Headteachers Letter -19th March 2021

Dear Parents and Carers,

As we approach the end of the spring term, it is probably impossible to predict what we may need to deal with next!

The network and technology issues have impacted us significantly, but I am proud to say that as a community of positive and resilient students and staff we have simply kept going and reverted to more traditional and ‘Old school’ operational approaches.

Network and Technology Disruption

As you may well now be aware, we have been victims of a significant cyber attack which has severely damaged our network capability, and will continue to affect our IT operations over the course of the next week and also the Easter  holidays.

We have had advice and guidance from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) as well as from specialist police units who deal with cyber crime.

The attack we have suffered is categorised as Ransomware and is a type of  criminal activity designed to extract money from businesses and organisations. We understand that schools in the UK have become a particular target in recent weeks and we are aware  of other local schools and trusts that have fallen victim. The NCSC have made the Department for Education aware of the risk to schools.

As you will no doubt be aware, there are a significant number of school devices including laptops, PC’s as well as our network infrastructure which will require rebuilding and restoring. This will take some time. We did have a number of network,  system and software updates planned for the summer holidays which we will now bring forward to Easter as part of the recovery from this attack.

Thanks to the hard work of our IT team, who will also be working over the course of the weekend, we are already bringing aspects of our network back to life.

Our main school phone number is now operational (01933 663501) and we can take messages for staff but are not able to transfer calls.

Email systems and Go4Schools are also operating, but may be subject to delay – as staff are not easily able to access these services on site.

Staff are currently without laptops, so students are also enjoying a return to more traditional methods of delivery – which many parents may  remember fondly from their own school days!

It is unlikely that students will be able to access IT rooms or equipment until the start of the summer term.

Obviously this has been a fairly devastating attack and one which seems particularly hard to accept in tandem with such a challenging year. Nevertheless we are incredibly proud that students and staff have met this new challenge with such positivity, resilience and adaptability.

From discussions with NCSC, we are also aware that we are fortunate to have some backup capabilities to work with and had contingency plans in place to ensure that we have remained operational, despite this attack.

Thank you for your understanding and of course I will continue to update regularly.

Year 12 and Year 8 Parents Evenings

Owing to the current network impact, we will postpone the Year 12 parents evening originally scheduled for 25th March 2021. This  will now take place on the 22nd April 2021.

The year 8 parents evening will retain its current slot on the 15th April 2021.

Although both will run on Zoom as originally planned – we will need to revert to a nostalgic appointment booking system. This will be paper based and will see a return to teachers booking appointments directly with students. Full details will follow from the relevant year teams next week.

Qualifications Information Evening 

We are pleased to say that despite the technological barriers, we will run the information evening as planned. It will run on Tuesday 23rd  March – these will be in four sessions

• Year 11 (2 sessions at 3-3.30pm and 5-5.30pm)

• Year 13 (2 sessions 4.15-4.45pm and 5.45-6.15pm)

Mass Covid Testing

We are nearing the conclusion of our student testing process – and this programme will be fully complete by the end of Monday. This has been a monumental operation and I would like to thank all of our students, staff and parents for ensuring that such an unprecedented scheme has worked so smoothly and efficiently.

Please note that due to the network issues, negative test outcomes have not been distributed via email or text message. However, in the event of a positive test result we would contact students and parents immediately. We are pleased to say that there have been no positive test results to date, which is of course excellent news.

Parking and Congestion

Parents and carers will be aware that with the full return to school comes the familiar  issue of congestion in and around the school site at the start and end of the day. We would be grateful if we can continue to park and drive considerately on the school site and in the local area.

On site – please keep the disabled parking bays free and easily accessible. We do have students who need to be dropped off in these bays – and please note that disabilities are not always visible, and will not be identifiable by the car!

A reminder also that the site is considerably less busy prior to 8.30 and after 3.15pm. Students are able to wait on site if parents choose to take advantage of these less congested time periods.

Thank you for your continued cooperation in these matters.

Positive Behaviour in the Local Community

I have had contact from the parish council who recognise the positive and responsible conduct of the overwhelming majority of our students when in the community, both immediately before and after school, in the evenings  and at weekends.

With the imminent return of some relaxation in Covid restrictions, they have asked us to pass on the continued  importance and value of ensuring excellent behaviour in the wider community. I know that residents particularly appreciate students ensuring that there is no dropped litter, or anti social behaviour as well as crossing roads safely and generally being positive members of the wider community. We would be particularly grateful if you could discuss these responsibilities with your son or daughter as some restrictions are lifted and we are able to meet other households outdoors from 29th March 2021.
Thank you as always for your excellent support of our school.  A year on from the start of the pandemic, and all of the associated and more recent challenges, I appreciate greatly how we have faced these together with harmony, optimism and resilience.

Mr James Birkett