Headteacher’s Weekly Newsletter (27 January 2021)

Dear Parent

With much speculation abounding in the press over the timing of a return of students to school, it is best at times to ignore what I consider to be little more than conjecture. We do know that the return of students to schools will be the first sign of any lifting of restrictions and that Year 11 and Year 13, for secondary schools, will be priority year groups. In order to fulfil the outline requirements we know of from the OFQUAL consultation into awarding grades in the summer, these year groups will have to return to school sooner rather than later. It is for that reason I expect to see them back in early to mid-March. Beyond those year groups, we will all have to wait and see what is announced in due course, though I do expect we will see some indications of the direction of travel in the near future. While we should not expect firm dates, I am hopeful that we will get an indication of how students will be returning and in what order, if it is a phased approach when it comes.

In the meantime, we should all be focussed on high levels of engagement and supporting learning remotely. The students continue to do very well, and I am always heartened by the positive support so many of them get from their parents. We know it is a demanding time for everyone. I will start my Newsletter by looking at some support that is always available to help every student:

1 to 1 Subject Support
Every student can access 1 to 1 subject support through the use of the support timetables in the VLE for their year group. During their normal timetabled lessons there is always a subject specialist on hand to give 1 to 1 support with their work over Teams to any student who needs it. No student should ever feel like they are stuck on their lesson, there is always someone to help. If, due to broadband capacity issues or device access, they cannot access the support at that time then please encourage them to email their normal teacher who will do all they can to support. They can often find the time to meet them online and go through work.

Curriculum Maps for this Half Term
We know parents like to know what is coming in each subject, as do many students. In the Remote Learning section of the website you will find the curriculum maps for each subject for this half term, showing what is being learnt by the students, the key learning aims, when their assessments are, and also how they will be receiving feedback on their work. These are there to help students plan, and also make sure they can manage how they catch up effectively if a student is behind. These will of course be updated for next half-term as and when needed.

Challenges and Competitions
Five hours of academic work a day, as required to be set by the Department of Education, is tiring. We recognise this, and that is why we have so many different challenges available for the students to get them thinking a little outside of the box and looking at things that may prick their interests a little. There is a challenge for most subjects on the VLE which we would encourage all students to have a look at. Some of the responses so far have been outstanding.

Taking Care when Working on Devices all day
As someone who spends the majority of my time each day looking at screens, and as someone who already wears glasses, I am very conscious of the effect of eye strain from using electronic devices constantly. The 20-20-20 rule is one that I would encourage all students to adopt. It is a relatively widely publicised method of helping combat some of the effects of fixing our eyesight on set focal lengths. The rule is that after 20 minutes’ screen time you should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This allows your eye muscles to relax and stops some of the strain. I am no optician, but I have adapted it over time to be 20 minutes, close my eyes for 20 seconds and then look around my room for 20 seconds, which seems to work for me. Whatever system you use the message is clear – you need to cast your eyes away from a screen every now and again for short periods.

Devices and Data
Now we are in week 4 we do believe we have addressed device access and connectivity for those students who need it, where we can. We are well aware that for many families, relatively poor broadband connections and a lack of 4G signal means that connectivity is never going to be great, especially when multiple people in a household are on the internet. However, if you are having issues with students being able to access devices, or you have broadband that has a low connection speed but can get a decent 4G signal, then please get in touch with the relevant student manager as we may be able to help.


Year 9 Futures Ready – The Start of Options and Information

We will be writing to Year 9 parents to outline the start of the Year 9 Options process, which obviously has had to change from the normal Options Evening. Each week Thursday briefings for Year 9 focus on a different option subject so that they can find out about the courses and what they might want to study next year. On the Futures area of the VLE, there is additional information on each subject. The main aspect of options will be starting after half term – but it is important students take time to look through the information available now. We plan to hold the Year 9 Parents Evening on Wednesday, 3 March, as scheduled, as part of this process and further information will come out in due course about this.

Year 11 – Sixth Form Open Evening

This time of year normally also sees us inviting Year 11 students in for the Sixth Form Open Evening. This year it will be virtual too, and we aim to have individual subject course introductory videos on-line, as well as a general introduction to the Sixth Form, for the first week back after half-term. On Wednesday, 24 February we will be holding a Face to Face parents evening for parents and students with subject specialists, so that they can then discuss in greater detail courses and options for September. The booking system and process of how this works will be sent to parents in the coming week. Suffice to say it should be possible for students and parents to choose to meet teachers for up to five different subjects on the evening of 24 February using Microsoft Teams for those personalised discussions.

If there is anything you wish us to think about, or want to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact us at the school. We will always do our very best to reply promptly and constructively.

Yours sincerely
Chris McAree

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