few months we have all become familiar with “Hands, Face, Space and Replace” and, as I have mentioned previously, the committed and intelligent approach from our students in adopting our Covid protocols meant that last term we had relatively few people test positive and little disruption to learning which subsequently puts our students in a strong place in terms of their learning.
In addition to those controls, thanks to the hard work of lots of staff during the Christmas holidays and following a great response from volunteers our rapid testing centre will open its doors for the first time on Wednesday 6th January. We will be offering all our staff a rapid test and follow up test over this week and next with tests being offered to students who are in school starting from Monday 11th January. At the end of term schools were initially tasked with testing all students, which we had planned to do, however, now with lockdown in place this isn’t the imperative it was but I am sure it will once again become a Government priority at the end of the lockdown period whenever that is.
Thanks again to all the amazing people that signed up to help us.
While the next few weeks will be quieter than expected on the testing front we think that once we have more experience we will need to expand out testing capacity even further and
so if you would like to volunteer to help we would still be delighted to hear from you even if you could not start for a few weeks.
Consent forms for testing Critical Worker and Pupil Priority students who are onsite will go out before the end of this week so please watch out for them since we cannot test your child without that being signed off. Please also remember that the tests are not mandatory.
Supporting families more effectively
Last year we learnt many things, not least of which is how important the College is in supporting the most vulnerable families in our community. This ranges from now knowing those families far better through our constant communication in the last lockdown to develop positive working relationships that support children right through to us now knowing exactly how to ensure families get their food vouchers really quickly.
During this time our counsellors along with the extra counselling and coaching capacity that we have bought in for students in addition to the extra 1:1 English and Maths catch up sessions, twilight sessions, online tutoring and booster classes will all continue remotely.
Developments in Remote Learning to make learning as interesting and dynamic as possible
With regard to remote learning we have undertaken lots of training with staff and students to ensure that everyone can log on and use Teams effectively. We have continued to make the use of Teams and Class Charts even better with new systems ready to come online for students during this lockdown period. These systems will make it easier for parents and carers to track and plan the sessions that will be coming up and allow us to monitor and intervene with those students who are not engaging to find out why that is and implement ways of supporting them.
Further details on these new developments will be released in the next few days.
Subject leaders and their teams have spent a lot of time thinking about the curriculum and assessments they need to do during this lockdown period to make the learning as interesting, effective and dynamic as possible.
We have revamped and updated the Remote Learning section of our website which you will see key contacts, including your child’s tutor as well as guides on opening Teams through to guides on Class Charts.
To help students establish a routine, lessons will be delivered according to their current lesson times and staff will be online at these times to deliver learning, support students in their work and monitor the work submitted by students to ensure everyone is engaging in the lessons.
Keeping Pupil Priority and children of Critical Workers safe and connected with their learning
In this lockdown we will still welcome Critical Workers and Priority students on to the site for face to face sessions. However, because our offer of remote education is so much more
developed those students can be safely based in allocated seats within ICT suites accessing the lessons that are taking place throughout the day meaning that far less learning time is lost and they remain connected to their curriculum.
We are very early on in the process but it was lovely to receive this feedback on our remote learning offer from a parent earlier today,
“Thank you so much for all your hard work getting everything set up for home learning, it’s absolutely brilliant!”
Your feedback is really important in helping us to get things right
We remain committed to developing our provision even further though and your feedback continues to be critical in helping us to do that. Please, if you are having any problems logging in to Teams, work being too hard, too easy or too much, too little then please contact, in the first instance, the appropriate subject leader on the Remote Learning section of our website. If you are having problems with accessing the work online, again please contact us since we may be able to supply additional equipment or offer a place on site during the day to ensure your child does not fall behind.
Please contact us as soon as possible if you are having problems so we can get the issue rectified quickly for you. All staff are continuing to work as normal and so we are more than happy to help!
Cancelling GCSEs and A Levels (while allowing vocational exams to continue (see below))
We also now know after last year’s experience, the cancelling of exams in the Summer will have a significant impact on some students. They might feel a sense of loss, a feeling of being denied the opportunity to show what they can do or that the grade they get doesn’t count as much as grades from other exam cohorts. Students may also be worried about how their grade will be produced to ensure it is done fairly (see below). Students from last year also shared these concerns, however, have now successfully made the jump into our Sixth Form where they are really flourishing.
We totally understand the different reactions that students will have and the pastoral teams are here to help, along with the other additional counselling and coaching that we have bought in to support students, during these difficult times. If your child is feeling like this please do not hesitate to get in touch with us so we can offer them additional support and reassurance as required.
Producing Centre Assessed grades for Year 11 and Year 13 students
With the cancelling of the GCSEs and A levels this Summer (though we are expecting vocational exams to go ahead despite further prevarication and confusion from DfE) we are now also well placed to ensure that students get grades that are commensurate with their efforts and reflect the evidence of their attainment that we hold.
Again we are in a strong position since our examination students have had very little disruption due to Covid during the Autumn term, and these groups of students really engaged well with remote learning and the face to face sessions we delivered during the last lockdown in the Summer of 2020.
Presuming that the process for providing Centre Assessed Grades is similar to last summer (we are still waiting for details from OfQUAL and the DfE) we know we delivered robust and fair evidence-based grades to our students last year. All our examination students have been made aware several times this year that this could happen and so the vast majority of students have been working really hard to ensure they have good assessments in place. It will be really important that these students also engage well during the lockdown period when we will be able to gather more evidence of what their final grade might look like since we can’t be sure of when this lockdown will end. I know Mr Holt and Miss Craddock will shortly be sending more details to you about this area.
We believe that, while a full lockdown has appeared to many to have been inevitable for several weeks, we would still far rather have students in school to work with. For staff who work in schools, strong, positive working relationships with students and their families are the foundation of our success.
Remote working is improving all the time but is still just second best to human face to face contact.
However, I hope that this update reassures you that I believe the College, parents, carers and students all enter this second full lockdown with more intelligence then back in March and that while we are really sorry that the Government has had to take this action we are totally committed and ready to provide the highest quality of remote education and support to your children.
As always, if you have any queries or need further support please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. Together we can support each other through this difficult period and hopefully on to the better times that lay ahead for each of us, our families and friends and communities.
Thank you for your continued support.