22 January 2021

Dear Parents & Carers,

 

I have just finished reading Fredrik Logevall’s first volume on the life and times of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956. When I was a child, almost beyond parody, my grandparents had three framed pictures on the wall in their front room: Pope John Paul II, JFK and Red Rum. For those unaware, Red Rum was a rather successful 1970s racehorse. My family were uncritical supporters of Kennedy, largely because of his background, religion and his visit to Ireland in 1963. Studying American political history made me develop a much more critical view, but Longvall’s depiction highlights Kennedy’s intellectual curiosity and desire to hear the views of people from a variety of other backgrounds and cultures. Those qualities seem evident in Joe Biden too and I found his presidential inauguration on Wednesday surprisingly moving. Biden’s depiction of democracy as fragile and imperfect struck a chord, as did his rallying cry for compromise, understanding, public service and basic human decency. Those are qualities that should also matter in our community and country. Biden’s refrain that ‘my whole soul is in it’ should be echoed by politicians everywhere. A commitment to the common good, also reflected in the following parts of his speech:

 

‘History, faith and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. All of us. Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured. There are some days when we need a hand. There are other days when we’re called on to lend one. That is how we must be with one another. I promise you this: … weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning. We will get through this, together.’ 

 

As Durham Johnston’s Headteacher, these are words that I hope resonate with all of you too.   

 

We continue to learn a lot in terms of remote learning and are keen to consider your views too. Mr Wright has shared a survey, via email, with all of our families and we would encourage you to complete it by 29th January 2021. The vast majority of our students are following their timetable and engaging with their teachers between 8.25 a.m. and 2.45 p.m. each day. We are contacting students to offer support if they aren’t attending and would like to remind everyone that lessons are taking place on a daily basis. If you know of any families that aren’t aware of remote learning, please share this update with them. Please also let us know if you have changed your email address so that we can continue to communicate effectively. Remember that you can also update your personal details via the SIMS App. We know that some families have struggled to access lessons because of IT issues at home. Please contact us if you need any support in terms of devices, data or internet access and we will do all that we can to find a solution for you. 

 

Now that we have had three weeks of live lessons, we are starting to think about how to support the well-being of students in different ways. It is important to learn; it is also important to rest and take care of your health. Physical exercise is hugely important, and we want more students to participate in our challenges. Students have been sending evidence of how they are meeting the different challenges posed by Mr Kidd, and the following apply for the week ahead: 

 

Years 7, 8 and 9 

  • Fitness and skills videos and links to other challenges (pentathlon, dance) are posted every week. This coincides with the usual 2 PE lessons they have every week.
  • Hit session with Mr Kidd and fitness tasks are set on a Monday
  • Beat the teacher skills challenge posted every Wednesday.

Years 10 and 11

  • Fitness and Skills videos and links posted every week to coincide with 1 PE lesson per week. 
  • Beat the teacher challenge posted every Wednesday.
  • A 30 day fitness challenge.

Please participate and make sure that you take breaks from work too. We have been discussing ways in which students can balance online learning with other activities and plan to have a ‘well-being’ day on Monday 1stFebruary 2021. Year 9 students and their families will make appointments with subject teachers for that day and can also view our virtual options materials. There will be no live lessons or additional work for other year groups on that day, and they will be encouraged to catch up with work, take time away from screens and to access a number of well-being materials that we will provide. We have been contacted by a number of parents and students this week who are worried about completing work and keeping up. It is important to know that we are not expecting perfection. Do what you can, and we will build in additional well-being days whilst the school remains closed. To use last week’s maxim: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

 

I am very aware, in particular, of the need to support Year 11, 12 and 13 students. We have emphasised their need to keep working hard, but it is also important to take time out and to seek support if you need it. Mrs Lennon and Mr Wilbraham will always help and we will hopefully have a sense soon of Ofqual’s plans for assessment and grade allocation in the summer. The Ofqual consultation is open until Friday 29th January and can be accessed here. As soon as any decisions are made by Ofqual we will share and discuss our plans with you. It goes without saying that we will do all that we can to give our students every chance to fulfil their promise. Until Ofqual report, however, it would be wrong of us to speculate on what they might decide. 

 

The two themes this week might be summarised a need for all members of our school community to take their well-being seriously and the importance of decency in public life. In that spirit, we were thrilled this week that the achievements of our talented students and PE staff were recognised again by School Sport Week Magazine. We were ranked one of the highest co-educational state schools in the country, featuring in the top 1% of schools nationally for sport. A wonderful achievement and good news during a difficult period. Take that as inspiration; complete Mr Kidd’s challenges, go for walk, turn off your screen for a while and take care.

 

Thank you for your ongoing support. 

 

Mr O’Sullivan