Principal’s Blog

It is the first day of Advent and counting the days to Christmas is a welcome boost.

Everybody knows the festive season will be different this year, but our remote calendar starts today, and we are planning other activities to make the season special.

Our tree arrives on Friday and we will have a Christmas Jumper Day, tying in with the national event, on the 11th .

We are asking for voluntary contributions only this year for those who wear one.

Traditional Christmas services will also be remote, and more details will be announced over the coming days.

Instead of serving a Christmas lunch on one day, we are talking to our caterers about themed lunches over a week. This, again, will be confirmed shortly.

So, there is plenty to look forward to.

As I mentioned, it is a welcome distraction.

We have done well to get to this point with a lot of work from staff and support from students and parents.

The vast majority of our children have been superb in the way they have adapted to their new routines.

We have administrative, support and teaching staff absent from the academy because of the pandemic and I would like to again thank those taking on additional duties to ensure the school remains open.

Members of the senior leadership team start planning on a Friday night for Monday, with changes made over the weekend as the staffing situation becomes clearer.

But the picture constantly changes, and this means people adapting to whatever situation we find ourselves in.

It changed again with the Department for Education’s announcement last Thursday.

The new guidance is that a school is either fully open or closed.

This presents even more challenges to our stretched team.

We felt we had reached a good ‘half-way’ house with potential plans approved if we needed them for year groups to attend in rotas if our staffing levels became too stretched.

This would have made excellent use of our online offer, including live lessons, allowing students not in the academy to learn effectively from home.

We will obviously still need to use these strategies if we get a positive student case to allow self-isolating students to learn from home.

We will do our best to adapt again, as we always do.

I had a good walk around school yesterday and witnessed excellent lessons and learning.

This is not a period of containment, there is some high quality teaching going on, and that includes from our well known and trusted supply teachers.

As I mentioned last week, the situation means students may not have their regular teacher and this may become more regular as we do our best to keep the school open.

Again, I am sorry where that is the case.

But we battle on – and keep counting the days of Advent.

As always, stay safe and well.

Principal’s Blog

We have a full complement of students in this week – but our staffing situation remains difficult.

Thank you to the vast majority of the 58 Year 10s who engaged with our online learning platform and kept working away while in self-isolation.

I warned a couple of weeks ago about the difficult juggling act we are performing daily to maintain full-time, face-to-face teaching.

We are in a world which changes daily and, sometimes, faster than that.

A message from the NHS Test and Trace app or a phone call to do with home can turn people’s lives upside down.

They and their employers may need to deal with the consequences of a positive test or period of self-isolation.

While we do not have any staff testing positive for coronavirus, some colleagues are being impacted by, for example, family circumstances.

This has meant, in some lessons, students may not have a regular teacher and I am sorry where this is the case.

It is why students need to stick with it and be even more focused and cooperative. In these difficult times, every hour of every day in the classroom is important.

Our focus remains on providing high quality provision.

Parents / carers of Years 8 and 11 have an opportunity to check on a child’s progress on Wednesday and next Monday (30th November) respectively.

Our normal parents’ evenings have been replaced with telephone slots which can be booked through our new School Cloud app.

It enables parents to see teachers’ availability, with early morning and daytime slots possible.

65% of Year 8 parents have made bookings but we would like this to be higher before Wednesday. Year 11 parents have more time.

Please let us know if you are having any difficulties arranging a slot.

It is a time of the year when attention is turning to Christmas and I am pleased there will be a  touch of festive normality next Friday when our Christmas tree arrives. It will be put up in the atrium.

We are working on other festive activities, including services and lunches, and will confirm details as soon as we can.

As always, stay safe and well.

 

Principal’s Blog

A big thank you to those Year 10s currently learning from home.

It is pleasing to report the vast majority of the 58 affected are logging in and getting on with their work.

I am also grateful to staff who continue to adapt and rise to the challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Where a whole class has been self-isolating, colleagues have been using the technology in an empty classroom to teach live online lessons.

With some option subjects, the number of self-isolating Year 10s has meant lower numbers in  different sets.

Where we have had these partial classes, some teachers have been trialling teaching to those children in the room, with the rest joining remotely.

It is working well, though there will always be examples where it is better in some lessons than others.

Teachers are learning new skills and, while it is not a substitute for being in the classroom, our students are benefitting from the technology and staff efforts.

I would also like to thank our first class IT team who are supporting the teachers.

What everyone is proving is that being away from school does not mean students have to miss out on their learning.

I spoke to some Year 10 students about the experience of staff teaching to a camera as well as the class.

They said it “seemed to work well”. That is good enough for me!

We continue to monitor staffing daily and, as an update to what I said last week, plans have been put in place for all eventualities. These will go before Trustees for approval next week.

Thank you to those Year 8 and 11 parents who have already responded to our new look parents’ evenings.

Telephone slots can be booked with teachers through our new School Cloud app, details of which were sent home last week.

It will allow more flexibility for parents, with teachers available during the day and in an evening.

I would encourage those who have not taken slots to do so as quickly as possible please.

They are to discuss a child’s progress and have nothing to do with the current crisis.

If you have any problems with the app, please contact the Academy.

Finally, could I also take this opportunity to congratulate Year 11 on their hard work and approach to the mock exams, which continue until the end of the week.

As always, stay safe and well.

 

Principal’s Blog

I want to provide an honest assessment of the Academy’s situation with regards coronavirus.

Unfortunately, we have had another positive test in Year 10 this morning, which has meant 85 students being asked to self-isolate.

They can return to the academy on Monday, 23rd November. Parents have been contacted.

We are also dealing with reduced numbers of staff because of the pandemic.

None have tested positive, but some are self-isolating – having been identified as close contacts – or working from home because their young children have been asked to self-isolate by school.

Those at home, while not teaching ‘live’ lessons, are still providing resources for up to 150 children a day.

Teachers then, are no different to others, juggling difficult circumstances at home.

We also have staff who are clinically extremely vulnerable who cannot come to work and others who are vulnerable and, while in the academy, need to work differently.

We are supporting all our colleagues which means the Academy is short staffed across its teaching and non-teaching teams.

We are monitoring the situation daily, but parents / carers should know we are drawing up plans for all eventualities.

We will keep open five days a week for face-to-face teaching for as long as we can.

But I need to be open with parents / carers about how difficult the situation is.

Our priority is to provide safe and effective learning in a way that is sustainable, consistent and fair for everyone.

Tracking has confirmed that students who have tested positive since September picked up the virus outside the Academy.

We are, therefore, confident our risk assessments and bubble system are working but we must remain vigilant.

The virus has put paid to usual parents’ evenings, due for Years 8 and 11 on the 25th and 30th November respectively.

Instead, telephone slots can be booked with teachers.

Details have been sent out this week on how to access our School Cloud app. It will enable parents to see what teachers are available and when. If you have not received this information via text then please contact the academy.

We are hoping for an even higher engagement than an ordinary Parents’ Evening as there is more flexibility, with teachers available during the day as well as evening.

Parents will not have to stick to a particular date to discover their child’s progress.

It is another situation where we have used the technology to create an opportunity we did not have before.

I hope parents will take advantage and I look forward to there being a positive uptake to the initiative.

Good luck to those Year 11s taking mocks this week and next. Remember, they are being run to inform staff and students of what they still need to learn ahead of their formal exams next summer.

Further mock exams and quality-assessed pieces of work will build an even clearer picture of what students can achieve.

Finally, our start to the academy day is important.

Students must arrive on time for their year group’s start of learning. Many students are managing this well, but a small number are arriving late.

This is disappointing and needs to improve…but well done to the vast majority who are coping very well under challenging circumstances.

As always, stay safe and well.

 

Principal’s Blog

It has been terrific to welcome back a full complement of students after half term.

Those groups self-isolating before the break have returned safely, I am pleased to say, and there has been a calm and positive atmosphere.

While the country braces itself for a second lockdown from Thursday, the Government has made it clear schools should remain open.

All we can do is carry on as normal while trying to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.

While groups being asked to self-isolate caused considerable inconvenience last half term, it demonstrated our bubble system works.

Given our experiences, we have become even more strategic in our movement around the school and our tracing systems. Stringent rules are in place for staff and students about who should be where and when.

We will endeavour to keep the Academy fully staffed and carry on doing as much face-to-face teaching as possible.

However, if circumstances dictate students need to learn from home, live lessons can now be delivered through Google Classroom.

We will continue to deliver the best possible teaching and learning while keeping our children and staff safe.

Classroom-based mock exams for Year 11 start soon. I do understand some students’ and parents’ anxieties given the very recent uncertainties around GCSE examinations across the country.

I would like to stress that the Y11 mocks are being run to inform staff and students of what they still need to learn ahead of their formal exams next summer. The mock results will help teachers to fill any gaps in knowledge over the coming months

Year 11 will have further mock exams and undertake quality-assessed pieces of work throughout the year. These will build an even clearer picture of what students are capable of achieving in their subjects.

In other words, there will be plenty of evidence should there be a rethink by the government at any point about examinations in summer 2021.

At this stage, we do not expect this to be the case as the government fully intends for GCSE examinations to take place next summer, albeit three weeks later than usual.

Letters are being sent to Year 11 parents today reiterating our strategy for best preparing students for whatever the future may hold in terms of exams for summer 2021.

Rest assured, if anything does change, we are geared up ready to deal with it.

As always, stay safe and well.

 

Principal’s Blog

COVID-19 is here for the foreseeable future – it is how we deal with it as an academy and individuals.

We all have a responsibility to minimise the risk of the virus spreading; keeping family, friends, and vulnerable members of our community safe.

Individually, those being asked to self-isolate must stay at home for the time stipulated to reduce transmission of the virus.

I know it is not easy, but we need to respect what we are being asked to do for the good of others. Self-isolation, when asked to do so, is a necessary and selfless act.

The Academy’s commitment is to maintain safety protocols while providing a positive learning environment.

Uncertainty is all around but one thing we can be sure of is more home learning, something not considered before March.

Our online learning through Google Classroom continues to improve and will take another considerable step forward after half term.

We have invested in staff training and IT to enable lessons to be live streamed.

Details will be given to students when appropriate but teaching staff will follow the timetable and give the lesson to what could be an empty room.

They will start 15 minutes later than scheduled, giving 20 or 30 minutes of tuition or instruction.

Work will be set, and teachers will stay online for the rest of the scheduled lesson for any questions.

Students’ video and audio will be turned off to ensure there are no safeguarding concerns.

We are also going to use technology to provide a solution for parents’ evenings not taking place.

A digital booking system will allow appointments to be booked with members of staff so parents / carers can be informed about progress.

It will be launched after half term.

As we enter the break at the end of this week, I reflect on a busy period.

It has not been easy, but we have got through it with support from the whole school community.

I would like to thank parents who have encouraged students to log on to Google Classroom. It is more important than ever for students to get into good work habits at home.

The staff team has been exceptional in difficult times. Individuals are having to learn new things or do old things differently.

Finally, the students deserve a huge pat on the back too. The atmosphere in the Academy has been fantastic.

It is disappointing from their point of view that their education is being affected by the pandemic. They too, are having to cope with doing things differently.

Hopefully, the picture will be clearer, if not better, when we return in November.

I hope you enjoy half term and, as always, stay safe and well.

Principal’s Blog

This academy, like the rest of the UK, is in a fast-moving environment with regards COVID-19.

Unfortunately, we have had three students in different year groups test positive in the last three days.

My first thoughts are with those students and family members who may also be affected. We wish them well.

I received notice from Public Health England yesterday afternoon that a Year 8 student had become the latest to test positive.

Over the weekend, one student in each of Years 11 and 9 had the same result.

All we can do is act swiftly on the guidance provided.

We have, therefore, three different bubbles self-isolating.

Parents / carers of all students needing to do so have been written to, outlining when they should return to school.

All other students must attend school unless they are ill.

Rest assured, we have taken advice from Public Health England on the numbers and timescales of those who need to self-isolate due to being identified as contacts in the academy.

The national Test and Trace system should identify any contacts due to social mixing outside of the academy.

Only students who are close contacts are affected.

The way the bubbles have been established – restricting year group areas and students’ time with others – has limited numbers self-isolating.

We expect all students studying from home to be logging on to Google Classroom daily.

If they do not, with time in school increasingly limited, there is a real danger they will fall behind and not catch up.

The three-week delay to GCSEs announced yesterday by the Secretary of State provides some clarity and is welcome.

However, it is not a great amount of additional time, particularly when students are missing from the classroom because of self-isolation.

We may find the Department for Education needing to review its stance on exams and we must be prepared for this eventuality.

One thing is certain: The Prime Minister and Government are determined to keep schools open and we are focused on providing the best possible education we can.

For the first time last week, average attendance fell below 90%.

While I understand the reasons behind this, we need parental support to ensure students who should be attending are in school.

They can be assured our bubbles are working.

Our risk assessment is sound and we will continue to do our best to minimise risk to students and staff.

As always, I hope you stay well.

Principal’s Blog

We were really pleased with Year 11’s response to home learning last week – now we would like to know how we did.

More than 100 students were logging in and we appreciate the efforts made by them and parents.

We know it is not easy, but it is important students keep up with the work set.

While we are pleased that so many students worked at home last week, I am concerned that those who decided not to are now falling further behind. This will mean that they struggle in the academy to keep up with the rest of the students in their class.

Unfortunately, it may not be the last time the academy’s impacted by coronavirus.

While nothing replaces the classroom experience, we showed again last week we can switch to an online alternative to ensure students receive the best possible education.

Teachers responded to students’ questions during their Year 11 timetabled lessons, either via email or by the chat facility on Google Classroom.

After half term, video conferencing technology will allow teachers to give ‘live’ lessons online.

But can we do better? We are learning too and there will always be ways to improve.

I am organising a survey to go out for Year 11 parents and students to respond and share thoughts on the online learning experience.

I sense it is going to be another important few days in education.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to outline thoughts on next summer’s exams, and we are waiting to hear what may or may not happen in England.

It is vital we do so as quickly as possible to enable schools to plan.

I am particularly conscious time is running short for our Year 11s.

There are not that many school days left until exams potentially start in May and students, teachers and parents need clarity and certainty about the way forward.

Everybody can be assured we will be doing our best by our students. All we ask is that they do their best too.

We have continued to offer a full curriculum and not cut back, with all option subjects being taught in Key Stage 4.

That makes it even more important students log on when asked to learn from home.

Just a reminder, they should not attend if they display any Covid-19 symptoms. This, from Public Health England, is a clear and simple guide on what to look out for.

Finally, our Virtual Year 6 Event continues to receive positive feedback.

Some terrific testimonials from former students and various other videos and information can be found here.

As always, I hope you stay well.

Principal’s Blog

Well done to Year 11 students who have adapted quickly to home learning this week.

A large proportion logged on for registration yesterday, only hours after finding out they would not be in the academy because of a positive COVID-19 test within their bubble.

We need all Year 11 students checking their emails and logging into Google Classroom every day this week.

It is frustrating – students had just started to really get back into their learning routines – but we have to do the right thing.

We cannot let that momentum slip which is why it is important Year 11 access remote learning in Google Classroom every day this week.

Our online offer has continued to improve since launch at the start of lockdown.

Teachers are posting Year 11 work online this week as well as responding to students’ questions during their Year 11 timetabled lessons.

We have been working with video conferencing technology to improve the offer even more in the coming weeks.

Years 8 and 9 have also had experience of home learning this term.

These disruptions are inevitable given coronavirus: the important thing is how we deal with them.

Hopefully, our communications with home are effective, as was proved again on Sunday / yesterday. The support given by parents is appreciated as we understand the inconvenience sudden change brings.

It is important we look after our academy community in these challenging times.

Year 11s entitled to free school meals can access vouchers for this week through Class Charts.

Wellbeing calls are being made to vulnerable students who would otherwise have been in the academy this week.

Students and their parents in year groups 7 to 10 can be assured no members of staff or other bubbles were identified as being in close contact with the positive-testing student.

They contracted the illness outside of the academy and were off all last week as a precaution until they received a test result at the weekend. Following the DfE advice we were given, Year 11 should only self-isolate this week and return next Monday (5th October).

We remain vigilant and keeping the school safe for its students and staff is a top priority.

Finally, a reminder that our Year 6 Virtual Open Event can be accessed via Facebook and our website.

Look out over the coming days as we increase the numbers of short films and information.

As always, I hope you stay well.