2 September 2021

Dear Parents & Carers, 

 

We are very much looking forward to the start of the new term and the opportunity to welcome all students back in the coming days. I promised that I would write to you in the final week of the summer holiday to share any new information regarding the start of term and protocols that we might be asked to follow as part of Department for Education or Local Authority guidance regarding Covid-19. The end of term letter provides important information for all students, and I would recommend that all parents, carers and students read that letter again before the start of the new school term:  

 

End of year letter.

 

On 16th August and 27th August 2021 the Department for Education updated their operational guidance regarding schools. That guidance can be found at this link.  

 

 

The Department for Education have identified that the key messages from the guidance are as follows:  

 

  • the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has made it clear that the overwhelming majority of children and young people still have no symptoms or very mild illness only 
  • secondary schools and colleges have been asked to prepare for on-site testing at the beginning of the autumn term. (In a way that works best for their context).  
  • schools will no longer trace close contacts - close contacts will still be identified via NHS Test and Trace 
  • children and young people aged under 18 years 6 months who usually attend school, and have been identified as a close contact should continue to attend school as normal and are recommended to book a PCR test. 
  • children do not need to remain in a consistent group (‘bubble’) 
  • the government has removed the requirement to wear face coverings in law but expects and recommends that they are worn in enclosed and crowded spaces where people may come into contact with people they don’t normally meet 

 

We have also been asked to have a contingency plan in place by the Local Authority’s public health team. Based upon the work that we have undertaken regarding both documents I can now share the following important information with you for September 2021:  

  • Protective Bubbles – Students will no longer be in year group bubbles and will access all areas of the school building. The school, as instructed by the Department for Education, has a contingency plan in place and may need to introduce additional measures if instructed to do so by public health officials as part of their ‘stepping up or down’ powers. 
  • Close contact tracing/Test and Trace – In simple terms, responsibility for close contact tracing has passed from the school to local public health officials. This will allow them to make informed public health decisions. We will continue to keep detailed seating plans and will provide assistance and support for the local public health team if requested. If your child tests positive you will now be contacted by NHS Test and Trace, and they will work with you to identify close contacts. Any identified individuals will then be contacted directly by NHS Test & Trace.    
  • Face Coverings – Face coverings are no longer mandatory in school settings, but we intend to maintain the position that we have outlined in all communication since March 2021. Wearing a face covering is a personal choice and we will support any students who choose to do so. We have noted on a number of occasions that:  
    • 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 Department for Education 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 whilst we are no longer recommending that face coverings are worn in the classroom, it is absolutely fine to continue doing so if that is their personal choice. Some teachers may well make that personal choice too.
    • It would be sensible for students to have a face covering available in their school bag if they would like to wear one in communal space or corridors around the school. This is in line with Department for Education guidance but is not compulsory.   
  • Face coverings on public or dedicated school transport – The Department for Education guidance recommends that children continue to wear face coverings on public transport and dedicated school transport.  
  • Stepping Measures Up or Down – The Department for Education have advised local authorities and schools to have contingency plans/an outbreak management plan in place so that measures can be reintroduced as a matter of ‘last resort’ if necessary. Please note that this would not be a decision made by the school but would be based upon instruction from the local authority’s public health team.  
  • The importance of good hygiene – We will continue to advise students to use the national ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach and to have good personal hygiene. We will also continue with the school’s extensive cleaning regime.  
  • The importance of good ventilation – We will continue to prioritise good ventilation and will ensure that students are made aware, as the term develops, of when it might be appropriate to wear additional items of school uniform in the classroom. We are awaiting the delivery of CO2 monitors from the Department for Education and worked closely with our local MP, Mary Foy, to ask questions regarding ventilation in June and July. The result of that process was the following response from Nick Gibb, a longstanding Education Minister in response to Mary Foy’s parliamentary question on ventilation. He replied: “The Department’s guidance states that, when a school or college is in operation, it is important to ensure that it is well ventilated and that a comfortable teaching environment is maintained. This can be achieved by a variety of measures including using mechanical ventilation systems and/or natural ventilation, such as opening windows. In all cases, actions should be taken to encourage fresh air into the building, whilst striking a balance with thermal comfort. This guidance applies to all schools in England. The Department continues to review the ventilation requirements set out in its guidance, including considering whether monitoring carbon dioxide (CO2) levels would be appropriate, and is working with Public Health England and ventilation experts on a pilot project to measure CO2 levels in typical classrooms. 
  • We would like to thank our local MP for addressing this issue and to reassure parents and carers that we will continue to seek solutions to issues of ventilation in schools. It is important to note that we are very fortunate to have good ventilation within our school building and that we will continue to look for additional solutions and funding to improve ventilation where possible.  
  • Testing prior to return – Like many schools, we have confidence that our students know how to complete lateral flow tests effectively at home. We would encourage all students to complete lateral flow tests on Thursday 2nd September and Sunday 5th September before their return to school on Monday 6th September. If their lateral flow test is positive, they should inform the school, book a PCR test and remain at home until the result is known. The majority of students completed tests in March 2021 that were overseen by experienced medical professions at school. We did so to ensure that students could complete tests with confidence at home and offered additional testing in school in March and April for those who were uncertain or anxious. Therefore, we believe that it is much more sensible for students to test at home prior to their return on Monday 6th September. This means that they will not be mixing with others for in-school testing, reducing the risk for all students, and it means that students will not lose valuable curriculum time. Durham Johnston is a very large school and testing all students on site based upon the model suggested by the Department for Education would involve a loss of 6 hugely important teaching days. We feel this to be inappropriate based upon the fact that the vast majority of our students can test confidently at home without any subsequent impact on curriculum time. We have arranged testing for Year 7 students on Friday 3rd September and for Year 12 students joining us from other secondary schools so that they have a clear understanding of how our systems work with the same medical professional monitoring.  
  • We will issue a large number of lateral flow tests to each of our students in the week beginning 6th September and will continue to operate a small testing centre for any student that would like to request a supervised test on site from next week onwards. However, if you need to order additional lateral flow tests now, please do so via this link.
  • The Importance of weekly Testing – The Department for Education has requested that all students test on a twice weekly basis. We would also encourage our students to do so and, if a positive test result is returned, to self-isolate and to immediately book a PCR test. Test and trace will then offer guidance regarding isolation periods and identifying close contacts. Your child should not attend school if they test positive and should remain at home until the result of their PCR test. If your child is unwell, please do not send them to school. If the PCR test is taken within two days of the lateral flow test and is negative, they can then return to school. The Department for Education will offer an update on testing in the final week of September.  
  • Queries regarding vaccination of those aged 12-15 – There are a number of views regarding the vaccination of those aged 12-15. Any decision made by the Government will be based upon scientific advice and is not within the power of the school. The organisation of any potential vaccination programme would be completed by the Local Authority School Immunisation team and the school would play no role in that decision making process. Therefore, any queries regarding vaccination for this year age group should be directed towards the Local Authority.  
  • School uniform & PE – I wrote to all parents and carers in July explaining that students need to come to school in full uniform each day from September onwards. Students need to change for PE and should not wear their PE kit to school. If you are unsure about any aspect of school uniform, please read our policy carefully. It can be found here.  

 

I hope that the above information offers the necessary clarity. We are very much looking forward to the start of the new school term and I will offer any additional update on Friday 10th September.  

 

Yours faithfully 

 

Mr O’Sullivan