Headteacher’s Weekly Newsletter (20 January 2021)

Dear Parents

As we come to the end of the third week of remote education, hopefully students have settled into a good routine. Our monitoring continues to show a high level of engagement and we have been impressed with how the students are taking the wider opportunities available to them, such as the Curriculum Challenges.

All the students this week or next should have the opportunity to speak directly with their tutors to catch up and discuss how they are getting on. It is really important to us that, as well as liaising with parents, we hear directly from the students on a 1 to 1 basis. If there are concerns or worries we can then help them overcome them and provide support. We would encourage every student to take up this opportunity when invited by their tutor to a meeting.

I will start the Newsletter looking at the launch of the consultation on the exam system for this year.


OFQUAL Consultation on A Levels, GCSEs and Vocational Exams

The consultation from OFQUAL on the system of Centre Assessment for the cancelled summer exams is now live. While there are some key decisions to be made as a result of the consultation, there are some very clear indications as to how much of the system will run:

  • Grades will be based on centre assessment. Exam boards will provide advice on a standardised approach for schools, what evidence should be collected, and how schools should quality assure internally. Grades will be submitted as late as possible to maximise the time for catch-up teaching and ongoing assessment, probably around May half-term.
  • Centre assessment will be based on the current, ongoing performance of students, rather than a hypothetical prediction of what students may have achieved, had exams run as normal; or what students would have achieved had the pandemic not disrupted their learning. It’s not clear how evidence will translate into a grade.
  • Exam boards will provide some external assessment tasks, which would be based on exam paper questions. OFQUAL are consulting on whether these should be mandatory or not, whether teachers could set their own assessments instead, the percentage of the course that the tasks should cover, and the timing of the external assessment.
  • It is recommended that all coursework, where possible, should be completed as it will provide valuable evidence of the standard a student is working at.
  • Exam boards will also provide external quality assurance, both during the process of determining grades, and once grades are submitted. If the exam boards are satisfied with the internal quality assurance of the school, it is unlikely to change grades.
  • Students will have the right to appeal grades, first through the school, and they can then potentially escalate this to exam boards.

We are expecting to see the students back at some point after half term, by which time we should have full answers to the parts of the consultation that do not yet seem to be firmed up. Our staff have of course been making sure they are familiarising themselves with this direction of travel, and students in both Year 11 and Year 13 will continue to be asked to do assessed work alongside completing their courses.

I have reiterated this several times, for students in these year groups, the work they are completing now, whether that is assessment or other learning, will all go towards these holistic judgements, so it is important it is done well and to the very best of their ability.


Students’ School Email Accounts

We would continue to encourage all students to make sure they have ready access to their school email accounts on their personal devices. Notifications of lessons, tasks and assemblies etc are always sent direct to students using these, so they do need to take time to regularly check them.

Any student who has an issue accessing their account, and as a result the VLE or Microsoft Teams, needs to contact ICT support at the school using the links on the school webpage.


Access to Devices

We have distributed well over 100 laptops to students so far and we are able to increase our capacity a little further through the latest tranche of DFE funding. If your child is having difficulty accessing work due to only using a smart phone, or having to share a laptop with several others at home, please do get in contact with their year group team. Where possible we will try to help.


Mobile Data – Data SIM Cards

For any student relying on mobile data with a phone 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 have a device capable of taking a data SIM card, we also have a number of data-only SIM cards to enable it to connect to the internet. If you believe either of these would be of benefit to you please contact the relevant Year Group Manager.


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 Workers Hub

Children of Critical Worker parents should work at home where possible. However, for students where this is not possible, the school Hub does provide a place where they can be supervised while 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.

I hope everyone is managing to stay positive in these times and that you are getting the support you need from the school. As always, if we can help in any way, do take the time to ask – even if we cannot find a solution we may be able to signpost you to someone who can.

Yours sincerely
Chris McAree

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