There is no doubt that the last 14 months have been incredibly challenging for everyone and that life in school has been increasingly very, very different for both staff and students. The significant disruption to learning as a result of the need to self isolate in the first term of this academic year was followed by two months of remote learning and an announcement that GCSE and A level exams would not be taking place this summer (despite the cast-iron guarantee several weeks earlier that they would). The subsequent return to school on March 8 went hand in hand with a government expectation to mass test all staff and students three times where consent was given (a huge undertaking in its own right), a requirement that students wear face coverings in the classroom and a further request that staff and students undergo twice-weekly tests at home. Students continue to be taught in specific areas of the school, with staff not teaching in their usual classrooms and the school still unable to provide the wide variety of extra-curricular opportunities that we pride ourselves on.
Whilst this has been exceptionally difficult for staff, it has been at least as difficult for students. The changes to the school day, including break and lunches, and the way staff can interact with students in lessons has meant that day-to-day teaching has been very different in many cases. The cancellation of formal GCSE and A level examinations this summer with the requirement for ‘teacher assessed grades’ has no doubt meant this term has been extremely stressful for students in Year 11 and Year 13. We are awaiting decisions from the government on whether amendments will be made to examinations in 2022.
Understandably, this year we have certainly seen a significant increase in the number of students who are struggling with their emotional wellbeing. We remain committed to supporting our students and their families as best we can and should you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our experienced and dedicated pastoral team is always ready to support our students and their families where necessary.
Given how difficult this year has been, the overwhelming majority of students have responded extremely well to the new restrictions and changing regulations. Their cooperation and maturity have been invaluable in enabling us to follow the DfE guidance for schools, whilst providing as much ‘normality’ as possible. I would also like to thank you for your support, which has been vital in ensuring that the school can continue to operate in a calm, safe and effective way.
I fully understand there is a wide range of opinions on every aspect of the pandemic, and we have navigated the complexities of the scientific and medical evidence by following the government guidance at each step. I thank you for your understanding and support as we continue to try and do our very best for all members of our school community and their families.
I am sure that many of you have heard the government’s announcement on Monday afternoon that students will no longer need to wear masks in secondary schools and colleges. Ministers have said that the decision is expected to ‘hugely improve’ interactions between teachers and students. We recognise that the issue of face coverings will no doubt continue to divide the opinion of staff, students and parents and we wanted to offer additional information regarding our response.
It is really important to note, however, that both students and staff may still wear face masks at any time if they feel more comfortable doing so. In addition, the government guidance makes it clear that the ‘reintroduction of face coverings for pupils, students or staff may be advised for a temporary period in response to particular localised outbreaks, including variants of concern.’
Details released this week have stated that infection rates are at their lowest level since last September, and deaths and hospitalisations are at their lowest points since last July with more than two-thirds of adults having been vaccinated. The government decision regarding face coverings in school has taken into consideration the latest scientific evidence, medical advice and stakeholder feedback, both for and against. Support for the decision has been provided by a wide range of leading practitioners including John Simpson, Head of Public Health Advice, Guidance and Expertise Pillar (PHAGE) at Public Health England, and the Children’s Commissioner, Rachel de Souza. Further information on this can be found here.
Throughout the pandemic we have consistently followed the guidance set out by the DfE and therefore, from Monday 17 May, we will no longer be expecting students to wear face coverings in class or in communal areas. Similarly, we will no longer be recommending that staff wear face coverings in classrooms, but staff and visitors are still asked to wear these outside of classrooms where social distancing is not possible. e.g. corridors and offices.
The guidance around face coverings has only changed within the school environment and all other guidance around this still stands. e.g. young people over the age of 11 are still expected to wear a face covering on public transport.
Whilst this has been an extraordinary year, we are looking to the near future with hope and optimism. The latest easing of Covid restrictions allows a number of steps in the right direction towards a return to normality. It is hoped that this will continue and Step 4 in the government’s roadmap, expected to be from June 21 onwards, is already eagerly awaited by all of us in school. Further details on this are expected at the end of this month.
As always, if there are any questions, please do ask. Thank you again for your continued support.
Mark Jackson, Headteacher