2 October 2020

Dear Parents & Carers,

I wanted to start this week’s update with a request. We were contacted by a cyclist on Wednesday who had crashed on the A167 earlier in the week. One of our students stopped to help, administered first aid and stayed with the individual to ensure that he was well. The cyclist would like to pass on his thanks, but, as of yet, we haven’t managed to track the student down. Please contact us if you are the student involved, or if you know who stopped to offer support. Acts of kindness and helping others when they face difficulties are examples of good character and we are keen to thank the student involved too.

It has been another very busy week in school and our students are continuing to work hard. They are familiar with the routines that are now in place and have coped well with our first bouts of heavy rain. We are also very grateful that students have responded so positively to the regional instruction that wearing face coverings in communal spaces is mandatory. All schools have to implement this guidance and our students have been extremely well organised, with the vast majority having spare face coverings each day too. Parents often feel culpable when students are disorganised, but we actively encourage students to take personal responsibility – it is important that they bring the things that they need on a daily basis and that they respond to the guidance and instructions that they are given. There are a number of differences in terms of how the school is operating at present, with one example being uniform and PE kits. Our priority at present is continuing to teach a full curriculum, whilst having systems in place to keep children safe and to limit risk. We will continue to think carefully about appropriate uniform as the weather becomes colder and we will continue to refine our systems regarding movement around the school. We have managed this very effectively to date, but it is important that parents and carers have a clear understanding of the difficulties involved in safely moving 1697 students around the building.

We had our first confirmed case of Covid-19 last week and, as I have noted on numerous occasions since March, it represented a significant learning curve. Working with the Department for Education and Public Health England was very helpful and I would like to thank all of those parents and carers that we worked with between Friday 25th and Monday 28th September for being so understanding and supportive. Those students currently self-isolating should return to school on Thursday 8th October and the Brandon Bus C will be available from that point too.

I also wanted to offer clarification regarding school transport. School transport is not managed by the school, but by the Local Authority. Until Friday 18th September face coverings were not mandatory on school transport, but they are now based upon the local regulations that were introduced on that date. This was explained very directly to all students travelling to school by bus this week in form and has been checked on a daily basis by school staff since. Clearly, it is hard for us to monitor if students are following this mandatory guidance when they leave the school site. Therefore, could I ask all parents and carers of students who travel to and from school via school bus to insist that they always wear a face covering on each journey. By not doing so, they are putting themselves, their friends and families at risk. They should also, were possible, maintain an appropriate social distance from other students.

It is important that parents and carers are aware of what students are studying during each half-term and also how they will be assessed in each subject. That information is available via the website in the ‘Curriculum’ section, and offers detailed information for each subject; clicking the year group below will take you directly to the relevant page.

Year 7         Year 8         Year 9         Year 10        Year 11        Year 12        Year 13

We will also provide detailed information about the reporting, examination, parental information and extra support cycle for each year group in the coming weeks so that you can start to think about the year ahead now that students have returned successfully.

Finally, I wanted to share some positive developments. As part of our commitment to social justice, we are continuing our work on ‘poverty proofing the day’ to make sure that any of our families experiencing financial difficulties are well supported in school; this is fundamental to our ethos.  In addition, our 6th form students have been collecting toiletries for the ‘Help Refugees’ charity and, after following strict guidance regarding materials being stored for a number of days after being touched, collected a large number of individual items (pictured). Our current context is very difficult and its impact is very clear on the most vulnerable members of our society.

We are also continuing to offer support for Year 13 students and their families as they plan for university applications. Mr Wilbraham, Deputy Head of 6th Form, has been integral to this process and has shared the following update:

Over the course of the last two weeks, we have been delighted to host our first Durham Johnston Comprehensive School parents’ information evenings with Richard Petty from Trinity College, Oxford. The purpose of the meetings was to give insight to parents whose children in Years 11 to 13 are either interested in a future application to Oxbridge or are about to go through the process this autumn. On Tuesday night, 41 families from Years 11 and 12 attended the Zoom meeting where Richard presented on the unique process of Oxford admissions, collegiate living and tuition, in addition to general information of university life, especially financial cost and the benefits of higher education study and graduate opportunities. Richard also responded to individual questions that had been submitted by our students’ families, in advance. On Thursday night, 23 families from Year 13 attended the information meeting where Richard took us through the admissions process for Oxbridge admission, guidance on how parents can best support their children with their applications, preparing to study at Oxford and finance. Both sessions were excellent and we thank all the students and their families who attended. We are also grateful to Richard for his time and the quality of the sessions.

Both Year 7 and Year 12 have settled in very effectively and have adapted well to life at Durham Johnston. We are always keen to welcome new students and their families to the school and would encourage you to view the information on our website if you are a prospective parent or student thinking of joining us in September 2021. Please visit the section of the school website entitled ‘Join Our School’ for additional information aimed at prospective Year 7 students and their parents. We will be offering a similar range of resources aimed at Year 11 students to help them, and their parents and carers make informed decisions regarding next steps. These will be available from Monday 5th October, under a new section entitled ‘Join Our Sixth Form’.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

Mr O’Sullivan