23 October 2020
23 October 2020
Dear Parents and Carers,
It has been a very different half-term for all members of our school community, and we feel that the school has adapted quickly and effectively. At the start of the new school year we identified the following priorities for the term ahead:
- to ensure that all members of our school community were as safe as possible given the current regional and national context;
- to provide a high level of support for those who had faced significant difficulties when schools were closed in March;
- to offer a full and broad curriculum for all students.
On reflection, I feel that we have worked effectively towards each of those priorities and we intend to maintain a similar focus in November and December. Our staff have worked very hard and we genuinely appreciate the support that you have offered to the school. It has been a busy term: we have been celebrating Black History Month, individual music lessons have continued and we are in the process of planning for sports clubs to begin again in November, starting with Years 7 and 8. We have also worked with the Local Authority so that our football teams can safely take part in national competitions. We will continue to review which other parts of school life can be developed and brought back for students to enjoy.
Covid-19 Update, Remote Learning, Personal Details & Medical Appointments
Like many schools in County Durham, we have had a small number of confirmed cases of Covid-19. Please remember to follow the Local Authority advice regarding symptoms. We have worked very closely with Public Health England and have contacted families quickly if it has been necessary for a child to self-isolate. Communication has been very effective, but we have identified an issue with some Apple email addresses. Due to Apple’s security system, our emails are not being accepted. Therefore, if you have an Apple email address could we request that you provide an alternative address for the school’s use. Good communication is always very important, but it is absolutely essential given our current context. If you recently signed up for SIMS Parent App you are able to update your telephone number, email address and postal address without having to directly contact the school. If you haven’t already signed up for the SIMS App, you can find out how to do so by following instructions on the school website at this link. You can also change your details by contacting the school directly via email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Face coverings are mandatory in all communal areas of school and also when students travel to and from school by bus. We have been very impressed with how students have responded to the instructions that we have given regarding school transport, but could I please remind all parents and carers that face coverings are mandatory and students will be denied access to school transport from 2nd November if they are not wearing a face covering. This isn’t a school rule, but a legal requirement and face coverings must be worn for the duration of their journey to and from school. Please also note that students who have appointments during the school day are allowed to attend school before and after their appointment.
A number of students have needed to self-isolate during this term and have been required to learn remotely. In the summer term we surveyed parents and it is clear that the majority of students have shared access to a tablet or laptop at home, but please let us know if you require additional assistance. We expect students to access resources if they are self-isolating, to complete work and, where possible, to access recorded or live lessons. If there is a need for any particular ‘bubble’ or year group to self-isolate, we will teach students remotely via MS Teams. In terms of queries via Teams, our teachers are contracted to work between 8.00 a.m. and 3.00 p.m. and will not be able to respond quickly to queries from students, parents or carers outside of those hours. A number of students are contacting staff very late at night and I would encourage you to discuss regular and sensible working hours with your child, so that students get sufficient sleep. Please also ask your child to be polite when using Teams and to follow the instructions given by their teachers.
Finally, the school will be deep cleaned during half-term and will be closed for the duration of the holiday. However, if your child is tested at any point during the half-term and you receive a positive result, please contact the school via the school email address: email@example.com.
Year Group Updates
We have had very positive attendance since September and our students seem happy to be back in school and learning. The next half-term is very important for each of our year groups and I hope that you find the following information helpful.
- Mr Simpson has focused on teamwork and the need for students to feel confident about their new school, our routines and on making friends.
- Year 7 have settled into their new school very effectively and we have been very impressed with their willingness to learn, their organisation and kindness.
- They will receive a settling in report in November that considers their attitude to learning, personal organisation and will complete detailed assessments in both English and Maths. This will allow us to match students with the correct level of teaching and support that they need and will help us to identify any additional gaps from Year 6.
- A Home School Partnership was included with the paper copy of this letter. Could all Year 7 Parents and Students please sign the document and return it to school in the envelope provided.
- Mr Noble has focused on teamwork, kindness, respect for others and working closely together within the Year 8 bubble.
- Year 8 have returned positively and are now recruiting peer mentors to support students in Years 7 and 8 who might be finding school difficult. Year 8 had limited time in school last year and it is felt that many will understand the difficulties that some Year 7 students may face.
- Year 8 will be completing detailed assessments in all of their subjects and will receive a more detailed report in the spring term.
- Mr Digby has focused upon the need for students to work together and to prepare for a year of important choices.
- Year 9 will start their GCSEs in Ethics & Philosophy and Science during this academic year and will receive additional guidance regarding options during the next half-term. There will be additional subject specific information for students, taster sessions in specialist classrooms and we will also provide options information for parents and carers.
- Year 9 will be completing detailed assessments in all of their subjects and we are currently planning for our options evening scheduled for spring 2021, when students will have the opportunity to ask questions about GCSE subjects, careers and the transition to Year 10.
- Miss Owen has focused upon students stepping up to begin their GCSE courses. Students need to work closely with their subject teachers and to gain an understanding of how their courses are assessed.
- Year 10 will be given target grades in the next half-term and we will start to identify subject specific areas for improvement and development.
- They will receive a settling in report in November outlining their attitude to learning and personal organisation. They will also complete work in preparation for a more detailed report in the summer term.
- Mr Bowman has focused upon supporting Year 11 and ensuring that they have a clear understanding of the extra support that they might need on a subject by subject basis.
- Year 11 students will be sitting their exams week beginning 23rd November 2020 and should revise over half-term. This is an important experience and they will need to prepare appropriately.
- Predicted grades will be produced at the end of the exam process and will then be available for students to use during their applications to our sixth forms and other colleges. We will also use the examinations to identify the support that is needed for each student in the run up to the final examinations in June/July 2021. Students will complete a second series of examinations in March 2021.
- Durham Johnston Sixth Form applications are now open. We would love to have year 11 students continue their education with us at A Level, but would advise students to consider all of their available options. Mrs Lennon and Mr Wilbraham are currently visiting lessons to discuss 6th Form applications. The deadline is 5th November and we have currently had 170 applications.
- Leavers ‘hoodies’ are being ordered shortly. If you are yet to request one, please ask your child to speak with their Form Tutor, as orders can still be made.
- Please support your child in using Teams as a method of consolidating work they may have missed this term. If you know they are having difficulties accessing the system from home, you can send an email to the school to seek additional help.
- Mrs Lennon has visited all Year 12 forms to talk about how students can make the best use of their time including the importance of communication, collaborating with teachers, developing good organisational skills and preparing for assessments and acting on feedback.
- With a view to keeping students safe, we have given Year 12 students Home Study for the first time this year and this creates challenges and opportunities; establishing good routines will be crucial to success in embedding good, independent study habits and to make progress in all subjects.
- You will receive a report shortly, outlining how students have been working in terms of a number of effort related criteria. Any student who appears to be struggling to step up to the requirements required for progress with advanced level study will be interviewed by Mrs Lennon to set an individual action plan.
- Next half term we will be making progress with course content, exam expectations and revision for the exams in January 2021. These exams will inform AS decisions and courses for Year 13. Regular preparation, consolidation and revision is more effective than trying to cram.
- We have had our first Sixth Form Committee meeting this term, socially distanced but together; it was great to see representatives from each form coming together to discuss issues important to the student body. We are meeting again this week. Some Year 12 students have asked for a Year 13 mentor and we hope to be matching them up next term.
- Keen to get our student-led societies going, current leads have put together key information and these leads should be contacted by interested students from both years. It is likely that mentoring and societies will rely more heavily on remote communication for the immediate future.
- Mrs Lennon has visited all Year 13 forms to talk about how students can make the best use of their time including the importance of communication, collaborating with teachers, developing good organisational skills and preparing for assessments and acting on feedback.
- With a view to keeping students safe, we have given significant amounts of Home Study this year and this creates challenges and opportunities; establishing good routines will be crucial to success in the forthcoming formal mock examinations (week commencing 9th November 2020).
- It is important to remember that Year 13 students will be examined in November, March and next summer, on the linear content from both years with us. Regular consolidation and revision are more effective than trying to cram.
- Students are currently discussing their plans for next year and completing research into the most appropriate next steps; 45 of our students have already sent off their UCAS applications, to Oxford, Cambridge, medicine and a range of other courses. As part of our references, we include predicted grades set by departments, to support students with their future aspirations. It is important to note that UCAS predicted grades are not the same as centre assessed grades (CAGs) used for GCSE, AS and A levels in summer 2020.
- We have had our first Sixth Form Committee meeting this term, socially distanced but together; it was great to see representatives from each form coming together to discuss issues important to the student body. We are meeting again this week. We have been delighted with the number of volunteers keen to mentor Year 12 students and hope to match them during next term.
- We are keen to get our student-led societies going, current leads have put together key information and will be contacted by interested students from both years. It is likely that mentoring and societies will rely more heavily on remote communication for the immediate future.
Uniform, Cold Weather and the Calendar
Could I please ask that all students, parents and carers refamiliarise themselves with our school uniform policy over half-term. We have made some adjustments in terms of uniform, but the same standards still apply. We are moving towards a period of colder weather, but it will still be necessary for students to be outside in the morning and at break and lunch, unless raining heavily. We also need to have windows open with regularity for ventilation. Therefore, could you please make sure that your child brings a waterproof coat to school each day and, if cold, that they wear a plain grey V-neck jumper or cardigan in accordance with the school’s uniform policy, which can be accessed at this link.
Our policy regarding the use of mobile phones remains the same, if they are seen or heard in school they will be confiscated and we may struggle to return them at the end of the school day. Please also talk to your child about their use of social media, as we are still dealing with too many issues that are brought into school because students are making bad decisions at home or in their local community. Please work with your child so that they understand the consequences of inappropriate social media use and are kind to others. The school cannot take responsibility for any poor behaviour when students are under parental supervision.
It won’t be possible to hold our normal remembrance and carol services in November and December, but we still intend to acknowledge both as they are an important part of the school calendar and our history. Please also be aware of the following important dates in the next half-term:
- Monday 2nd November 2020: start of the school term.
- Monday 9th November 2020: Year 13 examinations begin during this week.
- Monday 23rd November: Year 11 examinations begin during this week.
- Friday 27th November 2020: school is closed.
- Friday 18th December 2020: end of the school term.
As a parent or carer, it is clearly very easy at present to be worried about the future and to think that our current circumstances will remain difficult for a significant period of time. However, one of the greatest pleasures of working with young people is that they tend to view things in a very immediate way and try to enjoy themselves regardless of what adults might be worrying about. They don’t think about what might happen next week, let alone in six months’ time. Our yard at lunchtime is no different to a year ago in terms of how students interact with, play and joke with each other; our students simply adapt and get on with life in the main. To quote Derek Mahon, the Belfast poet, ‘the sun rises in spite of everything’ and it is important to remember that things will improve however difficult they might appear now.
Best wishes for half-term and thank you for your ongoing support for the school.
A J O’Sullivan