12 February 2021

Dear Students, Parents & Carers, 

 

We are at the end of a strange, but very busy half-term. In preparation for this update I read through my letter to all parents dated 3rd January 2021. There were many things that we were uncertain of at that point. It is clear that we have been consistent in our approach and in what we hoped to deliver. Considering the very real difficulties that all members of our school community have faced, it is also very obvious that we have worked together effectively. Hopefully, the following points exemplify that:  

  • Remote Learning – We made a commitment to live teaching and support from 4th January onwards and we are very pleased that students have engaged so positively. Online learning is no substitute for being in school and working closely with other students, teachers and support staff. However, given our circumstances, we have worked together very successfully.  Our next steps involve a review of online provision and a series of refinements to our remote provision.  
  • Surveying our community – Those refinements will be based upon the survey that 674 individual families completed in late January. Our teachers are constantly looking for ways to improve remote learning and we will share our next steps and the results of the survey in the week beginning 22nd February. Our 6th form team have also surveyed Year 12 regarding their subject choices for Year 13.   
  • Support in school – We have a large number of students accessing the provision that they need in school and I would like to commend all those students for their attitude and work ethic. We have been open each day throughout this half term. Our support staff have been superb in making sure that the building is accessible and welcoming for students and teachers alike. A number of families have contacted us for help and we have always acted quickly. We were aware in early January that we needed to support Key Workers and those facing difficulties and that provision has been offered on a daily basis.  
  • Support at home – We were worried at the start of term that the laptops promised by the Department for Education wouldn’t arrive. Based upon that concern, we chose to repurpose our own laptops, collected from volunteers and bought additional laptops to ensure that our students had access to lessons. We have now provided 100 laptops for our community, with all those making a request receiving help.  
  • Regular Communication – We have prioritised communication during this half-term and, in addition to weekly updates, teachers, pastoral staff and school leaders have been in regular contact with families, responding quickly to any query or request. We have also made sure that virtual parents’ evenings have taken place successfully for Years 9 and 11, with detailed Options information for Year 9 too. Our plans for other year groups are shared below.  
  • Free School Meals – We have issued school supermarket vouchers for families to cover the period from 4th to 15th January and Edenred E-Vouchers for the period from 18th January to 12th February. Our families have been sent Durham County Council Winter Grant E-Vouchers, with the relevant E-codes via email. The winter grant covers the period from 15th to 19th February. Our administration team will continue to work through any queries that you have, with a commitment that they are addressed very quickly.  Please be aware that Edenred Vouchers will continue after half term, from 22nd February to 5th March. However, families will not receive their vouchers immediately, as the Edenred ordering window for schools does not open until Monday 22nd February at the earliest. We will ensure that we place an order as soon as the order window opens, on behalf of our families and will then issue E-codes to you as quickly as possible. We will do all that we can to make sure that the process is efficient and timely.  

It is obvious from the above points that we have again needed to adapt quickly.  That is important, because there are some national announcements scheduled of great significance to our school community. I have frequently cautioned against speculation and gossip, because both cause young people, and their families, anxiety. I’m also very aware that students are keen to know what is expected of them and the school before July 2021. Therefore, it is important to offer reassurance and to set out what we do know.  

 

  • Exams and Grades for Years 11, 12 and 13
    We have been informed that Ofqual will share their plans for exams and grades on 22nd February. We will then need to consider how best to deliver the system that they outline. As soon as we have done so, we will share those plans with students and their families. We cannot take any action until that part of the process has been completed. We are genuinely not holding any information back, as no school is currently in a position to outline any approach with certainty. When we do share information, we want it to be accurate. I fully understand how worrying the current situation is and would advise students to spend time with their families, get fresh air and exercise over half-term. Encourage them to avoid any speculation that might worry them further. We will share our next steps with students and their families as soon as we can do so with accuracy.  

     
  • A return to school:
    There has also been significant speculation about a full return to school from 8th March onwards. The Prime Minister’s office had explained that information regarding schools would be shared on 22nd February. That was changed yesterday, to the week beginning 22nd February; of significance because the Government have promised to give all schools two weeks’ notice before any return. We expect updated guidance at that point on face coverings, protective bubbles and any other changes that might be necessary in schools to manage risk. We are still working closely with the Local Authority in terms of Lateral Flow Testing and issues concerning efficacy, logistics and finance. We will share our next steps with students and their families as soon as we can do so with accuracy. 

We are also thinking very carefully about a return to school and important milestones for each of our year groups. The following overview should be helpful in detailing some of our plans for the next half-term and beyond.  
 

Year 7
There will be a parents’ evening in the summer term and a second report will be issued at that point too. We will also complete a parental survey based upon their first year at Durham Johnston. All dates will be shared prior to Easter.  

 

Year 8
There will be a parents’ evening in the summer term and a second report will be issued at that point too. All dates will be shared prior to Easter. 

 

Year 9
The deadline for Options choices is Friday 26th February and I would like to thank those who have already completed the process. Please remember to ask if you have any questions or if you need additional support. Year 9 will receive a second report in the summer term.  

 

Year 10
There will be a parents’ evening in the week beginning Monday 19th April and a second report will be issued prior to that date.  

 

Year 11
As noted above, we await guidance from Ofqual on next steps for Year 11. We will think very carefully about providing the best opportunities for Year 11 students to demonstrate their ability when they return to school, but will prioritise their wellbeing when they return before planning any additional exams or assessments.  

 

Year 12
We are holding a virtual Parents’ Evening on Monday 1st March and will share more information in the week beginning 22nd February. Additionally, as soon as we can welcome students back into school, we will schedule formal assessments.  These, along with previous assessments, Parents’ Evening discussions and future plans, will help us continue to support students in making the best choices going forward, supporting future ambitions and aspirations.  

 

Year 13
Students are nearing the completion of their two-year A level courses.  Next week presents a good opportunity to consolidate their hard work, ready for the new half term and to rest and enjoy time with their families.   

That week is also National Apprenticeship Week. Over recent years we have seen an increased interest in pursuing further study and professional qualification via the higher and degree apprenticeship route. Mrs Lennon has shared a range of opportunities, relevant to both year groups. 
 

We are fortunate to have such a diverse and talented intake and I have shared examples of success in unusual or difficult circumstances during this half-term. There is cause for celebration in this week’s update too, with two different but wonderful achievements, one for students and one for a member of staff. A group of our Year 13 students achieved a very impressive result this week.  James Tozer, Rosa Pollard Smith, Zhenya Tumarkin, Kirill Kaliteevskiy and Harry Cookson took part in the Cabridge Chemistry Race, competing against a wide variety of independent and high performing schools nationally. James kindly explained what that success involved.  
 

On Saturday 6th February, a group of 5-year 13s took part in the Cambridge Chemistry Race, an annual team competition which would usually take place in Cambridge, but this year was held online. After a gruelling two hours of problem solving, we got the results that we had finished joint third nationally out of 42 teams, and fourth overall after they adjusted scores. A good time was had by all and we hope that a new team of sixth formers will pick up the baton next year!  
 

They deserve real credit, representing the school at a very high level. The second achievement to share highlights that we live in a connected world, with some people being linked to world events in unexpected ways. Mrs Williams, a member of our Science Department, found out this week that a piece of music composed by her Grandfather, Fintan O’Carroll, was used in Joe Biden’s inauguration. ‘Celtic Alleluia’ is regularly used in Catholic and Church of England services and was specifically chosen by the new American President for the inauguration Mass. Mrs Williams is rightly proud, as are her family. She became aware of the story via the Waterford News & Star and I’ll confess to being slightly jealous, having never had a family member feature in The Kerryman. Congratulations to her family and to our successful Year 13 chemists.
 

Good news is always welcome in difficult circumstances and these are clearly very difficult circumstances. Our students and their families have experienced the reality of Covid-19 in recent weeks.  I would like to offer my condolences to all those within our school community who have suffered a loss since the New Year.  Never morning wore to evening, but some heart did break.  
 

Thank you to all members of our school community for continuing to apply themselves and for being so adaptable.  
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Mr O’Sullivan