22 May 2020

Dear Parents & Carers,


I wrote to all parents, carers and students on Tuesday to offer an overview of our current provision. That letter can be accessed via the following link.


Headteacher’s information letter May 2020


In addition, I would like to offer the following update regarding provision for Year 10 and 12 students in the summer term.


There continues to be an overwhelming amount of debate and conjecture in the press and on social media regarding school re-openings and the provision that schools might make for Years 10 and 12 in the summer term.

Everything that we do at Durham Johnston is based upon the need to support students and to make sure that they are safe, successful and ready for their next steps. As an outstanding school, our staff team, both teaching and support staff, have continued to work diligently either in school in support of the children of keyworkers or from home in support of home learning provision for our 1666 students.  We are all unequivocally committed to opening the school to as many pupils as possible, as soon as possible, when it is safe to do so. We are very keen to offer some ‘face to face’ contact for both Year 10 and Year 12 students in the summer term, with a possible start date of Monday 15th June, but, again, only if safe to do so. 


Prior to the school's closure on 20th March, we contextualised our approach to the pandemic within a comprehensive risk assessment, designed to keep pupils, staff, visitors and the wider community as safe as possible. In the risk assessment we stated;


'The school will undertake to follow advice from appropriate authorities and will ensure a calm, balanced and considered approach in all decision making.' 


We continue to adhere to this undertaking and are committed to communicating with all members of our school community in a transparent way.

In order to open the school to more pupils, we are asked to complete a vast set of tasks to enable further, detailed, risk assessment.  Here are some examples;

  1. Consider constraints on physical space to remap the school for one way systems and social distancing.
  2. Consider the availability of staff and particularly those who are self-isolating or in vulnerable categories.
  3. Obtain PPE, cleaning products, new signage and barrier screening and train staff in the use of new products and systems. Cleaners, for example, will have to be trained to safely manage new ways of working and enhanced sanitisation systems as well as prevention of cross infection. We cannot and would not ask our staff to undertake tasks for which they are not properly trained and confident to undertake, particularly where a risk of infection exists.
  4. Refresh all relevant school risk assessments and other health and safety procedures for fire protection, water safety, maintenance and servicing, cleaning and caretaking regimes.
  5. Ensure all areas of our provision are 'Covid Secure' and meet detailed requirements set down by Public Health England, the Department for Education and Local Authority.
  6. Consult with multiple Unions to ensure that our plans meet their expectations for safe working practices for their members.

This list is illustrative and far from a complete list of the tasks which are required of us. We are very happy to carry out all of the work involved and staff will continue to work to ensure this. We will need time to complete the work involved whilst also developing and maintaining home learning support, in school provision for the children of keyworkers and managing new roles such as delivering FSM vouchers to families.


It is important to note that, at this point, we await the following detail from central Government;

  1. Scientific evidence and modelling for return of Year 10 and Year 12 students, in a clear and accessible format. This would help us to understand the risk of infection for both students and staff as well as the local community amongst whom pupils will circulate to travel into and out of school, many using public transport or school buses. 
  2. Clarity around the expected offer for students in Year 10 and Year 12. It is implied, but not stated, that this age group should not be brought back full time. Is this for practical reasons, or because modelling shows that it is not safe for young people of this age to be brought back on a more full-time basis at this point?
  3. Publication of weekly estimates of the reproduction rate of the virus at a regional level, and a clear trigger point for closing schools.  This could be done by providing a weekly report at a regional level of the R rate, and by establishing a point which automatically triggers the closure of schools and colleges until the R rate falls below an acceptable level again. Our understanding is that this approach would mirror that being taken in Germany. Given the North East has the highest, current 'R' rate in the UK, this seems particularly important.
  4. A reliable and effective test and tracing system which has to be in place ahead of reopening. The government has told us that the decision to proceed with opening to more pupils from 1st June is contingent upon a testing and tracing service being available, but we are not clear on the details of what this should look like before it is considered safe to reopen schools. We hope that the Government will share their benchmark is for this service so that everybody can have confidence that this has been achieved.

Finally, our Corporate Insurance Team have provided the following advice:


Concerns have been raised if the school is insured when a member of staff and/or pupil catches the Coronavirus after returning to school and subsequently sues the school citing negligence.


In this situation, insurance cover would operate as normal if the school was found to be negligent.  The key mitigation to the risk is to ensure that government guidelines are adhered to, including updating risk assessments as appropriate and documenting decisions made.


The decision to re-open a school is technically an operational decision so is a matter for the Headteacher.  However in line with National Governor Association advice, we will seek to consult with our Governing Body on our Risk Assessment as the Governing Body must be assured that it is robust and that the school can adhere to all Government guidelines should it re-open in terms of social distancing and health and safety.

We will, therefore, work relentlessly towards a completed risk assessment which meets all of the criteria above and underpins our ability to increase the number of students in school from mid-June onwards. We are hopeful that we can offer face to face contact for key groups in the summer term, but I wanted all members of our school community know that we are fully committed to students returning to school at the earliest, but also the safest time for them to do so.


I apologise for the amount of detail above but trust that all members of the school community will find it helpful.


A J O’Sullivan