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June / July 2020 Blog

I must apologise for the slightly late nature of the June blog. Whenever the Government issues new guidance (as it did on the 3rd of July), I find myself more than slightly distracted as we try to work out a suitable set of solutions to the conundrums posed by the next stage of government thinking in its ongoing response to the virus. It is like being part of some sophisticated strategic board game such as Risk and whilst many might enjoy this type of pastime, I personally have never been a fan.

It is important though that I do not let the stress of the September reopening take away from reflecting on what we have achieved in June, which under current circumstances I think is remarkable.

In line with government guidelines, we started our wider reopening of the College during the week of the 15th of June with face-to-face pastoral contact for the Year 10s. This proved to be very successful with over 94% of our Year 10 students turning up to have the valuable individual session with their tutor. This was then followed up by a programme, which stretched through the rest of June into July, of group face-to-face sessions for all year 10 students in maths, English and science. I was very pleased that the attendance to these groups was in line with Year 10 attendance across the county. I know the teachers loved seeing their students again, and I think the students appreciated having that direct input into their learning which is hard to achieve through remote provision.

To extend the face-to-face connection with other year groups we also started the live remote lessons using Microsoft Teams for the Year 9 early entry subjects. All students could log into these lessons via their phones, ipads or home computers. Attendance to these sessions varied quite widely resulting in an average of about 50% of Year 9s engaging with the live remote lessons. It is interesting to note that seemingly the students preferred to come into College for their ‘live’ learning rather than engage ‘live’ remotely. I guess it does mean that although they might pretend otherwise at times, the students do actually enjoy or value being able to come to a campus to engage with teachers, to learn together.

June also saw significant activity concerning our virtual transition programme for the new Year 7 cohort that is due to join us in September. The challenge has been to try and do this as comprehensively as possible in a virtual way, imparting all key information about College ethos and routines without having the children here to experience it before September. Add to this though the fact that the College will be running far from normal at the start of the autumn term and so a lot of what is standard practice will not apply, and you begin to understand the complexity of the process. However, the transition team have worked incredibly hard to try to make sure that the programme has been as comprehensive as possible and the detail surrounding each student coming has received additional scrutiny resulting in thorough planning. We have had some very positive visits to many of our local primary schools to meet the new students face-to-face where possible and most of the Primary Headteachers have made it clear how the new students just want to get started and get moving with their learning again. Therefore, we cannot wait to welcome them on September 4th and do just that!

I am also delighted that we have been able to run the Head Girl and Head Boy campaign successfully through ‘itslearning’. We had just over 50% turnout on the vote and the result between all the candidates was very close. My congratulations go to Lola .N and Katharine .W who have been elected Head Girl and Deputy Head Girl respectively and Ben .M and Tyler .W who have been elected Head Boy and Deputy Head Boy respectively. I have had the opportunity to meet with them briefly and I have set them off on a very specific challenge regarding next academic year. This team will need to revisit the whole way the prefect and student leadership system will work and indeed be enhanced through the new routines that will have to be in place in September. They will also need to look at ways to utilise the potential of ‘itslearning’ and the wide-scale use of this by all members of the College community, to grow and invigorate the House system in a completely different way to what was previously seen as normal. There is nothing like fresh young minds to bring new solutions to challenges that arise and I believe that this team are going to be amazing at it!

Although we have not been able to hold our usual rewards presentations evening, we have collated lots of information from our teachers over recent weeks and been able to send out 345 letters congratulating students on the hard work they have been putting in to one or more subjects through remote learning. At the end of the first half of the summer term we sent out 217 letters commending students on their hard work- so 33% of our whole College cohort. What I am absolutely delighted about is that as the summer term has gone on, far from disengaging from remote learning, so many of our students have tried harder and harder resulting in 50% of the College community receiving a rewards letter in the last week or so. What is interesting as well, is that although there was at least a 20% increase in rewards letters for each year group, it is the boys who have improved most significantly concerning their efforts. Double the number of boys were recognised for their hard work online in the second round of rewards letters compared to the first round. There are a possible number of factors for this but possibly the most significant might be the way we as teachers learnt to structure our work remotely to enable accessibility to the tasks. The chunking up of work, the use of symbols to show what type of engagement was required from the students and the increased use of video to support learning has clearly had an impact on the engagement of our boys. Bearing in mind all the work we have been doing over the last two years on this group of learners, I find this outcome fascinating and encouraging.

I have to say that when I do my regular learning walks through different subject course pages on ‘itslearning’ I am so proud of the journey the teachers have been on over recent months and the marked improvement in the quality of the work that is now being set and the rigour of learning that is expected. The Government have made it clear that remote learning will still need to be a crucial part of any school’s provision in September, and so we are remaining focussed on the quality of this right through to the end of term and in our preparations for the new academic year.

We have indeed made a significant leap forward ready for September, where all subjects will be posting their plans for each year group, week by week, on the ‘itslearning’ planner which is set up to be bespoke to each child’s timetable. This will enable students to access the lessons and all the connected resources at the right time. This planner effectively bridges the gap between pure remote learning and the learning planned for the classroom, enabling both aspects to be brought together, into what we would term a ‘blended’ approach. With a continued drive on the independence students need to develop concerning their learning, I believe that this approach will be a powerful way forward.

Now I started this blog with reference to the Government guidance for September and full school reopening. I have to say that July has subsequently been a blur of planning, re-planning, risk assessing and planning again.  To redesign the way a College runs within such a short space of time and with so many considerations to take into account is not an easy task. However, I have been guided very closely by the Government’s expectation that each child should have access to a broad and balanced curriculum and that the full range of subjects should be offered to ensure breadth of student choice and opportunity, at the key points in their educational journey. In line with this, I am planning for all students to have access to the full curriculum and to be taught in specialist rooms for the subjects that require it. I believe passionately that if we are to re-engage students with learning, we need to offer a stimulating curriculum that provides variety and depth. We want our students to ‘opt’ back into their learning journey, and we will achieve this with a carefully thought through ‘recovery’ curriculum plan in each subject.  The full details as to how we will organise the College to facilitate this will be issued in a parent mail before the end of term.

As we approach the end of this term, it is time to say goodbye to Mr Jones (Head of Music), Mr Galbraith (Art teacher), Miss Kelsall (PE teacher) and Miss Gould (Maths teacher). We wish them well on their new ventures whether it be in a new school or with an entirely different project.

Finally, as this will be my last blog this term, I want to say a proper farewell to Year 11. I asked Mr Parkinson a few weeks back if he could pull together a memory for the Year 11s as we would have done for their final assembly and so I sign off for the last time this academic year with the following just for you- Cohort 15.

Much missed. x

And suddenly you know: It's time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.

Meister Eckhart