Headteacher’s Weekly Newsletter (13 January 2021)

Dear Parents

It is nice to report that the weekend and last few days have brought little change to the education system, and I am hopeful that we will now see a period of some stability. We, like everyone else, do await the OFQUAL consultation on the methods being proposed for assessing our Year 11 and Year 13 students, which I am sure we will see at the end of this week in consultation form.

This Newsletter is therefore very much an operational one that concentrates on systems, support, some tweaks to our practice and the wider package of activities that are now available for students as they engage purposefully in their remote learning.

GCSE and A Levels

The Secretary of State has now formally written to OFQUAL laying out the parameters for the consultation on the system for teacher assessment in order to award grades in the summer. This letter is available to download on the DFE website for those interested in reading it in full. It is clear that the consultation will have in it some key elements:

  • The grades will be determined at the last possible date so as to allow students to have the best chance to secure work at the standard they are aiming for
  • The grades will be based on a wide range of evidence
  • The consultation will propose that external set tasks/tests are provided to schools to help them form their judgements
  • In vocational subjects all internal based units should be completed as normal
  • There will be external moderation of the grades so evidence will need to be within tolerance of a general standard for grades awarded.

The finer detail will of course come out in the next few weeks. The letter is a very clear steer that every piece of work which students are now completing should be done to the very best of their ability. The better the quality of the work, the better the evidence base will be for teachers to draw upon when we see that finer level of detail in the coming weeks. The Secretary of State’s letter is certainly not the final arrangement, but it is a very good insight into what students and staff can expect in broad terms.

Remote Learning

The engagement of the students in their remote learning has been very high in the first week of term, especially given the temptation to sledge at the end of the week! We are only currently chasing up single digit numbers of students in each year group to get them engaged in their learning. We will also now be following up the minority of students who are not currently completing all the work that they are set. This is done initially by staff emailing the students directly. If the student does not respond, we will be contacting parents for support in ensuring that students are keeping up with their learning.

We know the systems in place work, as the vast majority of our students returned to school in September without having developed significant learning gaps. We are of course aiming for this to be the case this year as well. In many ways, the need to maintain parity with peers is even stronger as the students will be returning to lessons during the same academic year, and anyone not up to date with their curriculum coverage and learning will find the return to onsite learning, hopefully in March or April, very difficult indeed.

Our systems for remote learning were developed over the previous lockdown and our remote learning policy has always been available on the school website since last March. As we have evolved systems we have updated the policy accordingly. This will be republished next week in the format the DFE has recommended. An addition will be that we will also be publishing alongside it, for every subject, the topics and learning aims for this half term, alongside how students will be assessed in each subject, and how they will receive regular feedback. This should allow parents to have a very good overview on what students are being asked to complete and why.

We recognise that many families face challenges around broadband capacity, number of devices available and connectivity, especially with many parents now also working at home. In the last couple of weeks we have distributed a large number of laptops to help, but we know that we cannot overcome all the pressures. Our systems, we hope, do take into account most scenarios, but if there are any particular issues your child is facing please do let us know so that we can try to address them.

Support with Broadband and Data Allowances
We know that streaming video lessons and materials to devices can put pressure on household data allowances, dependent on how families access the internet. There are some systems that various companies have put into place to help, which I would like to highlight to you:

BT Broadband
Have removed the caps on all home broadband plans so that every customer has unlimited data to use to support working from home or remote learning.

Mobile Data Support for families in receipt of Free School Meals
For any family that qualifies for Free School Meals and relies on mobile data to access the internet, using either EE, O2, Vodafone, Three, Sky Mobile, SMARTY, Tesco Mobile or Virgin Mobile, we can apply to have their data allowance increased at no cost. If you think you fall into this category please contact the relevant Year Group Manager as we will need some details from you.

Data SIM cards
We have a number of data only SIM cards that have been donated to us from Vodafone. If you have an old smart phone then one of these cards could be used to enable another device in your household. If this would be of benefit to you please contact your child’s Year Group Manager.

Live 1-1 Teacher Support for students during timetabled lessons
During every timetabled lesson we have subject staff available to give live support. In the past we have done this by holding an open Teams meeting in the form of a seminar which students could join and leave as they wished. However, we don’t feel that this provided the 1-1 support some students needed, and we also know some students did not want to ask for help if they felt other students were watching online. Therefore, we have changed the system slightly. Instead of the open Teams meeting we have provided the students with the contact email of the member of staff available. If the student emails the member of staff, they will call the student into a 1-1 Teams meeting by return and provide the help the student needs. This is much more bespoke for the individual who needs the support. The links for each year group and lessons are on the Live Support Timetables in the VLE.

Contacting Staff
All staff emails are accessible by the students through their school email accounts, and if in doubt about any work they can always drop them a quick message. The staff are excellent at replying and
will do all they can to support. This may be by email or, alternatively, by having a 1-1 Teams meeting with the student. We would of course encourage all students to remember email etiquette when contacting staff. It is both polite and good practice to make sure that the email starts with Dear Mr etc, or a similar salutation. We have had some students who have been over familiar in their tone of emails, and we would remind everyone that emails should read in a similar manner as you would normally converse with the person receiving it. They should not be written like social media posts.

Marking Work as Completed
The day to day tracking of work completion is done by monitoring if students have marked that they have completed the lessons they have been set. All students must make sure they indicate when they have finished their lessons by marking them as complete. If a student has forgotten how to do this they can find the guide on the school website on the VLE to help them. The second stage of work tracking is then the marking of submitted assessments, which check that the learning which the students have completed has been secured. The students will always receive timely feedback on their completed assessment work from their teachers.

Live Teams Meetings/Lessons Protocol
Students who are in live Teams lessons or meetings with staff need to make sure that they always have their cameras on. This creates more of a classroom feel and helps the teacher gauge how students are understanding topics they are covering. It also allows for better interaction around question and answer sessions. These meetings and lessons are also normally recorded so students can review them, and for Safeguarding.

Spare Exercise Books
A reminder that if a student completes their current book in any subject then spare books are available from the front of the school. A selection of sizes, colours and layouts are on the table by the main entrance for people to collect as needed.

Vulnerable Students and Critical Worker Hub

The Government clarified late on Friday, one of only two pieces of new guidance from the weekend, that children of Critical Worker parents should work at home where possible. For students where this is not possible the school Hub does provide a place where they can attend school and be supervised completing their remote learning. Anyone needing a place for a child in the hub needs to contact Wendy Dixon, wdixon@williamhoward.cumbria.sch.uk It may take a day or two to arrange a place as we may need to adjust staffing levels, which we are understandably keeping to a minimum currently.

Free School Meals

The second piece of new guidance on Friday was about Free School Meal provision. I am glad to report that we will be able to continue to provide families with vouchers through the Wonde system. This is our preferred method as it is the one that the Local Authority use during holidays and so hopefully gives continuity to families. Eligible families will have a £15 voucher for each student in receipt of Free School Meals sent to them weekly. If you believe that your circumstances may now mean that you are eligible to qualify for Free School Meals please do apply through the County Council at:
https://www.cumbria.gov.uk/childrensservices/schoolsandlearning/freeschoolmeals.asp

Careers Information, Advice and Guidance

To support Year 9 students with the upcoming options process during Thursday’s pastoral briefings they will be sent information from each subject area about their GCSE courses as part of a Futures Thursday careers focus. The briefing will consist of an introduction to GCSE study from the
Curriculum Leader, a curriculum road map highlighting key areas of study over the two-year course and a video of a speaker explaining how the subject impacted on their career choice. These resources are available to view following the briefing via the student careers page on the VLE. During last term Year 11 students took part in Futures Thursday broadcasts each week from a range of Post 16 providers. These resources will remain available for students to access via the careers page.

Mrs Meakin has met a number of Year 11 students during last term for 1-1 careers meetings. These will continue remotely during this half term and, if students have not booked an appointment for their meeting, they can do this via the school careers page.

Houses

Thank you for all of the donations to Acacia House’s Charity CFM Cash for Kids and Mission Christmas during the run up to the end of term. We were overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the whole school community in supporting local families at a financially challenging time of year. The charity wanted us to pass on their thanks to you for your contributions this year and to let you know how much you have made a difference to local teenagers.

Last term we had some wonderful entries into our Staff and Student Bake Off competition, with Morven Yerbury in Year 7 our Star Baker. The staff winner for the second year running was Mrs Magson. We are asking students during this half term to tell us about their heroes. They can submit their entries to their House Heads via the school webpage and we will put together a Hero wall to celebrate them.

Extra-Curricular Clubs and Challenges

Students are encouraged to engage with their favourite subjects and clubs beyond the curriculum. They have the option of participating in a number of challenges and online clubs, from Dr Who Club to a Recycling Science project, to Spring poetry in English, through to architectural building projects from DT and even Dance and Drama themed options. There are a wide range of challenges to suit all interests, from the physical to the creative. Favourite clubs such as Open Spaces are represented with some wonderful chances to get close to nature. Historians and Geographers won’t be disappointed either. There are some exciting photography challenges spanning themes to suit all interests.

Students can find the whole range of extra-curricular projects and clubs on the VLE and information also goes out in the student participation live broadcasts. Many challenges will lead to prizes or the chance to see work displayed in school, so get involved… there’s no time like the present to find a challenge that suits you!

As always, I will sign off wishing everyone well and re-emphasising that you should contact us if in doubt. We will always do our very best to help, support and find solutions.

Yours sincerely
Chris McAree
Headteacher

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