13 November 2020

Dear Parents & Carers,

In many respects this week has been a very encouraging one, and one in which to put faith in the hard work and commitment of others. News of a vaccine has come at the same time as significant political change. As I have noted in previous updates, it is not for the school to be partisan in terms of politics, whether national or international. However, a key part of the education of young people is setting a good example and the importance of good role models in terms of honesty, public service, kindness and selflessness. It is good to see that a number of individuals who treat those qualities with contempt, their behaviour characterised by a sense of entitlement and disregard for the truth, will be moving on in 2021. With that in mind, I would advise that you plan your recreational time carefully in the new year; you never know who you might encounter in the local woods; those holidaying anywhere near Turnberry, Ayrshire should keep a look out for any ‘perfect physical specimens’ that they might encounter near a golf course.  

One of the hardest things since March has been the lack of opportunity to meet communally. I’m not sure if it is a common feeling, but every time I watch films with crowd scenes, or footage of sporting events prior to March 2020, I’m compelled to shout at the television; ‘You’re all too close together! Step back, move away!’ In a school context that is becoming increasingly apparent in terms of the usual opportunities for staff and students to meet and work together. At this time of year we have a series of remembrance assemblies and a communal act of commemoration at 11.00 a.m. on 11th November. Whilst neither of those events have taken place in their usual format, we have made sure that our traditions are maintained. 

On Wednesday morning a wreath was placed at our war memorial by Councillor, and school Governor, Elizabeth Scott. She was accompanied by two members of our 6th form leadership team, Jude Sellers and Julianna Urbanowicz. All students then participated in a virtual assembly, delivered by Mr Wright, created by Ben Donaghy in Year 13 and featuring a performance of the last post by Sam Plyming in Year 12. Whilst we are having to adapt and to do things differently, it is still very important that show our respects for former students and those who have lost their lives in a variety of conflicts. You can view the virtual assembly, which was shared with all classes on Wednesday, at the end of this update.

Whilst there have been some positive developments this week, it is more important than ever that all members of our community continue to take personal responsibility for keeping themselves and others safe. We will reiterate some important advice with all form classes next week and I wanted to share those points with you now so that you can discuss them with your child at home:

  • It is essential that all students come to school with a face covering. Face coverings must be worn in all communal areas of the school. Please make sure that your child has a small number of spare masks in their bag in case of loss or damage.
  • Good hygiene is hugely important. Please encourage your child to wash their hands regularly and to use the available hand sanitiser. Encourage them to do this when they return home too.  
  • Remind your child that they need to wear a face covering if they use public or school transport. They can be denied access to transport if they fail to do so, as it puts other people at risk.
  • Remind your child to wear layers if they are cold, and to make sure that they have a waterproof coat for school. Being outside at break and lunch time is necessary and students will only be in school at those times if the weather is severe. Having a warm, waterproof coat is sensible.
  • Remind your child about the requirements of school uniform and that they should talk to their teacher privately if they have any questions, such as what to do if they are cold in the classroom. Our uniform policy includes the option to wear a plain grey, V-necked jumper under blazers, and we encourage students to do so as the weather gets colder. Please note that any other style of jumper or sweatshirt is not part of our uniform.
  • Finally, all of the actions that we are taking as a school and as a society are to protect each other and, in particular, the most vulnerable members of our society. We are also protecting the NHS. Please explain to your child that coming to school is a manageable risk, continued education is vital, and that they can play a hugely important role in helping others by taking personal responsibility for their actions. They can do this by following the obvious rules around social distancing, hygiene and wearing a face covering.  If your child is unwell, please follow the guidance outlined in Durham County Council’s ‘Can my child go to school today?’ flowchart.

Some of our students have, unfortunately, encountered issues with the NHS Track and Trace app this week. Please remember that the app is only for those over the age of 16, and that many schools and health settings have grave concerns about the erroneous nature of some notifications to self-isolate, to the extent that they have asked staff to turn the app off when at work. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) is meeting with the Department for Health today to discuss the negative impact that the app is having nationally in terms of notifications that seem to make no sense. Families clearly need to follow the advice that they are given, but we feel the advice that we have been given by PHE/DfE is much more accurate in terms of close contacts and the need to isolate.

We are still awaiting additional guidance on the shape and nature of GCSE and A Level examinations in 2021. As I have suggested before, we think that examinations are very important and want them to take place in June and July as expected. We also think that it is very important that alternative plans are prepared in case that isn’t possible, to ensure fairness for all students. The Scottish and Welsh governments have already modified the examination process and we should receive an update from the Department for Education before the end of this term that offers additional detail. The following link outlines their current thinking: DfE Media Blog

It has been a busy week in school and, as has been the pattern since March, we have achieved some things that we are very proud of and have identified other things that we can do better. That is the reality of school life at present. There is clearly a sense of hope for the new year, but we would greatly appreciate your support in the short-term, as local infection rates are still high, and we need to do all that we can collectively to limit transmission and to protect each other until things start to improve.

Mr O’Sullivan