Headteacher’s Weekly Newsletter (10 July 2020)

Dear Parents

Firstly, I would like to take the opportunity to welcome our Year 6 (new Year 7 in September) parents to the parental body of the school. We have started to circulate the Newsletter to you, as well as existing parents, as we start to inform everyone of our plans for September. If you are interested you are most welcome to catch up on our weekly Newsletters from the past month or so, which are on the school website (www.williamhoward.cumbria.sch.uk/category/headteacher-bulletin/).It would give you a good flavour of how we have been addressing learning successfully with the majority of our students over the last few months.

The welcome done, it would seem amiss not to reflect on things this week. Indeed, I was reading the Hayton Parish Magazine at the weekend, it was one of those emails that I had parked for another day at some point in the last fortnight. I was struck by Rev Johnsen’s take on the sun and the summer solstice being a contrast with what can seem like clouds and gloomy weather currently. He was making a very pertinent point and one that I think we should all remember, that no matter how bad things can seem, there is always light and things to celebrate.

That is why I have taken the position over the last few months of being the eternal optimist, focussing on the positives and the great things our students and staff have achieved during this period of closure and the more recent partial opening, which we have used to the very limit of what we could. It is for that reason I am lo.oking forward with eagerness to September, along with all the staff, to the return of all of our students. It will not be quite normal, but we are going to make it as normal as possible and we will do so with a can-do attitude so we can see our students learning, laughing and interacting again. The corridors, classrooms and spaces of the school will thankfully come fully back to life again with that fantastic buzz, which is a school community engaged in collective endeavour. We know from the really high levels of attendance in Year 10 and Year 12 over the last few weeks, that the students are eager to be back in school themselves and we know this will be the case in September as well across all years.

Do not get me wrong, we know that there is catch-up to do with a minority, support needed for individuals and that some families will continue to face a variety of challenges in the coming months. These are all things that need tackling, we are not dismissing them, but we also need to now get on with getting back to supporting and developing our young people in the best manner possible. The way to do that is having them back in school and the best way of teaching them, no matter how sophisticated we make online learning, is face to face with interaction from staff.

It is right therefore that we start this week’s Newsletter with the first look at high level details of what September will look like for the students and how we are intending to meet the DFE guidance. Though, we hope that the arrangements will be for as short a time span as possible.

 

September 2020 – Initial Plans

What follows is, as I have just said, a high-level description of how school will operate in September. We will be publishing a more detailed plan on the website next week, alongside the relevant Risk Assessment. These will clearly be subject to some element of change, as we get the real fine detail in place for operational purposes over the summer. I know you understand that the mechanics of 1450 students and 100 teachers is not a simple one. Like we did for Year 10 and Year 12 re-opening, nearer September we will also have parental broadcasts, Q&A sessions and provide FAQs to help everyone understand how things will work.

General Outline

We have looked carefully at the various options available to us and in particular, with regard to being able to switch to normal operation quickly, once we have permission to do so. The driving concept for us is that we will not change the timetable or curriculum breadth for students. They need normality and they need to be engaged in the full spectrum of their subjects. After due consideration, the school model for re-opening will be based on the following:

  • Students all arriving and departing at the same time
  • Year Group bubbles in set areas of the school, all will have set entry points
  • Bringing two more canteen spaces into operation, giving a total of 3, so year group bubbles can have lunch together
  • We will run the normal timetable, which means full curriculum provision for all year groups, with access to specialist spaces for exam year groups and specialist teaching for every year group, including PE (weather permitting)
  • Students in all years will be in their normal teaching groups and will move between subjects within their year group area
  • Staff will be moving between areas, not students, though as stated there will be student movement within their year group areas. There will be some managed supervised movement across their areas for Year 10 and Year 11 to give access to specialist rooms for exam work

The zoning of the school has been relatively straightforward and will see KS3 based in the top of the school in set areas, while Year 10 and Year 11 are on either side of the lower part of the school, with a Sixth Form bubble across the top, as this is the location of the majority of specialised teaching spaces. This is all planned out and we will be producing diagrams showing the specific areas of the school for each year group bubble to help explain how this works pictorially. Describing it in text would be difficult and nearly impossible to understand, unless you have a detailed knowledge of the school room numbers and layout.

There will be some compromises, which is inevitable, as we are effectively going to run and operate 6 mini schools within the one school site. There are two main compromises I want to make you aware of:

  • Some KS3 teaching of specialist subjects cannot take place in specialist rooms. To overcome this, we will move some equipment/materials to set rooms within each of the KS3 year group areas, to allow the specialist teachers to teach their subject effectively.
  • Form time, on balance, moves too many staff around the building for such a short period of time each day. We have therefore decided to move to a Pastoral time after period 1, so lessons will start promptly at 8:45am as a result. Pastoral time will be used for assemblies (done via Teams to each room) and for other work, and will be led by the period 1 teacher, who is likely to be different each day. Students will get to see their Form Tutor once a week in a floating period, that will vary from week to week where we will get the tutor groups together for a longer period of time. They will also see their Form Tutor for the first 2 periods of school in September and the Form Tutor will remain the first port of call for pastoral contact for each student.

(In Year 7 and Year 8, we are looking at how best to combine forms in the short term, as we know they currently are a mix across two of the year group bubbles).

These compromises would not be ones we would choose, but on balance are the best worst options in order to allow us to run a full broad and balanced curriculum for the students, while being mindful of staff safety and wellbeing.

Break and Lunch

Students will all have a 15-minute break in a set area, with outside access each day, as well as a 30-minute lunch, which will need to be spent in the dining area allocated to that year group. The need to create 2 additional dining spaces, one in the Sports Hall and the other in the Performance Hall, means that our catering arrangements will be changing. Once in the specified dining area for their lunch break, the students will not be allowed to leave that area, unless it is for supervised access to designated toilets.

There will be no hot meals on offer and we will move to a grab and go system for the lunch periods offering baguettes/rolls, fruit and drinks etc. No food will be available for students to purchase in the smaller break, though they can of course bring food to eat with them to school and many we know will want to bring a packed lunch like normal.

Timings of the Day

The new arrangements of the day and the move to a static lunchtime and a smaller break, as well as removing the need for movement time between lessons cuts 30 minutes from the school day. Period 1 will start at 8:45am and school will finish at 2:45pm, while we work within these parameters. To reduce staff movement, the Period 1 teacher each day will be in charge of the Pastoral time between Period 1 and Period 2; we will be working a floating Tutor period into the week on a rotating basis, so students have weekly contact with their normal Form Tutor for Pastoral stability.

Provisional timings of the day:

Uniform

The Government guidance is clear that schools are to return to their normal uniform policies. We agree with this and we expect all students back in September with full uniform. Any student not complying with the clearly stated requirements will be challenged about this and will need to correct any issues. This will also apply to PE kits, as students will be doing PE, as long as the weather is not overly inclement.

Transport

We will confirm details of transport arrangements at the end of the summer holiday, but we currently expect the following:

CCC Transport Routes – The County Council are awaiting detailed guidance from the Government regarding school transport. We are expecting students will be required to use hand sanitiser on boarding the bus, wear face masks and sit in a specified seat that reflects their in-school bubble. These will be monitored on departure from school in the afternoon and also in the morning by drivers and we will be helping the Transport team to determine those seating plans. Any student not sitting where designated we assume will be banned from travelling on that route.

WHS School Routes – We expect to replicate the system on the CCC Transport routes, which we are currently anticipating will be hand sanitising, seating plans and face masks.

Public Transport – The start of the school day at 8:45am is clearly appropriate for the Carlisle 685 route that arrives in Brampton at 8:30am and the Haltwhistle 685 that arrives at 8:33am. The timetables avoid the main peak travel period and allow ample time for students to walk up to the school. The normal rules on wearing face masks on public transport will apply to the students.

A “Soft Start” to September

A noticeable change at the start of September will be what we are calling a “soft start” to the school term. We will have two days of school on Thursday, 3 and Friday, 4 September where we have only 50-60% of students on site. This is being done so that we can make sure systems work, that the bubbles operate as we think they should and, as importantly, to make sure that students understand the routines and rules that are very different from when they left in March. It will also get students used to things such as seating plans on bus routes and the new system for entering and departing from school, as well as new Fire Drill procedures. To be precise we are intending to open for the following year groups on the two days as follows:

  • Thursday, 3 September – Years 7, 9, 11 and 13
  • Friday, 4 September – Years 7, 8, 10 and 12

Year 7 will be in both days to help their orientation to the school and so they can meet as many staff as possible. On each day, the students will spend the first two periods with their tutor. All students will be expected to be in school as normal on Monday, 7 September. We know that this “soft start” may cause some parents concern, but we also hope that it is recognised that getting 1450 students operating in the school successfully under the new conditions is vital for a safe and productive start to the term. A phased introduction, given the sheer number of transport routes, cannot be done as half day sessions.

Contingency Plans

One element of the Government guidance was that we must have a plan for any potential local outbreak or closure of the school. The guidance is clear that in the event of two or more cases within a school, it is highly likely to be required to shut for 14 days, which in itself is a really useful level of clarity. We are lucky that our contingency planning is effectively already in place. We have shown consistently over the last few months we have the ability to switch to remote learning with videoed lessons, live seminars, pastoral contact, assemblies and a myriad of other activities. If it was ever the case that the school was asked to close for a period of time, we will pick up where we are leaving off and seamlessly start to teach the same curriculum to the students remotely. We are updating our Remote Learning Policy to reflect it is a contingency in such cases and to reassure parents we have appropriate plans in place. There will be some work to be done surveying the new Year 7 for access to ICT, stability of broadband etc and we will do this early in the new term so we understand the access all students across the school have. We will also ensure Year 7 are brought up to speed with using Microsoft Teams and the schools VLE; both of these tasks we hope to complete in the first two days of the school term.

 

Reports

Year 7 and Year 8 reports will arrive with parents by post before the scheduled Pastoral check-ins next week. Similarly, Year 12 will be sent out over the weekend. If you have any concerns or wish to discuss anything in the reports, please do not hesitate to contact either the relevant subject leader or the Year Group Teams.

Year 8 – Year 9 Creative Curriculum

The letters confirming options and students’ creative curriculum subjects for next year have now been sent to current Year 8 students. As always, it is impossible to accommodate everyone’s first preferences in their entirety and if there is anything you wish to discuss about the subjects, please do contact Ms Pigdon, who will be happy to help via kpigdon@williamhoward.cumbria.sch.uk.

Pastoral Check-In Meetings with Years 7, 8 and 9

Over the last week, the Pastoral Teams across every year group have met dozens of families and students where we felt this was a necessity before the summer break. These have been overwhelmingly positive and we look forward to the more general Pastoral Check-Ins for Key Stage 3 next week, which are taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday:

  • Year 7 + Year 9 – Tuesday, 14 July, 3:00pm to 5:30pm
  • Year 8 + Year 9 – Wednesday, 15 July, 3:00pm to 5:30pm

After an initial bug, the online booking system worked well and this may be one of those things that we take forward for some Tutor evenings in the future. There are in many ways a lot of changes to our practice like that, which have actually been positive developments in the shutdown. The booking system will close at 7.00pm today (Friday, 10 July), but if you were unable to use it and wish to have an appointment with your child’s Form Tutor please do contact the relevant Year Group team. I know that all parents will be conscious of keeping tightly to the time allotted, as other parents will be waiting for their online appointment. If some conversations develop and need more time, we will ensure that this is done before we break up for the summer, although we may have to cut it short on the evening of the initial appointment.

Staff Leaving This Year

As always at this time of the year we say goodbye to a number of staff, who are retiring or moving onto new challenges. Those leaving this year are:

  • Ms Hindley – Head of Drama and Performing Arts (after 29 years at the school!)
  • Mr Booth – Head of Media (who has been with us for 25 years)
  • Mrs Lee – Learning Support (after 19 years)
  • Mrs Mingotti – Student Manager (after 13 years)
  • Mrs Neilson – Maths (after 10 years)
  • Mr Gaunt – Head of Maths (after 6 years)
  • Mr Thompson – Maths
  • Mrs Cruickshank-Hunter – Director of Learning

I am sure you will join me in wishing them the very best for the future and thank them for the tremendous contributions they have all made to the school, from extra curricula to individual support of students. As staff, we will hold a remote leaving event on Friday next week, but it will not be the same as being able to collectively say goodbye to colleagues in person. All of those leaving will be missed by staff and students alike.

Years 7, 8 and 9 Live Help Seminars

The seminars continue and the timetable for these accompanies this Newsletter. Where email support is not enabling a student to overcome any issues with the work, these will continue to be available to help and support them. Email support remains the default mechanism of course, for interacting with staff and should always be tried first. If after doing this, a student is unable to overcome the misunderstanding or issue, they should be encouraged to join a live seminar with a member of staff who will be available to help them. In order to join one of these sessions, students need to email the lead teacher directly (shown on the timetable: Seminar Timetable KS3 14.06.20), asking to be invited to the meeting, at the very latest an hour before it starts, outlining their issue.

Uniform Shop

Having seen Year 10 (who will be Year 11), as they have been back on site, there is no doubt the students have not been idle in the growth department. Some of the students have shot up, as my mother would say, and we are aware that new uniform items will be needed by many. The uniform shop will open on school site again from:

  • Monday, 17 August to Thursday, 27 August 9:30am to 3:00pm (weekdays only)

All relevant regulations will be followed for a retail outlet as they are at that time and further details will be available nearer the time on the school website.

So, into the last week of term we go, one more week for the students to keep up their work and level of effort with their online lessons. As always do contact us if you want to raise any issues or indeed just ask a question. We will always do our very best to answer as promptly as we can.

Yours sincerely

Mr Chris McAree
Headteacher

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