Throughout my career I have always told people, when asked what I do, that I love my job as every day is different; that there is nothing better than working with our young people who have an unlimited capacity to amaze. Since March nothing could be truer than that.
This year has been a challenge for everyone. I certainly could not have predicted in February, as I received a text message from Mrs Tait on her party returning from the Ski Trip, that the next week I would be writing our first Covid-19 based letter to reassure that our students had not been near the then emerging Italian Covid hotspot. As they say, that was only the start and it would be rather trite of me to try to recap what has gone on since locally, nationally and internationally.
I will, though, reflect on two sets of people. The first are the students themselves. The vast majority adapted to home learning with an admirable enthusiasm and commitment, managing to keep up to date with much of their work. They returned to school, in different conditions and to new rules and have for the main been a credit to everyone. Yes, we have had some blips, as we would expect, but we have attendance (excluding Covid reasons) that is at least as high as last year, and we have a third fewer exclusions. Progress in lessons is good, a very small number need and are getting catch-up support, but overall the desire to learn and be part of school life is, if anything, stronger for what has taken place. The students should be proud of what they have achieved, each one of them deserves a lot of credit as they reach the end of what has been a successful term. A thank you to parents as well for trusting us to minimise risks as much we can. We are well aware that many of you have your own concerns and worries, and that the students being back successfully has alleviated them a little.
The second set of people are the staff who switched at speed from on-site provision to remote learning. They coped well with the ever increasing demands we placed on them, and together we provided high quality remote learning, while still maintaining many aspects of normal school life, like House competitions and assemblies. They have similarly adapted well to the new conditions this term, some overcoming significant personal worries, to make sure that the students’ experience has been as normal as possible. There is no doubting the strain this has placed on them. The movement around site from room to room, setting work for self-isolating students as well as teaching normal lessons has been wearing for all, and the increase in duties tiring. The overall vibe is positive all the same and I am sure I speak for them all when I say it’s just been great to see the students back in school. As always, I cannot thank them enough for their professionalism. As a school we are proud of what we continue to offer our students.
As I write this the first person in the UK has just been vaccinated and we all can now expect things to eventually return to “normal”, probably around April/May. There is much learning to do before then, and I am sure that all the students will appreciate the upcoming break before they start the spring term renewed, especially Year 13 who will be returning to mock exams!
Last time I wrote we had seen few cases and I warned of the commentator’s curse. I suppose it is fair to say that I should know better, as in the last three weeks we have seen a slight increase in cases, though still relatively few in total.
We have had a case in Year 8, one in Year 9, two in Year 10 and one in Year 12 that led to students having to be tracked and traced. In total some 130 students have had to spend time in self-isolation as a result of this process. We have also been informed of three other positive cases that have occurred outside the window for track and trace. So, overall, we have not had as many cases as the vast majority of schools locally, though each and every time we have to send students home to self-isolate we do it with a very heavy heart, as we know they would all prefer to be here in school.
As we approach the last week of term I would ask that all parents are extra vigilant with regards to the symptoms and that no student is sent into school who is displaying even a hint of them. I am sure everyone appreciates that, while we might not be able to pre-empt all cases, we can certainly protect against those where students are already symptomatic; in two of the cases this term the number of students asked to self-isolate has been nearly doubled by a student attending school who parents have then said was symptomatic when they were in. In normal times I am a proponent of ‘if in doubt attend’ – but this year, with Christmas offering some sort of wider gatherings for families, I am asking for utmost caution, so if in doubt don’t attend.
I am hoping we can all avoid the situation where we have to contact any families in the last week of term to advise on self-isolation as that will cover Christmas day itself.
Looking around the Sports Hall where I spend every second break with Year 11, I had a crazy idea that while really big gatherings aren’t possible for families this Christmas actually the students all gather as year groups and sit down for dinner, so why not make it Christmas dinner for one day. Armed as I was with my moment of inspiration, we discussed it across Cumbria Education Trust and indeed that is exactly what we are going to do. CET will be providing a Christmas dinner for all the students this year at no charge, where we hope they can sit down, talk to their friends and relax. In the last week of term (or the penultimate Friday for the Sixth Form) we are going to cycle through the year groups, rearrange some timetables here and there, so every year group can sit down, enjoy a Christmas dinner together and hopefully have a nice memory to finish the calendar year with – it will be the biggest Christmas dinner most will ever attend!
I just now have to survive meeting my Catering Manager, who is now in line to cook 1,400 dinners in six days! Joking aside, I am sure they will be occasions the students enjoy.
We are collecting toys and gifts for teenagers as part of this year’s campaign. If you would like to donate please do. Any items should be new and unopened and can be handed in either at the year group offices, reception (where there is a trolley to drop gifts into) or to any of the House team. We have students from our own community who have registered for Mission Christmas this year, and if you are able to donate it would make a real difference to a local family.
On the last day of term staff and students can wear a Christmas jumper/accessory to promote Mission Christmas. There is no compulsion to make a donation for this and students are expected to be in full uniform apart from the jumper/accessory. If students are able to make a contribution we would encourage them to do so using the buckets that will be on the entrance doors that day.
On which note it just leaves me to say that I wish everyone a restful and peaceful Christmas break, which is both enjoyable and relaxing for one and all. It is certainly a break I am looking forward to in order to recharge a little before returning for the spring term.
Mr Chris McAree