28 May 2021

Dear Parents & Carers,

 

I would like to start by thanking you for your support during this half-term. I have written previously about the rituals associated with school life and that has been in the forefront of our minds as both Year 11 and Year 13 have had their final days in school. That isn’t strictly accurate, as the majority will return for open days, individual advice and will start their bridging materials for 6th form and university study, but it is their last shared time together as full year groups. Some students have already planned to be back, with the Year 11 girls’ football team meeting up for one last session today with Mrs White. As you might expect, our students have been absolutely superb, coping with a fairly surreal range of activities and celebrations that included colour runs, year books, hotdog, burger and ice cream vans, Beatles covers and, perhaps most enjoyable/disturbing of all, being serenaded by a Year Leader in full pantomime dame garb with a showstopper from Wicked. I’ve been teaching for 24 years now, and I hadn’t seen that either.

 

They leave, to quote former Headteacher John Dunford, having had access to ‘a great education in a great comprehensive school’. They have been fortunate to have good teachers and a broad curriculum, but their main advantage has been the opportunity to make good friends and to learn from people from a diverse range of backgrounds. When speaking to both year groups I made clear that their experiences have been unique and, from a personal perspective, I hope that they will be stronger in adulthood as a consequence. I would like to thank them for all that they have contributed to the school and I would extend that thanks to you, their families, too.

 

Changes for Next Half-Term – Face coverings, protective bubbles, lockers and break time food

We are now planning some important changes for the final half-term of this academic year. Those changes are linked to our risk assessment protocols and to provision for different year groups. In the week beginning 10th May 2021 we registered 5 positive cases. We consulted with Public Health England and the Local Authority’s Covid Team. They reviewed the cases and advised us to maintain the high-level controls identified in our Risk Assessment. We have had no additional positive cases linked to the school from that point on.   

Therefore, as of Monday 7th June 2021, we are removing our recommendation that students wear face coverings/masks in the classroom. This is in line with guidance from the Department for Education issued on 17th May 2021. We are aware that there are a variety of views about face coverings and we respect the diverse opinions that students, parents and carers may hold. We are also aware that a significant level of evidence is available regarding face coverings. However, we are not public health experts or specialists in that area of research and would advise parents and carers to engage with local politicians and the relevant public health leads at the Local Authority if they have particular views or questions. Like all schools, we lack the expert knowledge of public health officials and rely upon their guidance for decision making. Similarly, if we were ever to recommend the reintroduction of face coverings in classrooms on a future date, it would be based upon explicit guidance after consultation with public health officials.  

Our role is to support all families so that they can make choices that are appropriate for their circumstances. Therefore, we support those students who would like to continue wearing face coverings as a personal choice and, equally, all those who choose not to do so. The school recommendation is now removed, but we will support the personal choices that families and students make. We will continue to reiterate that no member of our school community has the right to question the personal decision made by another student on this subject. Students have referenced peer pressure with regard to face coverings, so please make clear at home too that we are no longer recommending that face coverings are worn in the classroom, but that it is absolutely fine to continue doing so if that is their personal choice. Some teachers may well make that personal choice too. We will, however, fully retain our recommendation that face coverings should be worn in corridors, communal areas and when queuing for lunch or break time food, as social distancing cannot be guaranteed at those times. We will continue to provide face coverings if necessary and would ask all students to bring a face covering for use in communal areas and to have a spare in their school bag.  

As Years 11 and 13 have now left, it is now possible to modify our protective bubbles. This will allow us to provide greater access to specialist classrooms for Year 9, who will join the Year 10 bubble and will have access to 13 additional classrooms and considerably more available space within the school. They will be able to use specialist classrooms for practical subjects and will have full access to the Atrium’s dining facilities. Years 7 and 8 will have access to more specialist rooms and Year 12 will have their own corridor and all lessons in classrooms again, moving away from provision in the assembly hall and library. We will issue new timetables for all students when we return to school and will also provide access to lockers again for students in Years 7, 8, 9 and 10, if possible, by 14th June 2021. These changes will also allow us to hold regular assemblies and to increase our extracurricular provision. As you might expect, we are very excited about this as it represents an additional step towards normality. Students will also be keen to hear that we will be making a wide range of break time food available from the school servery again.

 

Positive Cases over Half-Term and Lateral Flow Testing Survey

 

Please inform the school if your child has a positive PCR at any point next week and, in particular, contact the usual school email address (school@durhamjohnston.org.uk) if that is the case on Saturday 29th, Sunday 30th or Monday 31st May. If your child tests positive via a PCR test on any of those days we will need to complete close contact tracing in school.  We are also keen to gauge the extent of Lateral Flow Testing within our community and whether or not results are being registered online. Could I request that parents and carers complete the following, completely anonymous, survey in relation to home testing and the actions that you would take if your child became symptomatic?

 

Please click here to complete the survey.

 

 

Assemblies, Our Extra-Curricular Offer and Bus Sponsorship

 

We have held assemblies for Years 7, 8 and 9 in the main school hall this week and have discussed the importance of education and the need to take advantage of opportunities to learn, work hard and make friends. We have also emphasised the need to be kind, tolerant and to support others who are facing difficulties. These are obvious expectations, but it has been good to share them with different year groups and to visit lessons to discuss them too. Students are obviously aware of these things, but it is good to reiterate them publicly and to remind students that they can talk to teachers confidentially and can challenge things that they feel to be unacceptable or inappropriate. This is an important message for us as teachers too, as when we are busy, we can also make mistakes.

 

I have referenced the return of extracurricular activities and we have now shared an overview of music provision for the final half-term. An update on upcoming musical provision can be accessed here at this link.

Our sporting provision continues to go from strength to strength too, with after school sports clubs running from Monday to Friday each week. Do encourage your child to attend if they have never chosen to do so!

 

Since Easter the school has organised a late bus service for students between Tuesday and Thursday. This was to ensure fairness and equal of opportunity for students in Years 11 and 13. We wanted them to access revision sessions and any additional provision that might help to achieve success. This service has also been accessed by younger students and has allowed them to access extra-curricular opportunities.  We would very much like to offer the same service after half-term, but the cost is very prohibitive. Please contact the school if you are connected to a company that might be willing to offer funding to help us continue offering this service. This would be a practical and direct way in which a company could help our community and measurably improve access opportunities for all children, but particularly those who travel to school by bus.

 

Important Dates for June and July 2021

This half-term has been busy and that will continue after half-term. Please be aware of the following important dates as you enjoy the holiday week:

Parents’ Consultation Evenings

We have scheduled three parents’ evenings for the summer term. The virtual system that has been used for parents’ evenings during this academic year has proven to be very popular and we will share additional information regarding the appointment process in the coming weeks. We would request that Year 10 parents and carers check their email accounts on Monday 7th June, when we will share information on how and when to make appointments. Please make sure that you have shared your preferred email address, or any new email address, with the school.

The three remaining virtual parents’ evenings will take place in the following order: 

  • Year 10 - Monday 14th June 2021.
  • Year 8 - Monday 28th June 2021. 
  • Year 7 - Monday 5th July 2021. 

 

Transition & Induction 

We are looking forward to welcoming new students to the school in June and July. We have been working with our primary partners to plan a Year 6 induction day and have plans for two induction days for prospective Year 12 students. Our Transition and 6th Form Teams will share more information in the coming weeks. 

  • Year 11 into 12 Induction Days – Thursday 24th and Friday 25th June 2021. 
  • Year 6 into 7 Induction Day – Friday 2nd July 2021. 

 

It is a week when we have said goodbye to students who, in many cases, have been with us for 5 or 7 years. We are also turning our attention to those who will be joining us in September. I hope that next week is a restful and positive one for your family. Thank you for your ongoing support of the school.

 

Mr O’Sullivan