Headteacher’s Newsletter (May 2021)

Dear Parents

As I write this the sun is oddly warming my desk, a treat in the last few weeks it has to be said. April and the first week of May have been a meteorological surprise. I have to cast my mind back over 30 years to a point I can remember seeing snow in late April, and I don’t remember ever seeing so many frosts. It is no surprise that the oddest of periods of time within school have been to a large extent bookended by two springs at the opposite ends of the possible weather spectrum. Last year’s, and the first lockdown, was glorious and the return to school this spring has been a little chillier than normal.

There is no doubt that the resilience shown by the school community in that time has been remarkable. The students are making progress and are doing well academically. It was a genuine pleasure to speak to parents of my Year 10 class last week, as the students are a collective delight to teach; I know I wasn’t the only member of staff who felt similarly. As reports are sent home we hope parents are seeing just how well the vast majority of students are doing, and it is to their credit the manner in which they have applied themselves. As I often remark, they are not a forgotten generation or left behind, as the media would have us all lamenting. These are responsible, hardworking and diligent young people who want the very best for themselves. It is only a handful of students who we continue to support to help them with significant knowledge gaps, or where they are finding the return to formal school more of a challenge.

As I highlight in this Newsletter we are now firmly thinking ahead and to what comes next. Our task as a school has to be to get the rich opportunities, both in classrooms and outside, re-ignited for all students as soon as we are allowed. It was with a large smile that I approved various Geography pieces of field work and discussed having our new Year 7 on-site in July for transition, as well as many other initiatives. These are really important things we cannot delay in reintroducing, as is getting our Key Stage 3 students back full-time into specialist teaching rooms where they can thrive in subjects and, in the case of Year 7, they need to lose their way as they start to move around school, as they know only 8 rooms in Maths!

While we are of course to an extent occupied by Year 11 and Year 13 grading, in which they have engaged in their numerous assessments extremely well, I want to reassure all parents we are certainly firmly also planning, delivering and enhancing what we can do with the other students. Some information on those lines is included in this Newsletter, but more will follow as we approach half-term. Some of it will be a change, and I am sure that will bring a little bump here and there, but we owe it to our students to make their experience of school as normal as possible as soon we can, and to ensure that those experiences they have missed out on are readily made available again.

Face Masks

It is now confirmed that students will no longer need to wear face masks while in lessons or in communal areas. The last day they are expected to wear them will be this coming Friday, 14 May; staff will still be required to wear face masks in communal areas. I am sure the students will very much welcome this relaxation of the guidance from the Department for Education, especially as the weather becomes warmer and local infection rates have reduced to a very low level. As in September, any student who wishes to make the decision to continue to wear a mask in school, whether in corridors or in classrooms, can of course do so. Students will still be expected to wear face masks on school buses and follow their seating plans, which we will be helping the bus companies to ensure students comply with.

Lateral Flow Test Kits

Students have been issued with lateral flow testing kits that should suffice until the week before half-term. We expect more to be delivered then and they will be issued as we receive them. We would encourage all students to continue to use the kits twice a week to self-test, and to continue to record the results with the NHS. As I write this Newsletter we have had no positive cases identified in the school since the one case identified on 8 March, 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.

Changes to operational running of the school

After Half-Term

Year 11 and Year 13 leave school at half-term and this will considerably reduce the number of students on site. We also have very low local infection rates so, while staying within the system of controls laid out by the DfE, we have decided to take this opportunity to change the way in which the school has been operating since September. The students will continue to have lunches together and will continue to have designated year group toilets, but they will no longer be taught in a designated bubble area after the half-term break. They will be moving between classrooms as in any normal school year. This will give Years 7, 8 and 9 access to Science labs again as well as other teaching rooms.

We will be talking to the students about the new arrangements and issuing new timetables in the week before half-term. This will include the need for them to be fully equipped. In the bubble areas we provided lots of stationery etc for students but, as students will be changing rooms more frequently, it is essential that they bring their own equipment to school such as pens, pencils, rulers, rubbers, planners, calculators. Now that shops have reopened, it’s a perfect opportunity to make sure that your child has all the necessary equipment for school.

Next Year

Like all schools we are evaluating how the school systems have changed since Covid restrictions were introduced and deciding which ones we will keep. There is no doubt we intend not to reintroduce bells in September, we will also continue to start Period 1 at 8.45am and the end of the school day will remain at 2.45pm, as we will not reintroduce the movement times into the school timetable. As we go through next half term we will update our information for parents and students accordingly as systems are confirmed.

Year 11 Induction into the Sixth Form

All students who have expressed a desire to join the Sixth Form next year have been sent details of their induction that will run from Wednesday, 16 June until Thursday, 1 July. This will allow the students to undertake transition lessons in their chosen subjects as well as understand what it means to be a member of our Sixth Form. Any student who has not received details, or who now feels the Sixth Form might be an option for them, should contact Mrs Swan at the school (tswan@williamhoward.cumbria.sch.uk).

We would expect any student intending to join us in September for the Sixth Form to take part in the induction program.

Events for Year 13 and Year 11

We have been fortunate to find bookings for several events for Year 11 and Year 13 at the end of the term. Within their bubbles it is possible this year to have both the traditional leavers’ photographs of the whole year groups, which take place on Monday, 24 May, and also leavers’ assemblies in the last week before half-term. If Covid restriction lifting goes ahead as planned, then both Year 13 and Year 11 will be able to gather in leavers’ events; Year 13 at the Halston and Year 11 at the Garden at Eden for a Prom, which I am sure they are very much looking forward to.

Mental Health

As part of our wellbeing and mental health strategy, Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place this week, from 10-16 May 2021. The theme this year is ‘Nature’. Nature is so central to our psychological and emotional health that it’s almost impossible to realise good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world. During Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we will demonstrate the powerful benefits of nature for our mental health. We will look at nature’s unique ability to not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also to increase our creativity, empathy and a sense of wonder. It is important to understand that even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress.

Additionally, we will be using the EDUKIT wellbeing app to run a diversity and inclusion survey with all students in their PD or IT lessons to support our core value of respect.

Phones in School

As I wrote in my last Newsletter, we have been having a focus on the use of phones around school. These have never been any great problem in lessons and can be useful tools when used correctly. I would remind that small cohort of students and parents one last time of the fairly basic rules we have, which I don’t think anyone could really have issue with:

  • Phones should be switched off and out of sight during lessons and between lessons; a teacher may give permission for their use during lessons;
  • Students can use them before school, at breaks and lunchtimes;
  • If students are caught with them out during a lesson or between lessons 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;
  • Parents should not be contacting students via their mobile phone during the school day, in an emergency parents should contact Reception, who will relay a message to any student if needed;
  • The same rules apply for headphones.

It has been an extraordinary year in school and, at times, a challenging one for families, students and staff. There is no doubt that we can see real prospects ahead of being able to do so much more with the students. We have some guidance we still need to follow but, overall, we can see that positive change is happening with more to come. Over the coming weeks we will endeavour to keep you informed as to how we will be moving forward, as we seize the opportunities that become available.

Best regards
Yours sincerely
Mr Chris McAree, Headteacher

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