8 June 2020

Dear Students, Parents and Carers,


I hope that you and your families are well and please accept my apologies for the slight delay with this update. There are a number of important updates to share this week and I would also like to explain our plans for this half-term. This is usually a very different time at school. Year 13 and Year 11 students would be in the middle of the exam season and younger students would have access to the cricket pitch, tennis courts and 3G pitch as part of our move to a single lunch. Year 6 and Year 11 students would be visiting for induction days and we would be meeting with new parents and carers. I’ve frequently referenced similar points, but I’m sure that all members of the school community are missing the usual rituals of a summer term.


In my last update, I shared with you that the Local Authority had decided that 15th June was, hopefully, a safer starting point for all schools in Durham to return. The Department for Education had also identified that date for secondary schools to provide some ‘face to face’ contact for Year 12 and Year 10 students and we are looking forward to doing so.  That guidance is very clear in offering schools flexibility in how they approach contact and schools nationally have been focusing upon what is ‘safe, achievable and beneficial.’  Therefore, I would like to offer updates for all year groups, but it would seem logical to start with Years 12 and 10. 


Years 12 and 10 – On Wednesday 3rd June we asked Year 10 parents and carers to complete a very simple survey to identify whether they would access provision in school. If yes, we asked how students would travel to and from school. On Thursday Mrs Lennon shared a similar survey with Year 12 students and their families. The surveys were intended to gauge possible numbers, to allow us a first impression of risk and to then be able to consider which rooms we would use and the level of staffing that might be necessary. I know that answering such a simple first question is very difficult. There are many questions that students, parents and carers will have regarding the potential risk of returning to school and the nature of the provision that we can offer. With that in mind, I intend to write to all Year 10 and 12 students and parents on Tuesday 9th June to offer a comprehensive overview of why we are returning, the potential concerns in doing so and the manner in which we will plan to mitigate those risks. Our main priority, as ever, will be the well-being and safety of all students that attend. We will offer Year 10 pastoral support, help with practical issues, guidance for Year 11, academic review and guidance in core subjects. Our focus for Year 12 will be very similar; pastoral and practical support, academic review and preparation for higher education or employment via personal statements. We have nearly 100% Year 12 engagement with subject teachers at present via Microsoft Teams and that will continue to be our main form of support and communication in the short-term. 


We hope to offer provision in the following weeks as a starting point: 


  • Week beginning 15th June – for Year 12.  
  • Week beginning 22nd June – for Year 10.  
  • Week beginning 29th June – for Year 10.  
  • Week beginning 6th July – for Year 12.  


As Headteacher I feel an obvious sense of responsibility to all members of our school community and will do everything within my power to provide a safe environment. As noted above, we will provide detailed information for the families of Year 10 and 12 next week and I would then urge you to make a decision based upon your personal circumstances. Attendance is not compulsory, but we will do our utmost to provide a welcoming and safe environment for the students that do return and, obviously, we are very keen to see them.


Year 9 – Students chose their options in January and, unless students requested changes, or Mrs McFadden spoke with a student directly at that time, those GCSE choices have been possible. Students would usually be completing the KS3 curriculum during this half-term and would have started their GCSE subjects in Science and RE. Year 9 students should now focus upon the subjects that they have chosen for GCSE. Subject teachers know which students are not continuing with their subjects and will not expect work to be completed. We have chosen not to remove students from Year 9 Subject Teams – that would seem a little brutal and students might still want to be in touch – but we would encourage students to prioritise their chosen subjects during this half-term. For example, they could read through the Year 10 materials for their chosen subjects. We have reviewed the curriculum and Year 9 students have been taught all of the statutory elements of their subjects. Please let us know, via the general school email, if you have any questions or if your child is unsure about which subjects they have chosen.


Years 7 and 8 – Younger students should continue to familiarise themselves with Microsoft Teams and to use the Teams guidance on the website if they are unsure. As a parent or carer, please contact us if your child is struggling to log on or to remember their password. A large number of students have started to use Teams very effectively, but we are happy to offer support if you have IT issues or need extra support. Students should log on to Teams on a daily basis and should focus upon the work that has been set since 1st June. This will allow teachers to offer feedback and for students to ask questions.

There is also an important update regarding language choices for Year 7 students. Please click on the following link to read an update from Mrs Wood, the Subject Leader for Languages:


Language Options for Year 7


Years 11 and 13 – Our older students should continue to use the transition materials on the school website, to contact the 6th form team if they have any questions and to seek careers guidance from the school if needed. All Year 11 students had informed the school about their next steps, but please contact us if your circumstances or plans have changed. We are also working on tips and guidance from current Year 12 students to help with transition and students should check the website for updates. There are enrichment activities on the school website for Year 13 students and we would advise that Year 13 students remain familiar with A level content that will be relevant to their degree choices if they intend to study at University.  


Remote Learning – We are continuing to improve our remote learning offer for all students. Years 7 to 9 began to use Microsoft Teams from 1st June 2020 and we are providing training opportunities for teaching staff, students and parents in the coming weeks so that Teams can be used more effectively. We intend to provide additional guidance for the website, to identify protocols for the use of Teams, and we have asked teachers to focus upon one task per week for students to make the system more manageable. In the letter sent home prior to half-term, I shared the email address that can be used if you have any issues with IT or Teams; please let us know if you are having any issues and we will help as quickly as possible. It is also important to note that we are aware that students are currently completing different levels of work each day and that this is worrying them and their families. By setting short, weekly tasks we hope that all students will begin to work more consistently. However, it is also important that students do not get anxious about doing too much or too little. This is a national crisis that has been beyond the control of students and families and this period of work will not be viewed detrimentally when students return to school. Not everyone will have been able to complete all of the work set, and no one will be penalised because of that. A I have advised before, students should plan the work that they intend to complete each day and then prioritise one simple task per subject as a starting point. That will have a genuine impact over the coming six weeks.


Free School Meals & Trip Refunds – We will be delivering the next round of Free School Meal vouchers in the coming week. Our support staff have also been working very hard on refunds for trips and the next round of those deliveries will be made to families next week too.  


The children of Key Workers – Our school for the children of key workers will be available throughout this half term. We will be moving to a larger area on Monday 8th June to accommodate an increase in numbers and to ensure that the children of key workers are in a completely separate environment to returning Year 10 and Year 12 students. It is important that different groups remain in protected ‘bubbles’ and we will make sure that groups of returning students are kept separate.


Transition & Induction – We would usually have had our induction evenings for Year 6 parents and carers at this point in the year. We would be preparing to welcome Year 6 and Year 11 students for induction days and Year 6 students and their parents would be due to meet Form Tutors. The Department for Education has advised that those events cannot take place at present, but we are producing online materials for Year 6 and Mr Simpson will visit a number of primary schools to meet with students. We are offering similar support for Year 11 students and hope that we might be able to invite some students into school before the end of term. Please check for updates on the induction section of the school website. We will continue to plan for September and will make sure that students are well supported when they join us. Durham Johnston is proud to be a large comprehensive school and we will make sure that new students are given the chance to make new friends and to retain older friendships too.


Each of my recent updates has been quite lengthy and I apologise for not being more succinct. I have had the opportunity to talk to a large number of parents in recent weeks and I would like to thank you for your ongoing support and would encourage you to contact the school if you need additional help or have any questions.


Best wishes,


Mr O’Sullivan