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Parent Bulletin 22/01/21

Please see the latest bulletin from Mr Solly below...

Dear parents and carers,

I want to focus of the bulletin this week to centre on remote learning. Our provision has improved substantially since the first lockdown and we worked hard to get our IT systems set up properly during the autumn term in preparation for this. We also spent time training staff and modelling a series of scenarios for the type of situation we currently find ourselves in. I have attached a document that is a simple, easy to read synopsis of our provision for remote learning.

There have been a number of publications and announcements recently that varied greatly in their usefulness. Ofsted published a helpful 'myth-busting' document to help develop everyone's understanding of remote learning. You can read their report here. From our perspective, we know that our provision meets both the DFE requirements and aligns with many of the recommendations from the Ofsted report. Most notably, Ofsted make the point that live lessons are not the 'gold standard' that many people perceive them to be. From my experience, they can indeed be very effective and they do maintain a personal level of contact between teachers and students. However, many other forms of remote education can be effective, such as pre-recorded videos from teachers (such as our On Demand offer) and resources provided by the Oak Academy for all schools nationally. However, it wasn't helpful when a few days after this publication, the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, contradicted the assertions of Ofsted by claiming that live lessons are 'best'. 

Having considered the first 3 weeks of remote provision in this latest lockdown, I feel that we are getting the balance just about right. I have spent some time with Mr Anderson looking through the outcomes from our staff, student and parent surveys and the feedback suggests we are striking a sensible balance. The vast majority of students feel that the level of work and the blend of live and on demand lessons are about right and parental feedback was very similar to this. We will take a bit longer to work through all the written comments about suggested ways to improve our provision and make any necessary refinements to our approach that we feel are appropriate. We did receive a huge amount of positive comments and thanks from students and parents across these surveys and we were delighted that so many people took the time to provide us with this feedback.

Alongside our survey feedback, I have spent a great deal of time talking to other headteachers, as well our teachers from UCC and teachers from other schools about remote provision. I have also spent time observing my own son engaging with remote provision from his secondary school in Leicestershire. I have drawn a number of conclusions:

  • The experience for students is challenging. Being in front of a screen all day is draining.
  • 'One size fits all' provision is not helpful or inclusive. Many families (and staff) experience connection problems which compromise their engagement during designated lesson times. Additionally, many families are sharing devices which means not all students are able to engage in the lesson at the specific time. Having a degree of flexibility in our system (the mix of live and on demand resources) allows people to balance the many variables we are all dealing with. 
  • The whole process is extremely time consuming for staff - planning and feedback takes much, much longer than usual and as a result our staff are working very long hours to ensure they complete their remote teaching to a high standard. 
  • Delivering lessons, recording lessons and being available online throughout the school day for students, before then spending several more hours planning and providing feedback is very challenging, especially for staff who are supporting their own children with their school work. Our staff are working extremely hard and we are hosting weekly online training sessions for them so that we develop more efficient and sustainable ways of working remotely. 
  • Structure and routine are important for young people. Parents who have worked with their children to support them in establishing routines for learning, resting, and exercising during this lockdown have done an excellent job and their children will be benefitting greatly from this.
  • Managing everything for families is a huge balancing act. Adults working on the front line in key worker roles are exhausted, many others are working diligently from home. Alongside this, our children are engaging with online learning across all key stages, and balancing all of this with health issues of family members is very hard indeed. We are all doing our best in a difficult situation and I know many people feel overwhelmed and isolated. Several members of our staff have lost family members to Covid in recent weeks and I know that yourselves and your children may well be grieving for loved ones as well. More than ever, we need to be caring, compassionate and empathetic towards those around us.

There is so much to consider for us as a school and our priorities at the moment are:

  • ensuring our remote provision is of a high standard and continues to incrementally improve
  • supporting our most vulnerable families through regular contact 
  • enabling the children of critical workers and vulnerable young people to access remote learning through the school IT facilities on site

We plan to send out surveys at the end of each fortnight for parents and students to provide us with regular feedback. This will allow us to regularly reflect and evaluate our provision, taking on the views of all stakeholders. Please can parents be considerate of the workload implications for our teaching staff; as I have mentioned, they are working extremely hard and receive a huge number of notifications on Satchel:One each day. Therefore, dealing with specific enquiries from parents is not always possible or realistic, so please use the fortnightly opportunities to communicate with us if you need to, and only contact specific teachers if it is absolutely necessary.

Finally, I just want to mention the online engagement report that you will be receiving soon. We have asked teachers to make a judgement on each student, with regard to their engagement with online learning. This pertains directly to the work that students have submitted - we aren't making any assessments on student understanding, just the degree to which they have engaged with online learning up until this point. As parents, it will be useful for you to reflect on this feedback from teachers and then support your son or daughter as necessary to enhance their engagement. You will receive this at a mid-point next week once we have collated all of the information. 

I hope you all have a restful and enjoyable weekend. Let's hope the weather improves!

Take care and stay safe
Mr Solly