13 May 2021

Dear Parents & Carers,  

I want to start this week’s update by striking an important note of caution. We received a 72-page operational guidance document from the Department for Education on Tuesday, with an additional 15-page document focusing upon face coverings. Those updates have come in a week when we have had to ask 29 Year 11 students and 24 Year 10 students to self-isolate due two positive cases linked to the school. We have also been contacted by two sporting clubs and associations regarding positive cases within those external clubs. It does not feel like an appropriate time to be removing the protocols that we have in place to avoid risk and to keep all members of our school community safe. We have also experienced some issues with the NHS Track and trace app, and I provided an important update for parents and carers on Tuesday 11th May 2021. That update can be found here:  NHS Track and Trace App Update 

On Monday I watched the Prime Minister correctly reference the need for caution, but he also spoke at length about hugging, and failed to elaborate on his brief announcement that those working and studying in schools no longer need to wear face coverings from 24th May. The national picture is looking very positive and, as teachers, we are optimists by nature. However, it hasn’t felt like things are almost normal in school this week and that is why I am inclined towards continued caution. My main priorities as Headteacher are to safeguard the school community and to do all that I can to improve the life chances of students. With that in mind, it doesn’t seem like the right time to switch from the safety protocols that we have in place and that have worked well. Our Year 11 and 13 students are completing very important assessments and need a sense of consistency and stability. If a situation arises next week that leads to them having to self-isolate, they will miss their final day in school. That would clearly be a terrible end to their time at Durham Johnston.   

As a school we always take our time, think things through and then plan accordingly. With that in mind we are proposing the following next steps for the remainder of this half term: 

  1. We will read the new Department for Education materials so that we understand the evidence that forms the basis of this change. The relevant document can be accessed here: Schools Guidance 10th May
  2. We will continue to recommend that students wear face coverings in the classroom and communal areas of the school until Friday 28th May. This will allow us to be cautious in light of this week’s positive cases linked to the school and make sensible adjustments for Monday 7th June 2021.  
  3. We have worn face coverings in communal areas since the autumn term and in the classroom since 10th March to protect each other, our families and those who are yet to be vaccinated. Changing routines at the end of a term is to be avoided when possible as it can be unnecessarily disruptive. We have had very few cases since September, but I am reticent to change things abruptly, as the safety of students and staff at the school is paramount. By extension, that protects your wider families too.  
  4. I have worked closely with Headteachers from other County Durham schools this week and a significant majority are continuing to recommend that face coverings are worn in the classroom and communal areas until Friday 28thMay. I feel that this is a sensible position that Durham Johnston should also adopt.   
  5. Form teachers will share this update with students on Friday morning and it would be very helpful if you could support and explain the school’s position at home. In essence, nothing is changing at Durham Johnston in the final two weeks of this half-term.  This represents a sensible delay, rather than a significant change. 

As ever, the Department for Education has devolved responsibility on this matter and has asked each school to make a judgement based upon their own unique context. We have used our common sense since March 2020, and have been open about any decisions that we make. We will continue to recommend that students wear face coverings and work within protective bubbles until half-term. I hope that you will support us for the 10 additional days affected by this decision and that you understand the school’s position. Our responsibility is to safeguard the school community and with the recent positive cases in school it is appropriate that we continue with our current cautious approach.   

I will offer an additional update early next week and would like to thank you for your continued support.  

Yours faithfully,   

Mr O’Sullivan