MHS Update 25-9-2020

Living the first 'Year group' lockdown

Tuesday was the day we had been dreading since the start of term – the news of a positive case in the school community and the need to act fast to safeguard everyone in school. Our local contact at Public Health England (PHE) was amazing. Clear, direct and authoritative, she took on board all the information that we had gathered and worked with us to decide on the what needed to be done. We always knew that our model would mean that a case almost certainly meant a whole year group closure, a by-product of us offering the full curriculum experience in school, and so that is what happened. However, thankfully our Year 8 lockdown is only for four school days. By staying off school as soon as symptoms emerged the student involved saved their classmates a week of isolation, for which we are very grateful. It is though very important that our Year 8s do indeed isolate until next Tuesday. They need to stay at home for the whole time and not venture out, as otherwise the chances of further transmission of the virus will increase and more year group lockdowns likely. Family members of Year 8 students do not need to isolate unless of course anyone in the household develops symptoms. 

Of course I was hoping that we’d miraculously make it all the way through the term without any cases but as I have said before, that was always going to be unlikely. When one case can close a year group regardless of school size, it stands to reason that the bigger the school the more likely it is that we’ll see a case. So, despite the fact that this is unwelcome, it has afforded us a good opportunity to test our remote learning plan. A few weeks ago I outlined that the standard approach would be to set work daily via Show My Homework (Satchel One) for three days and then shift to live lessons on Microsoft Teams. However, thanks to the great work done by the network team and all teaching teams, we were able to reduce the delay before live lessons started to just two days. Therefore today has been the first day of live lessons, with every student expected to log on to their form time and five classes as per the normal school timetable. As I upload this blog we’re in the middle of this first attempt at running over 60 live sessions over the day and there have indeed been some technical issues – problems with sound and screen sharing…but I have also seen plenty examples of students online, engaged and participating with their classmates. Mnay colleagues have reported a very positive experience indeed. Remote learning is no substitute for being in school, but I am heartened by the fact that I think we have built an ambitous, strong alternative and one that will serve students very well indeed.

On Tuesday we had the logistical issue of requiring Year 8 to leave early. This wasn’t optional, it was deemed essential by PHE that the year group left school well before year 7, 9, 10 and 11. Our staff team did a great job in getting everything ready for the departure whilst of course making sure there was no panic amongst Year 8 or other students (and staff). However, we are aware of an issue whereby the emergency text sent to parents shortly before the departure of the students didn’t always arrive in time, leading to some parents and carers finding out about the closure from their children and not from school. I apologise for this and assure you all that we will send the text earlier if there is a next time, but would ask that families refrain from calling the school switchboard or their children on receipt of such a text, as it will overwhelm the reception staff and potentially lead to a lot of mobile phones going off in assembly as we are dismissing the students!

The rest of the week in school was ‘normal’ for Years 7, 9, 10 and 11. The systems are still working well and aside from a slight change to ‘zones’ outside, no other changes were necessary and we don’t anticipate any further changes to routines next week. The one thing that will change soon is our attitude to face coverings, as some students – often in the oldest two years – are ‘forgetting’ to wear their coverings properly as they walk along corridors. From doing duty at least six times a day I know that students invariably have coverings with them, and all are very obliging when we ask them to wear them, but some are choosing to lower their coverings as soon as they pass a member of staff. This is of course not acceptable and we will, regrettably, have to start issuing ‘not following instructions’ sanctions to students found doing this. In addition from 5th October any student who does not have a mask will be given a uniform strike when they collect a free mask from school. I’ll reiterate that the numbers are low and there is never an argument, but especially given the case in Year 8 we need to tighten up on this aspect of the plan.

Today marks half way through the first half term and overall I am incredibly pleased at how the reopening plans have gone. It is truly wonderful to have our school feeling ‘alive’ again and, in the midst of rising case numbers and the Prime Minister warning of potentially more restrictions to come, we are savouring every moment.

Thank you as always for your support,

Joe Barker

MHS update 18-9-2020

MHS update 18-9-2020

Ready for Remote Learning

Last week I shared a blog that updated everyone on the situation so far in school. It talked of the approach we were taking to managing risk whilst providing a full education, some changes to the system in place and also a brief run down of what may happen if a whole year group had to isolate. Today I’ll follow that up with a similar range of issues, but focussing more on the plans for remote learning in the second half of the blog.

In terms of how the first three weeks of reopening has gone I could hardly be more pleased. Almost all of the plans that we put in place seem to be working, and where we found little niggles we’ve managed to find fixes along the way. For example we have had some success in reducing the busyness of corridors and have completely separated all year groups in the canteens, something that last week had emerged as unexpected issues. We’re at the stage now where (we think) any future changes will be even more minor. For example, to speed up the queues in the canteens we’ve ordered some credit-card sized ID badges for students so that they can scan their codes without the need to drag their planners out of bags, and as of Monday next week we’ll slightly change the outdoor zones for Year Seven to Nine to further separate the different age groups. However, like I say, on the whole we have been really pleased. Most importantly I cannot praise the students highly enough. They have risen to the challenges posed by this pandemic in fantastic fashion – attendance is 96%, students are following the one way system, wearing their masks, moving from room to room sensibly and are getting on with their work in class really well. I said yesterday to one of our catering colleagues that I am so proud of the students. She passed on that their team currently includes colleagues who normally work in other schools and they have all said how polite and respectful our students are. Couldn’t agree more.

Remote Learning

Last Wednesday I highlighted the fact that back then, a number of schools across Greater Manchester had closed down classes or year groups as a result of positive Covid tests. By the middle of this week the Manchester Evening News was reporting over 100 GM schools in this situation, and the number in Stockport is now growing too and includes some secondary schools. Therefore of course it makes sense to assume that MHS – the largest school in Stockport – won’t escape this forever. Staff at school have been working really hard to get ready for all eventualities and I’m pleased to say that we have a strong plan ready to go. I’m sure there will be some teething issues especially the first time around, but there’s every chance that should a year group have to isolate then they will receive almost their full timetable of lessons online across the two weeks.

The plan for a full year group closure

After communicating the closure to students and parents, we will make sure that work is set on Show My Homework (Satchel One) for the first two days. This will be work that the student can complete on their own, using their exercise books that should all now be kept at home and not in classrooms overnight.

By day three, or possibly before, the full school day will take place on Microsoft Teams. Starting at 8.35am with form tutors, students will be expected to log on to their timetabled lessons and meet their class and teachers. Video will be disabled but microphones will be allowed so that students can communicate with staff. We’ve developed a nifty way of sharing all the relevant links to the classes with every student so they’ll easily be able to see what to do and where to go – it’s all very clever!

Lessons will then take place during the day, with work set and students expected to either send it to staff or bring everything back in at the end of the isolation period. Students have seen a virtual assembly on how this plan will work, a letter is going out to parents and carers and the key information, including the virtual assembly, can be found here.

Like I say, the dream would be that Marple Hall avoids all connection to a positive test but I think that chances of that would be astronomical! Every day we have everyone here is a bonus and we’re not taking that for granted at all.

What if a student has to isolate but the rest of their year group does not have to?

Again, things have moved on from my message of nine days ago and we are now pretty much up and running with the plan to cater for students self-isolating and therefore missing classes. Most teachers are now setting work that matches the lesson content via Show my Homework on the same day, so all that an isolating student needs to do is log on, complete the work and then they’ll be up to speed on their return. If for some reason work isn’t appearing then please get in touch with your child’s Head of Year.

And finally…what about the rest of the term?

Two weeks ago I wasn’t sure what the future held. Having seen the school come back to life and thriving again I am growing in confidence that this term will be manageable. If things stay exactly as they are then we’ll carry on as we are indefinitely. If year groups close down and come back, then we are ready and will cope with that too. The only uncontrollable aspect at the moment is if too many of my colleagues have to isolate, making it difficult to run the school day to day. At present a) not many colleagues have had to do this and b) those who have, have managed to get themselves or their relations tested very quickly and then return to school. I have everything crossed that this situation continues for as long as possible!

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

Seeking out normality

Despite all the changes, most things stay the same

My intention for this blog is to make it as Covid-free as possible, and to help with that I’ll direct readers to Wednesday’s update which covers what may happen if year groups are asked to isolate for a fortnight. You can access it here. When/if this happens at MHS I obviously can’t tell and therefore the way I’m seeing it is that every day the school is fully open is a real bonus for students, families and staff. The Manchester Evening News has been keeping a track of schools that have had partial closures and as of Wednesday the list was topping 40, with presumably more yesterday and today. So – we take each day as it comes and keep our fingers crossed.

Instead today I’d like to focus on the things that stay the same, the good and the bad, although there is far more of the former than the latter. I said last week how great it was to see students back in school I’ll repeat that sentiment now. A friend asked me over the weekend how the first week back had gone and I simply couldn’t help smiling all the way through the conversation. I explained that from a managerial perspective the situation is challenging, but those concerns are far outweighed every day by the sheer joy of seeing the school thriving again. At the moment I’m not visiting classrooms in the same way as before but I am trying to circulate the school as much as possible, as well as seeing the students every day at the many breaks and lunches. It’s wonderful to see children learning again, being supported by pastoral teams and learning support assistants, and to see teachers teaching again. I know my teaching colleagues are enjoying it and I understand why. I’ve got a new Year 11 History class this year and being back in the classroom is a brilliant. A chance to do what I’ve always loved doing and for those 50 minutes or so to forget about other issues and to simply teach. None of this would be possible without the incredible work of the staff team, the support of parents and carers and of course the students themselves – who have been almost entirely fantastic.

I say almost as sadly one thing that is not so good has been the behaviour of a few students on the 844 bus this week. Over the years we have made great strides in stopping such antisocial behaviour and the instances have dropped, which is why is was so disappointing to hear about what happened earlier this week. We are determined to stamp out any kind of anti-social behaviour and would really appreciate parents and carers reminding students about the need to think of others at all times and to give a good account of themselves and their school. I know families do this already and so I thank you. To be clear, we will have no hesitation in banning students from both school and (working with transport companies) public buses for as long as it takes, should they behave in an unacceptable manner. As far as I am concerned if they want to have no choice but to walk to school and back through the winter months then fine by me, and all the better for the vast majority of students who know how to behave on a bus!

I don’t want to dwell on a negative and we must put this issue in perspective – perhaps 5 or so students have let us down on the bus, which is less than 0.5% of the student population – and instead I’d rather focus on the fabulous attitude and behaviour of pretty much every student in school every day. Everyone always says that kids are adaptable and resilient but never have I seen it more so than these last eight or so school days. They have accepted the changes en masse and are doing all we could ask of them, and thanks to them we’re able to start resuming some of the other elements that make our school what it is. I met with the new team of Head Students Anya, Saul, Maia and Dan yesterday and it was great to be able to talk about what we can do to keep improving our school and to continue to support charities – focussing on things outside of Covid for the benefit of us all.

Two weeks in. The routines are becoming habit and learning is taking place. Long may it continue and if we have to take a pause, we’re ready!

Best wishes

Joe Barker

MHS Update 8-9-2020

Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst

Schools have only been back for a few days and already we are hearing the news across Greater Manchester that classes and year groups are having to close due to positive tests. Thankfully this has not yet happened at MHS, but given the size of our school it would be foolish to think that we’ll escape having to close down a year group at one point or another. I therefore wanted to share a few thoughts with families about what we anticipate will happen and the steps we are taking to minimise the impact on education. I know you appreciate that this is a new situation for all of us and I would just like to state up front that the students have been amazing so far. Sensible, mature, listening to instruction and doing all they can to help us restrict transmission of the virus. Very impressive indeed and I thank all parents and carers who have clearly impressed upon the students the need to work together for the common good.

What will happen if there is a positive case in school?

When we are informed of a confirmed case amongst the school community (staff or students) we will immediately contact Public Health England (PHE). Obviously this has not happened yet, but my understanding is that PHE will then discuss with us the control measures in school and who the confirmed case may have been in contact with in school. In our case, like in most secondary schools, this will in theory mean the whole year group. Acting on PHE advice we may then have to ask that year group and/or specific members of staff to self-isolate for 14 days.

Why a full year group and not just the class?

All schools were given two priorities by the Government when planning for the return to school in September. The first was to minimise the risk of infection, the second was to deliver the full curriculum, full time school for all students. When planning how to open schools had to weigh up how far both of these competing challenges could be met – for example, the most secure way to avoid the infection spreading would be to keep classes in the same room all day, including at break and lunch, and for teachers to visit them on rotation. The way to completely teach the full curriculum would be to have no social distancing at all and allow practical activities, group work, mixed-year enrichment and so on. Basically, I’m not sure you can fully meet both objectives at the same time.

At MHS we have attempted to deliver the full curriculum whilst having robust control measures in place, seeking ‘the best of both worlds’. This means that students are moving around to specialist teaching areas, they are in different sets for different subjects and Year 10 and Year 11 students can, crucially, be taught their options in the right groups. I am 100% convinced that this is the right thing to do, as ultimately we must get students back in the right routine, get them back learning and provide the safe, familiar environment that we had in pre March. However…this does mean that our ‘bubbles’ are in theory the whole year group, and so if we have a case in a year then the chances are that PHE will instruct us to close for all students in that year.

What are you doing to prevent years having to isolate?

Our risk assessment is all about making sure that transmission is as low as possible – one way system, hand sanitiser, ventilation, face masks, seating plans, no extra curricular, split break and lunch, zones for year groups outside, staff control measures – all these things are designed to prevent infection and to keep years separate in case a positive test takes place. It is of course not possible to keep year groups completely separate as students will meet others on their way to and from some lessons, which is entirely within government guidelines as per the expectation to teach the full curriculum.

However, after being in school with all students for two days we have made a change to the procedures at Key Stage 3 break and lunch to further separate the year groups. In our plan, each year group has its own canteen with the exception of Year Seven who can use the canteen nearest to them. Each year we allow them to leave lessons a little earlier in the first few weeks as it can take them a while to navigate canteens, choose food and pay. Our Covid plan works well so long as year Seven are in and out of the respective canteens before Year Eight or Nine arrive, but we noticed that this wasn’t happening yesterday and there was some overlap for a brief period.

Therefore we have decided to deliberately shorten Year Seven lessons Period 1 and Period 3 for the foreseeable future and to guarantee that all Year Sevens will have left the canteens before Year Eight or Nine arrive. We trialled this today and it went well, but of course this means a loss of learning time for our new cohort. I regret this, but I believe this move is both sensible and necessary to help us keep our school open for as many students as possible for as long as possible.

On the subject of preventing cases and protecting our school community, I’d also like to remind all parents and carers about government rules on quarantining after foreign trips. If students are subject to quarantine after holidays this summer then we do of course expect families to respect this and to keep children off school for the specified period.


Will work be set if year groups have to be sent home?

Yes, absolutely. If we have to close a year group then it will be at short notice and the following will happen:

Day 1-3 of closure: Work will be set by the normal classroom teachers, following the normal daily timetable, on either Satchel One (new name for Show my Homework), on Sharepoint or on a subject specific package such as mathswatch or Tassomai, depending on what resources are used by different subjects. This process will be similar to how we managed the first two/three months of lockdown in March to May.

Day 4 onwards: Online ‘live’ lessons will begin as per a new timetable which will be shared at the time. Some of these lessons may be for the whole year group, some (more commonly GCSE classes) may be for individual groups. We may establish a mixed approach of some live lessons and some work set via Satchel One/Sharepoint etc, and we will communicate any specific information to relevant students and parents should the need arise.

What if a student has to isolate but the rest of their year group does not have to?

This is already happening in some families where parents or siblings not at MHS have had a positive test or a student is at home with symptoms. In this situation we are endeavouring to set meaningful work whilst at the same time running the school for everyone else. I’ll be honest that this is a growing challenge as we try to balance setting personalised work for students, which takes time to do well, with planning for and managing the students in school. However, I’m hopeful we will have a new routine established soon and I thank my colleagues for prioritising this on top of the work they are doing to establish new systems in school.

What now?

Firstly thank you for reading this far, I know there’s a lot here. If you have any queries or comments then of course please get in touch. Next steps for the school are to:

  1. Keep reviewing and if necessary change procedures in school to further reduce the risk of infection
  2. Establish ways to share work with individual students who are not in school, and continue to plan for if whole year groups are off


  1. To keep calm and carry on!

Best wishes

Joe Barker

Marple Hall School Update: We’re back!

Marple Hall School Update: We're back!

170 days since we last had a full school and we have finally made it – we’re back open to all students, full time and studying the full curriculum.

Attendance has been over 98% this week which is fantastic news indeed. It says a great deal about both the attitude of our students and the faith that families have put in us, for which we are very grateful. Of course we take our responsibility seriously as we try to create a meaningful educational experience whilst keeping the whole school community as safe as possible. We've chosen a model of operation that means that every class gets access to every subject in the correct specialist teaching facilities, whilst at the same time applying a wide range of covid precautions. This means that at MHS students are moving around more than they might in a very restricted model, but the pay off is that we can also prioritise effective education alongside virus control. This week I have spoken to all students in assembly (split into year-halves to avoid busy halls) and have outlined the key precautions of

  • Reduced mixing between year groups though zoning of the site, split breaks and split lunches
  • The use of hand sanitiser 8 times a day, supervised by staff
  • The wearing of masks when moving anywhere inside the building
  • A one way system that ensures a common direction of travel in almost all cases around the site – although it’s not always physically possible given the layout of the buildings.

Alongside these there are a range of other measures in traditional classrooms and practical subjects too, as well as a clear focus on preventing adult to adult transmission. It’s a learning curve for us all but as always students are so adaptable and are already getting into good habits. I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive as to how it would all go, but I need not have worried as our MHS students have risen to the challenge wonderfully well.

As of yet we have not had to contact any external agency with even suspected cases of Covid-19, but I am sure that that day will come. After months of restrictions there is of course a risk when 1800 people spend seven+ hours a day in one place. Therefore as well as focussing on the daily routines, planning good lessons and welcoming students back to school we are also focussed on ensuring any remote learning will be as good as it can be should it be needed. Last weekend the Government shared plans for what would happen if classes, year groups or even whole schools have to close again and we intend to be fully prepared come what may. I sincerely hope we don’t end up in that situation – I have enjoyed this week too much – but some things are out of our control.

Thank you to all my colleagues for their hard work in planning for and delivering this week, thanks to the students who have put a smile back on the faces of all the staff and thanks to the families for their much appreciated, ongoing support.

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

Marple Hall School
Hill Top Drive
Stockport SK6 6LB Headteacher: Mr Joe Barker
Tel: 0161 427 7966
Fax: 0161 426 0931