Headteachers Letter – 22nd January 2021
Dear parents and carers,
Thank you for your support of another positive week at Wollaston School, despite the ongoing challenges of both the pandemic and of remote learning. We are already at the midway point through this half term and we greatly appreciate your help and support in ensuring that we are able to operate as well as possible during this time. Some key points to update on below and I shall also try and bring some clarity to some contradictory media reports around schools and education, whilst recognising that the future remains impossible to predict!
Positive Covid-19 Cases
We continue to log all positive cases within the school community – and there have been further positive test results this week. None of these have required any contact tracing, either because individuals have not been in school at all, or that they have not been in school during the infectious period. We have wished all families and individuals well for a quick and full recovery. Thank you to everyone for continuing to follow all social distancing advice and guidance regarding when to self-isolate. Please do let us know of all positive cases, even if students have not been in school, through the email address firstname.lastname@example.org Please do also get in touch if you require any guidance or advice on specific circumstances – we are always happy to provide this.
All Government advice regarding Covid-19 can be found HERE
We are aware that cases within the wider school community remain fairly high – and it is worth noting that, as has been the case throughout, there can be significant variation in case rates, even within a fairly small local area. If you are interested in exploring the local and national data – all information can be found HERE
Lateral Flow Testing in Schools
Much has been reported in the media regarding lateral flow tests in schools, with many reports inaccurately stating the revised Government position. I hope the information below is helpful in clarifying the decisions that have been taken and the current position.
- Lateral Flow Testing for Staff: This programme is continuing, and will shortly be increased to twice weekly tests for all members of our schools workforce. Twice weekly tests are also now being implemented for staff working in primary and early years settings. As mentioned when we launched the testing, it is more accurate to describe this as a screening programme, as all positive LFT results must be confirmed by a laboratory based test. It is also not for use with anyone who has symptoms – they will continue to immediately self-isolate as per the guidance and book a lab based test. We absolutely support this testing regime, both now and when students return, as an additional safety measure to capture asymptomatic cases of Covid-19.
- Lateral Flow Testing for Students: There is some uncertainty here, as of course there is about the timing and conditions for a return to in person education. My reading of the current position is that students will be tested twice in school as part of their return to education when this is sanctioned by the Government. There does not seem to be the expectation of weekly testing – but rather a one-off screening programme as part of the full return. Despite the practical challenges, we are confident that we will be able to implement this programme of testing, providing we have adequate notice of the timescale for a full return to school! We are continuing with the testing programme for students who are attending the LAW school provision.
- Close Contact 7 day Testing in Schools: This is the only part of the testing programme which has been “paused” by the Government. The original plan was to offer 7 days of continuous lateral flow tests to students and staff (who have been close contacts of positive cases) as an alternative to the requirement for self-isolation. There is not yet the clinical evidence that this would have been effective and is now not required to be implemented at the current time. There are however trials ongoing in some schools and private companies, so there may be further updates on this in the weeks and months ahead.
Wider Re-opening of Schools
Speculation on when and how students will return to school seems to have become a national pastime, which I think is fuelled by daily reports and discussion in the media. I know that this constant speculation can feel fairly unsettling to read and hear about – and it is also potentially distracting as we try to focus on providing the best possible education in the immediate weeks ahead. On a personal level, I try and ignore all of the discussion on this content as it has never proved helpful or accurate in giving any indication of what is likely to happen next!
The honest position regarding a full return to school is that no-one knows! We do once again need to find a way of coping with uncertainty and being aware that anything is possible – even at very short notice. In practical terms, we are remaining focused on what we do know – remote provision for the next three weeks, and facilitating opportunities for feedback and assessment where this is appropriate before half term. Looking forward to the second half of term, we are planning curriculum content and delivery which can work either remotely or in person. It is possible that a return to school could be phased or introduced in the middle of a half term, so our planning will be flexible enough to accommodate this. Our Covid contingency plan has been fairly robust in capturing the broad plans for a number scenarios and this has served us well to date, so we are confident of being able to respond to changing situations as quickly as possible. I will of course communicate any definite news as soon as we have it.
We are pleased that student attendance in live lessons continues to be strong. There is no national data published as yet, but anecdotally our figure of above 80% for individual lesson attendance seems to be positive, especially as a much higher number are accessing at least some of the live lessons provided. Thank you to families for working with our staff on any access or technical issues and our hope is that in partnership, we can improve this attendance figure further.
Thank you to parents for supporting our remote provision at home, as I know that this is a significant undertaking. We are proud of how we are managing, but are not complacent and are aware of some emerging issues. Unfortunately, we have had three incidents this week in which remote learning has been disrupted by inappropriate behaviour. We have also been made aware of a national concern regarding unrelated third parties attempting to access to lesson details (by asking students for log in details), disrupting lessons and then posting screen shots to TikTok. Whilst we are not aware of this having affected lessons at Wollaston School directly, in at least one of the incidents, we have had a concern of shared log in details being the cause of the disruption.
We are reminding staff of the need to strictly implement all security settings at the start of each lesson, to minimise the risk of any inappropriate behaviour. We would also be grateful if parents can remind students that they will only be admitted to the lesson if using their correct full name (first name and surname). Given the risk posed by sharing zoom log in details, we would also be grateful if parents and students can avoid sharing any links on social media. If you are having difficulty finding a link on Go4 schools, please email the teacher directly and a reminder that the staff directory and full remote learning guides can be found HERE
We have also been made aware that a rumour was circulating on social media that the Wollaston School internet had been “hacked” and unauthorised persons had been able to access multiple lessons. I am pleased to say that this is absolutely not the case. We did suffer an internet outage at Wollaston on Wednesday afternoon, which did mean that any live lessons being hosted from school would have crashed. However, this was a brief outage and one which was quickly resolved by our broadband provider.
We do appreciate all feedback on remote learning (email@example.com ) and we recognise that now more than ever, it is only through working in partnership that we can make this provision work as well as possible.
The Department for Education and Ofqual have now published the consultation regarding the plans to award grades and qualifications to our Year 11 and Year 13 students. This is an open consultation, so that parents and students are able to give their thoughts directly. The key proposals are that:
- Teacher assessments will be used to award grades.
- Grades will be decided as late in the year as possible (May/June) to allow students every opportunity to demonstrate their level of ability.
- All teaching and assessment activity continues remotely – and in person when this is permitted.
- There may be some exam board set assessment materials to ensure that standards are fairly judged across the country.
- Students will receive grades in late July.
- Students would be able to appeal against their grades, if they feel that these do not represent their true level of ability.
If you would like to contribute to the consultation, there is a link to do so below.
Year 9 Subject Consultation evening and Options Process
A reminder that live lessons will be suspended on the 4th February 2021 to enable Year 9 students to have access to academic staff to review progress and to receive guidance on curriculum choices for GCSE study next year.
A separate letter has been sent to all Year 9 students regarding the process and we look forward to “virtually” meeting with you then and working with parents, carers and students on this important educational milestone.
Thank you to the many local business and individuals who have so generously contributed technology to our students and families. We have also been awarded £1500 as a grant from BGL, following a referral from a parent, so it is great testimony to how we are able to work as a wider school community to achieve great things together. The generosity has been so substantial that we are now in a position where we can pause donations to allow us to issue all of the equipment and evaluate provision.
We are also aware that circumstances do change and there is no deadline to ask for help with technology, so if you children would benefit from having a laptop loaned to you or you need any assistance with technology, please do let us know, using the email firstname.lastname@example.org
Free School Meals
We have now switched to the supermarket voucher scheme and vouchers should have been issued to all eligible families via email today. If you have any queries or questions, please contact Sara Francis FrancisS@wollaston-school.net and Wayne Taylor TaylorW@wollaston-school.net who will be able to offer further assistance.
I hope that you all enjoy a restful weekend, and thank you, as always, for your positivity and support.
Mr James Birkett