Headteachers Letter – 8th January 2021

Dear Parents and carers,

Thank you for not only your support but also your flexibility in coping with what has been a fairly intense and concerning week, both in education and more globally.  I know that change can be difficult for everyone, especially for some of our young people  – as well as for parents and education staff. Nevertheless, we have collectively managed a move to a different form of education as positively as possible, and despite some teething problems in some areas, we are now fairly well established in both remote and on site provision.


Positive Coronavirus Tests

We have been made aware of further positive covid-19 test results from members of the school community. None of these have arisen from individuals who have been in school since before the Christmas break and they are following national isolation and contact tracing advice.  There is therefore no further action for us as a school. However, of course we continue to monitor cases and send all best wishes to the individuals and  families affected.

Please do continue to report all positive test results to the school using the headteacher@wollaston-school.net email address.

If an individual who is attending school on site tests positive, we would of course follow all contact tracing procedures as we did prior to this lockdown.


Remote Learning

 Thank you for supporting the remote learning provision so effectively in these first few days . Early indications are that attendance and engagement are excellent across the school and that the live lesson format works fairly well. I know that many parents will be working from home as well as supervising a number of siblings – so that a more formal timetable of lessons has been welcomed.

We did have a couple of technical issues on day 1 with Go4schools becoming overloaded nationally – but these problems seem to be easing in recent days. We know that most students have been able to access Go4schools and live lessons, but a reminder that if you have a password or access issue, please email access@wollaston-school.net for support.

Whilst the system is largely working very well for us, the key issue is likely to be “screen fatigue” for both staff and students. There will be some further guidance and refinement on this – especially as we start to learn best practice regarding teaching and learning on this platform. Please do note that there is no expectation that all remote learning needs to be based on the idea of teachers and students being seated at a screen for the entirety of the lesson. For some lessons, some teacher input, followed by some independent work in books, followed by a gathering together at the end of the lesson may be the most appropriate format to ensure that we are all not staring at a screen constantly for many hours each day. We are also encouraging some practical work where possible for subjects that would be practical by nature in schools. We are proud of the rich and varied curriculum which we offer at Wollaston and will try and replicate this as well as possible at home.

From next week, we will also  begin undertaking regular evaluation of remote learning , through canvassing opinion from students, parents and staff. This will take the form of a dedicated email address with specific feedback windows.  This will be to capture general feedback and suggestions rather than solve specific issues, so please contact subject or pastoral staff in the usual way for any urgent or specific concerns.

We will also be providing some further guidance on feedback and assessment for remote learning in the coming weeks to ensure that we are able to monitor progress effectively as well as to  engage students and parents in reviewing the work undertaken. We are going to issue some guidance to parents and students regarding presentation and quality of work in books as we would welcome your support to ensure that students are working as hard as possible. This is a particular priority, as Covid restrictions have meant that we were less able to review book work during the Autumn term and there is an opportunity this term to provide a renewed focus on this.


Use of School Email Addresses

Please can you remind students to use their school email address when contacting teachers or submitting work. This is for both safeguarding reasons and to ensure successful delivery. Our system will filter out potential threats / spam, and a school email address also assures us that emails are arriving from the correct student, with legitimate content. Thank you in advance for your support with this.


LAW School

Our provision for children of critical workers and those who need additional support has been running since the first day of lockdown and we are attempting to provide the best possible provision for eligible students as they access the live lessons from computer rooms in school. We have a full list of student and parent contact details, and we will provide information directly to LAW school attendees from this point onwards.  However, if your circumstances change, or you do have a question about LAW school, please do contact Jade Fitzhugh fitzhughj@wollaston-school.net for further information.


Access to Technology

Much work had already been done to ensure that identified families and students have access to appropriate technology for remote learning. We have made extensive use of national Government and Local Authority schemes as well as sourcing many of our own devices to help families who may have multiple children at home. Thanks to some increased Department for Education provision, the successful charitable bid from Scott Bader, and some community and local business donations as well as through repurposing our own technology, we are continuing to increase the availability of devices to loan out to families who need them, far beyond the scope of the Government’s original scheme and eligibility. We have a list of families who are waiting for devices which we are working our way through and of course it does take some time for us to process and set up these devices, but we will issue to families as soon as we possibly can.   We are also aware that family circumstances can change, so if technology does become a barrier to accessing home learning, please do contact Jade Fitzhugh fitzhughj@wollaston-school.net and we will try and help where we can.

We also have a team of Governors and community groups who are  working hard to support families with technology at this time of need. They have organised the donation of a number of laptops from local businesses and individuals which can then be used to support families and students who need them. Donations do need to have certain specifications and operating requirements and need to be set up by the school, but if you may be able to help, Sara Austin, our Vice Chair of Governors would be delighted to hear from you and she is able to provide further information.  AustinS@wollaston-school.net

I also understand that many students and families are finding ingenious ways to participate in live lessons, including using phones as personal hotspots and screen mirroring from phones to TVs. We are also aware that games consoles can be used to access some elements of remote learning and there is an article from the Times Education Supplement on this subject here:  https://www.tes.com/news/how-use-xbox-or-playstation-online-learning


Increased Mobile Data Allowances for Remote Learning

The Government has worked in partnership with mobile phone companies to allow schools to request increased data allowances for students, to assist with remote learning where there is not suitable broadband provision in place. This can only be requested through schools and we are happy to do this on your behalf. Please do be aware that once we have registered the details, we do not run this system and are we are aware that it can take some time for phone companies to process requests. There will be a text message sent directly to students by phone companies / networks when the additional data has been activated.

To process the request we need:

  • the name of the account holder
  • the number of the mobile device
  • the mobile network of that device (for example Three)

Please send these details to Mrs Sara Francis  FrancisS@Wollaston-school.net  and we will send off the details at the earliest opportunity.


Free School Meals

We are again totally committed to supporting families in need at this current time. We have been busy producing weekly food parcels for eligible families and the first of these will go out from today. There will be a collection rota from the Kitchen at Wollaston School and all eligible families will receive contact early next week with full details. We are not routinely able to arrange delivery, but would do so in exceptional circumstances. For any enquiries or further information, please caontact Wayne Taylor, taylorw@wollaston-school.net


Free Literature Resources

In addition to the timetabled remote learning, we would also encourage students to continue to explore reading for pleasure throughout lockdown. There are also a number of  resources, available for free, which may be useful to promote interest in a range of literature.

  • Audible have extended their offer of free audiobook access for children and young people- no account needed- just a completely free access library of audiobooks- https://stories.audible.com/discovery
  • Part one of an amazing celebrity reading of James and the Giant Peach (recorded during lockdown 1)- there are many other instalments that follow this and it really is a great quality audio/performance of the story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29LDBdpNMRc
  • ‘The Book of Hopes’ (again this was published during the last lockdown). It is a book of short stories, contributed to by well over 100 top children’s/Young Adult writers and illustrators- available for free: https://literacytrust.org.uk/family-zone/9-12/book-hopes/


Mass Covid Testing in School

We have continued to work hard during this week on developing a compliant and sustainable Lateral Flow Covid-19 Testing Facility at Wollaston School. Thank you to all who have volunteered to staff this and who have completed their training for the roles which they will undertake. Thanks also to everyone involved in setting up the room and supporting IT and infrastructure so carefully.

We are now in the position to begin the staff testing programme from Monday 11th January 2021. Testing for all LAW school students will follow from the week of the 18th January and will then be ready to test the entire school population when the Government announces the timescales and process for a full return to school.

In advance of this – we will be sending out electronic consent forms over the course of the next few days in order that we are well set up in advance to implement the mass testing programmes. All details are included on the accompanying letter.


Year 9 Options Process and Parents Evening

We will be running the Year 9 options process to the originally planned timescales, but with some likely modifications to timing of events and the likely formats. Most importantly for now – the Year 9 subject teacher consultation event will now be held on the 4th February 2021 not the 21st January 2021.   This will go ahead remotely and we are likely to make some adaptations to remote learning for the day to ensure that all parents and  students have the necessary time to discuss options choices and progress with relevant subject and pastoral staff.

In advance of the parents evening, we will also be publishing details of the options process, a guide to the qualifications as well as information on the core curriculum to be studied to GCSE level.


January External Examinations

You are likely to be aware that the Government have been less than decisive on their position for the January examinations series which has begun this week. This affects a small but significant number of our students and I think that we have managed to strike a careful balance which benefits all of the students affected.  We do believe that we can run all of these examinations safely – and we will offer the full series of examinations, socially distanced in a variety of on-site venues.  However – we have also informed affected students and parents that there is no compulsion to sit these exams – and they may choose not to do so for any reason.  Early indications are that some students will want to sit the exam and some will not, and it is pleasing that we have managed to find a solution which works for all!


Qualifications 2021

It seems another world away, but following the slightly vague announcement on Monday evening by Boris Johnson– it is now clear that all examinations in the summer series will not take place, including SATs in our partner primary schools.  What is as yet unclear, is the system that will be put into place to award grades and qualifications.  Gavin Williamson’s aim “to trust teachers rather than algorithms” is of course welcome, but we will obviously need to see the details of the proposals to look at how this will actually work in practice.

Schools have been promised a full package of information, training and standardisation – so more details to come in the weeks ahead, which I will of course share with students and parents at the earliest opportunity.   We can also be assured by our own internal processes last year which were rigorous, fair and which ensured that our students were (eventually!) awarded the grades that they deserved.

In the meantime – the advice we are giving to all students in Year 11 and Year 13 is to continue working as hard as possible – on the content which teachers have already planned. Staff will continue to set and teach new content, challenging work and exam questions / assessments as originally scheduled, adapted as appropriate for remote learning. Please do encourage students to engage fully with this work, and we will work together to ensure that every student is awarded the qualifications which they deserve in 2021.


I suspect that is probably plenty of information for this week!  Thank you for all of your support of your children’s education and of our school. I hope that you, your family and loved ones remain safe and well and enjoy a relaxing weekend.


Mr James Birkett