Dear Parents and Carers,
This week sees the conclusion of the Spring Term 2021, and it has again been a time filled with numerous unexpected challenges. However, as with so much this year, the most difficult of times has brought out the very best in our school community and thank you for playing such an active and supportive role throughout. Neither cyber attack or coronavirus has been able to stop us and it has been a joy to see our students return to the school this term, ready to embrace the opportunities of a great education at Wollaston.
Return to School of all Students
Although it seems like a distant memory, it has only been three weeks since we started to welcome back all students to Wollaston School. I would like to say thank you to our students, parents and staff for ensuring that this has worked so successfully. We have seen our students return with happiness, positivity and focus – and I suspect that all year groups have really enjoyed being back, whether they admit it or not! Of course there are some who have needed additional support to facilitate the return, and we have valued working with parents to support this transition as effectively as possible.
I would also like to recognise the mature and independent adherence of our students to safety advice regarding face coverings and other control measures – these have all worked effectively in practice and we have avoided some of the significant conflict and controversy some other schools have suffered from on these issues. We also have positive feedback on outdoor break and lunchtime arrangements where students do not need to wear face coverings and are able to benefit from open spaces around the field and school site. We are also delighted with the way students and staff have coped with lessons devoid of technology. Some have reported that lessons have felt more engaging and dynamic without a screen being used. Perhaps a lesson for modern life here!
Covid Testing and Reporting Arrangements
All staff and students are now engaged in home testing regimes, with a reminder that families of school aged students are also able access lateral flow tests. Full information is available below.
Whilst the move to home testing is obviously helpful for our school operationally, it does now remain imperative that every member of the school community follows the home testing regime carefully. We have enjoyed a number of weeks free from positive results and isolations and early identification of asymptomatic cases will be crucial in the weeks and months ahead.
We strongly encourage all students and staff to continue testing over the Easter period and details of the dates for each year group can be found HERE. Results should be reported to the NHS here: Report a COVID-19 rapid lateral flow test result – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
If a student receives a positive Lateral Flow test result, self isolation must begin immediately, but a confirmatory PCR test should also be taken. Full details can be found here: Households and bubbles of pupils, students and staff of schools, nurseries and colleges: get rapid lateral flow tests – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
In the event of a positive test, please ensure that you email firstname.lastname@example.org with details both after the original lateral flow test and also after the confirmatory PCR test. I will be available on email before 12 noon every day until the 1st April to undertake any contact tracing which may be required. After this date, please continue to email details of any positive test, but please note that there may be a delayed response as there would be no contact tracing required.
Thank you in advance for your support with the home testing system. It is important that we maintain our discipline with all testing requirements and keep our school as covid secure as we possibly can.
We have also received a letter from Lucy Wightman, Director of Public Health Northamptonshire, with further advice on maintaining a safe approach to the easing of restrictions in the weeks ahead. This letter can be found HERE
Cyber Attack Update
You may be aware that there are a number of other schools and Universities who are reporting the same ransomware attack that we have suffered from. This does remain a local and national concern and the Department for Education and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) did issue an alert to all schools at the end of last week (too late for us obviously!) However, even with this is alert, it is fairly unclear if many schools and trusts would have the capacity to resist such a deliberate and sophisticated attack.
As we rebuild our network, we will continue to do so with careful advice from NCSC and third party technical support. However, this will be a slow and steady process as security rather than speed is the most pressing factor. We are also delighted that NCSC have agreed to fund and implement a sophisticated 30 day monitoring and threat management programme as we rebuild our network. This should ensure that no lingering traces of the ransomware or potential vulnerabilities remain. This will be incredibly reassuring for us all and is testament to establishing an effective working relationship with NCSC as we have investigated and started to implement recovery from the attack. NCSC are a branch of GCHQ, so we really could not have a better partner to work with!
We are gradually restoring system functions and our excellent IT team are working over the Easter holiday and will turn on elements of the network incrementally as these are recovered and safely restored. Whilst some back ups have survived, these are not all likely to be serviceable from immediately prior to the attack. There is likely to be a time lag which will mean that some more recent work and documents will remain permanently inaccessible. This is also the case for any documents which were on local drives of affected laptops or PCs. This is of course incredibly frustrating and distressing, and we will experience the feelings of loss that being victims of a serious crime, can inevitably bring. However, I also know of a school who believe that many years of institutional work has been made permanently inaccessible, so we may have some small mercies to be thankful for in the midst of the devastation. We will have a much clearer idea of where we are after Easter and it is important for students to note that any work sent by email is safe, as of course will be anything saved on student’s own laptops or pen drives. We have alerted exam boards to potential inaccessibility of some work and they will of course be flexible to this. Sadly – we are a long way from being the only school and trust affected. We are also likely to have benefitted from the most recent lockdown, in that most students were unable to save to the network, and we are much more optimistic about accessing back up folders and files from pre- Christmas.
I would like to thank all of the staff who have worked so hard and so intensively on the initial phases of recovery. I would also like to thank our students and parents for your patience, support and understanding throughout.
Year 11 Sixth Form Interviews
This time of year sees our Year 11 students preparing for the next stage of their education and we have been busy undertaking formal interviews for entry into our Sixth Form. This process applies to both our own current students in addition to a number of external applicants who will join us from a range of other local schools. Our Year 11 students have presented themselves incredibly well throughout and there are certainly signs that the challenges of the pandemic have led to high levels of resilience and motivation from students who will be absolutely ready to thrive and lead next year when in the Sixth Form. I would also like to thank parents and carers for supporting students to prepare so effectively for the interview process and we look forward to having an incredible Year 12 in September 2021!
Conditional Offer letters will be issued immediately following the Easter holidays. If you have not yet had an interview or you have any questions regarding Sixth Form, please do not hesitate to contact our Sixth Form Centre Manager Mrs Melia via email@example.com
A reminder that we will have Year 8 parents evening on 15th April, followed by Year 12 on the 22nd April. These will be significant events for both Year groups, as we work with you to identify positive areas of strength as well as targets for further development in each subject. We know how important and powerful these evenings can be for staff, students and parents as we approach the rest of the academic year. Owing to the technology issue, appointments will be arranged on paper by students in a somewhat “old school” fashion which many parents will remember from their own school days! However, consultations themselves will take place using zoom.
As you may be aware, Ofqual / DFE have recently released some further advice on the grading process, although exam boards still do have their specific requirements yet to publish. There are not substantive changes to the originally proposed process, but there is a little more detail on duties for teachers and schools as well as some guidance on the internal moderation processes required to ensure fair judgements. Although the documents below are intended for use by teachers and schools, they are in the public domain and I felt it could be useful for parents and students to have sight of the detail. Whilst of course grades are not negotiable and there is no room for discussion or undue influence, I do think it is vital that the process itself is as transparent and open as possible. As we did last year, we will work to ensure that all of our students receive the grades that they deserve. Ensuring that these awards match both the national standard and are equitable and fair when compared with grades received by Wollaston School students in previous year groups.
It is pleasing to report that a number of students in year 11 and 13 are making good progress in securing apprenticeships for September 2021. Some of these are degree level ones and involve a salary and tuition fees paid for by the employer. We are most grateful to Hannah of Scott Bader for her ongoing support in preparing students for interviews and assessment centre days.
Ex student Lizzie Forbes of Balfour Beatty is keen to recruit Year 10 – Year 13 students onto a virtual work experience project. It is suitable for any student considering management, project management or any aspect of the construction industry. Please contact Mr Myers on firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
We will continue the current arrangements for students to arrive changed for PE and remain in PE kit for the entirety of the day. Please note this only applies to days in which students have double PE lessons. We value parental support in ensuring that only authorised Wollaston School PE kit is worn and a reminder of these requirements can be found below.
Please find a link HERE to a competition and a booklet suggesting lots of ideas for an active and stimulating Easter break.
I hope that you manage a refreshing and relaxing break and that you and your families are able to take advantage of some of the easing of restrictions to see friends and loved ones. Thank you for all of your support so far this year and let’s look forward to what may or may not be a serene and tranquil summer term!
Mr James Birkett