If I cast my mind back to this time of year in 2019, I would normally have been talking about the hectic period of coursework completion and marking that goes on before we get into the full swing of external exams. Instead, for the last two years we have been looking at a different scenario for the GCSE and A Level students. In many ways the system now in place will make it even busier than normal, as it is much more robust than last year and should guard against the grade inflation that was seen in some institutions. The whole exam scenario does really sum up the last 12 months, which have been different to say the least. We are all adapting to different ways of doing things, but always with the aim of finding a way of making sure time spent is productively, so that our students are able to progress in their studies or onto to the next stage of education or training.
The ability of the students to react flexibly to the systems is admirable, especially in the exam year groups where their grades are the platform for their progression routes. That is why the sense of purpose with which the vast majority of the students have returned to school is so very commendable. They are applying themselves well and they continue to build upon the good foundations they laid while studying remotely and in the autumn term. We know that for a small number of students we have gaps to help them to fill, and that work continues, as does the need to support a handful who have found the return to formal schooling a challenge. Our aim has to be to have them back on track with their peers as soon as is humanly possible.
I am sure that Easter will be a welcome break for everyone. With some easing of restrictions, we all hope that a greater sense of normality will start to prevail over the coming weeks. I would encourage all students to take part in any wider activities they can, in and out of school. Their participation in such things is so important for their development. We need to try to ensure that everyone has a release. Whether that be a hobby, solid friendship groups, sport, performing arts or, in my case, gardening, we all need something that allows us to detach from the unavoidable pressures of modern life, especially of late.
It is something we should never devalue within our education systems, or lose sight of at home. As a school we are certainly determined not to do so, and we will reintroduce as many activities as we can as soon as we can. In the meantime, I do hope that everyone finds time to have a restful Easter holiday.
Lateral Flow Test Kits
Students have been issued with a further two sets of lateral flow testing kits today. These will be sufficient to enable them to continue to self-test twice a week during the Easter break; the week of their return to school we are anticipating they will be issued with further kits to continue the testing at home during the next half-term. We would encourage all students to use the kits and to continue to record the results with the NHS.
As I write this Newsletter we have had no positive cases identified in any students this half term, except for one that was detected on the first Tuesday we returned to school. I am sure, like me, everyone is thankful for this as it has meant no disruption to students learning.
We recognise that this last half term it has been difficult for some parents to access new items of uniform for some students. As non-essential retail reopens on Monday, 12 April, we will be much more stringent around uniform compliance after the Easter break. All students should have the correct trousers, properly fitting shirts or blouses and black footwear for the return to school.
Phones in School
If we have noticed one thing since being back in school, it is that a small minority of students have developed an unhealthy addiction to their mobile phones. It is normally rare we deal with issues around phones in school. Indeed, it is fair to say that for the vast majority of students this continues to be the case, and they respect and understand the school policy well. Digital tools are certainly not going away and we recognise the fact that phones are vital communication tools, and actually aid learning in certain circumstances; that is why we have our BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) network and actively encourage students to use it. It is, though, worth at times reminding everyone, parents and students, of the rules in school on the use of mobile phones to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings:
- Phones should be switched off and out of sight during lessons; a teacher may give permission for their use during lessons;
- Students can use them before school, at breaks and lunchtimes;
- Students should have them switched off and out of sight between lessons;
- If students are caught with them out during a lesson or outside a lesson they will be confiscated. If this happens they will be removed until the end of the day, or the Friday of that week if a persistent problem;
- The same rules apply for headphones.
On that note, it has to be said that we have a small minority of parents who contact their children during the course of the day using their mobiles. The students are then on occasions late to lessons as, no matter what the intention, they feel obliged to answer. I cannot emphasise enough that this should not need to be done. If you need to get an urgent message to a student, phoning the school will ensure this gets through. Parents should not be disturbing lessons with calls or messages sent to their children. The world, and keeping people informed, worked perfectly well before mobiles, and occasionally a few parents would do well to remember that.
Extracurricular Opportunities, International Visits and Trips
We are pleased to gradually increase the extra-curricular opportunities for all students where it is safe to do so. These span those clubs and activities students access on a daily basis in school, as well as trips and experiences beyond the classroom.
Planning for international visits linked to a number of curriculum areas has already begun with the launch of the annual ski trip for February 2022, which has seen a very enthusiastic take up by students across year groups.
We would reassure students that there will be many opportunities to take part in our other school trips which are yet to be publicised. Further details of these, and how to apply for them, will be shared in the coming half term and beyond.
These trips will be across key stages 3,4 and 5, with a variety of options to suit different budgets and personal interests. For example, we look forward to sharing details of visits to France and Spain for those studying languages, as well as the return of our wider international offer to Taiwan and Tanzania. In addition, curriculum areas are putting together details of subject specific experiences beyond the classroom, some of which will be local. Further details of proposed trips and visits will be available in the next half term via the website and newsletter. The schedule will be provisional given the current circumstances, but we are excited to begin this initial stage of our offer. Should you have any questions in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact Mrs O’Connor via the main school reception.
Plans for Year 11 Induction into the Sixth Form
The lack of exams in the summer is giving us the ability to think differently about how we do induction into the Sixth Form for our current Year 11 students. While the official leaving date for Year 11 students is yet to be determined, there is no doubt that it will be at some point before the submission date for their grades on 18 June, potentially sometime around the May half-term break. This gives the opportunity for us to work productively with the students to ensure that they are fully prepared for joining the Sixth Form in September after they officially leave, when they would have otherwise have been doing exams. While greater detail will be forthcoming as our plans develop, we do envisage our Sixth Form induction taking place over a number of weeks in June, ending by 2 July; the exact timings are yet to be determined. Our current thinking is that this will enable subject staff to work on key skills that are required for A Levels and Level 3 courses, as well as some other activities. We know from last year’s virtual bridging work that this will have a positive effect on students’ ability to engage with their studies in Year 12 and is something we want to build on this year.
We would expect any student intending to join us in September for the Sixth Form to take part in the induction program.
Cars Idling Outside of School
We have been asked to let you know that from Thursday, 1 April Carlisle City Council Civil Enforcement Officers who notice a car idling while they are outside school can ask the driver to turn the engine off, and can issue a fine if the driver refuses. They hope that most people will comply with the request to turn the engine off and not get to the fine. The Officers will use common sense so, if it is a cold day and the engine needs to be on for the heating, then the driver will not be asked to turn the engine off.
Some signs will be going up around the city to highlight that idling is an offence. Many people may not be aware that this is an offence, or how harmful the exhaust fumes can be, especially for children’s health, so the council hope this campaign will help raise a bit of awareness and try to help the environment too.
It promises to be an exciting half term to come after Easter, and I thank you for your support with your children in all that we do. Do remember that if you should have any concerns or questions we are always here to help. Using the links available on the Contacts page, it is easy to find the contact details for relevant staff and they will respond to you as soon as timetables and other commitments allow.
Mr Chris McAree