Important MHS Update 23-11-2020

Provision for INSET day and early closure before Christmas

I’d like to remind parents and carers that this Friday is a designated teacher in-service training (INSET) day. Pre-pandemic there was never any expectation that staff would set work for students on INSET days, the technical reason being that the school year is officially 190 days long for children and 195 days long for teaching staff, the five extra days being the INSET days. However, due to the unique circumstances of this year and due to the information below, I can confirm that we will be setting work for this Friday as if students were self-isolating. Therefore please can I ask that parents and carers encourage students to log on to Show My Homework (Satchel One) from 8.30am this Friday where the day’s activities will be displayed. All the work set will be ‘independent’ in nature, there will be no live or hybrid form times or lessons on that day.

Furthermore, a decision has been made today by the Local Authority to authorise schools to close down two days early at Christmas. The intention is to help break the cycle of transmission of the virus and minimise the risk of families having to isolate over the festive period due to cases emerging in schools. At MHS we were due to open fully on Monday 21st December, and open for a half day on Tuesday 22nd December. Instead we will now be following the guidance of the Local Authority and offering remote learning only for those two days. As above, work will be on Show My Homework (Satchel One) from 8.30am on Monday 21st December, and again all the work set will be ‘independent’ in nature with no live or hybrid form times or lessons on that day. The final half day of term (Tuesday 22nd December) is traditionally a day where students and staff do not complete academic work as such. We will however be posting some activities and resources for students to access to make sure their final half day before the festive break is positive and productive.

The official Local Authority letter can be seen here.

We hope that by offering a full day of learning this Friday and on Monday 21st December, as well as providing activities on Tuesday 22nd December, we can keep learning going whilst doing our bit to help break the cycle of infection before Christmas.

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

MHS Update 20-11-2020

MHS Update 20-11-2020

Last week I took time out of the Covid merry-go-round to blog about more normal things such as Children in Need, Remembrance Sunday and a lovely painting of Marple Hall. Therefore I suppose the sensible thing is to return to Covid, especially as since last week we’ve had a bit of an increase in cases. Since posting my blog early on Friday morning last week we had two more cases later that day, and then another one on Tuesday this week. Three in a week is not at all many compared to a number of schools, especially given our size, but it is an increase for us based on the ‘usual’ one a week we’d had before half term. I was therefore interested to see that current Government data also revealed a spike in the Marple area itself in the past week (over 500 cases per 100,000 people), and so perhaps it was to be expected that we’d see more cases in school. Of course every case is a worry and every group of students who have to isolate is a loss to the school, and it’s sad that around 200 students across all year groups are currently having to isolate. A fortnight ago I clarified our approach to remote learning (long blog available here) and I am confident that our mix of hybrid lessons and Show My Homework based tasks appears to be working well. It’s an ambitious model that offers students a good deal, provides structure for the day and enables learning to continue in these strange times. Whilst we’ve been able to compensate for an increase in staff workload by reducing other tasks, running this new format of hybrid education does require a lot more thought from staff and so I am grateful for all their efforts.

Looking ahead

In some ways I have learnt this year that looking ahead too far can be a waste of time, but on the other hand we’ve often been able to react quickly to changes by planning for a variety of eventualities. In the past few days I’ve been thinking about what we would do if a significant proportion of one year group had to isolate at the same time. Currently we have about 27% of the Year 11 cohort off school due to three case (two in the year group and another where students on a bus were impacted), and so hybrid lessons are taking place in many lessons. At the moment I think that this is fine, but would we keep the same plan going if 60% of the year were off, or 80%? Obviously from a day to day management perspective it’s easy to manage year groups when large numbers are absent, but from an educational point of view would it be better if ALL students were accessing lessons from home? It’s an interesting question, and one that one school in Stockport has already answered by closing for Year 10 this week and Year 11 next. Their logic is that it’s fairer on students and parents to know where they stand rather than the constant in and out, and that they can then deliver live lessons to all rather than the less structured mix of hybrid lessons and independent tasks. Like I say, we’re not in that boat yet at MHS but if needed I’d be keen to make a call that provides the best possible outcome for the most students at any given time. Happily the good news is that should the unthinkable happen and the Government close us down again – or asks that we run rotas for year groups (after a no-lockdown Christmas, perhaps?) then this time we have already done all the prep – we’re set up for 100% live lessons for whole cohorts at home, no problem!

On the topic of remote learning we are now in a position to accurately track the attendance of students in hybrid lessons, and from next week we’ll start contacting home if students miss hybrid form time or lessons on any given day. We think we have managed to provide devices where students need them, but of course if families need help getting hold of devices then we can assist further – please email or call school to report a need should this be the case.

Not in my name

I’ll finish in an unusual way. A few days ago the Guardian ran an article about the impact of the current crisis on school leaders, and it was sent on to me by colleagues and a couple of parents. Whether they were hoping I’d be leaving soon or not I’m not sure… Anyway, I raise it here as I was actually quite annoyed by the piece. Don’t get me wrong, the crisis has been tough on schools and there is a lot of pressure on headteachers (as there is on all other staff too), but I can categorically say that this article in no way speaks for me. In a time of crisis where so many people have suffered more than I, I simply feel privileged to do the job that I do. I feel lucky to be incredibly well supported by all those around me and there is nothing I would rather be doing that helping our great school through this crisis and beyond.

Stay safe everyone,

Joe Barker

Pudsey, Paintings and Remembrance

Pudsey, Paintings and Remembrance

The coronavirus pandemic continues to muscle its way into the thoughts and actions of all staff in school – not least with a slow but steady increase in cases – but our main priority is to provide as normal a school experience as we possibly can in the most abnormal of times. By and large we’re managing it, not-withstanding the huge disruption caused when year groups have to isolate for a day and then smaller cohorts for up to two weeks. A reminder that parents can read about the full remote learning plan in last week’s blog available here. However…this blog isn’t about that as I’m determined to spend some time at least celebrating the ‘normal’ life of school where I can.

Three things have caught my eye this week. Firstly, it’s the enthusiasm that our students never fail to show for charity fundraisers. Last year was a phenomenal year with the school well on track to raise over £10,000 for charity before everything stopped, and although our creativity may be constrained this year it was no surprise at all to hear that students were keen to support Friday’s Children in Need appeal. It may be a much more scaled back affair this year but I have no doubt that the non-uniform day will raise a great deal of cash for a very worthy cause. We’ll be having to quarantine the money for a while before we can count it so we won’t have a total straight way, but in such difficult times it’s great to know that our community can still think of others above themselves.

In a similar vein our students were keen to pay their respects on Wednesday to all the men and women who have given their lives for this country in conflicts throughout the 20th Century and more recently. There was no whole school minute’s silence this year, but students and staff observed the ceremony in classrooms and our local cadets wore their uniforms with pride. New for this year was the unveiling of an amazing piece of artwork designed and created by Technologies teacher Eva-Joy Sargent. My picture here doesn’t really do the stunning piece justice at all, it really is striking and powerful.

Finally, to underline the important place that our school has in the local community, we were overjoyed last week to take receipt of a fantastic painting of the old Marple Hall that used to stand on the grounds of our school. We have a strong connection to the memory of the Bradshaw-Isherwood family who owned the Hall, and I know many local families (including my own on my wife’s side) can trace back links to the Hall itself with many a family member being employed on the estate at one time or another. The history teacher in me is keen to keep the school’s connections to the site’s illustrious past alive, and so I was thrilled to see this amazing piece of artwork donated by local resident Mrs M Stevens. The piece was painted by her father and is something of a family treasure, and we will cherish it and display it for many years to come.  

Wishing you all a good weekend,

Joe Barker

MHS Update 6-11-2020

Remote Learning focus

Welcome back everyone, I hope you managed to have a good week whatever you were doing and that you are prepared for the lockdown we currently find ourselves in. Obviously MHS will be staying open and we’re very glad of it – the goal to stay open for as long as possible and for as many students as possible lives on. Just a word on that one before moving on; a reminder that it is absolutely essential that students and staff do not attend school if they or their household members have any of the three main symptoms of a new, persistent cough, a temperature or a loss/change of the senses of taste and/or smell. If everyone followed that rule then we believe the number of occasions where students have to self-isolate would be reduced by around 40%.

However, this blog is almost entirely dedicated to explaining our plan for remote learning going forwards.

I am conscious that there is a lot here and you may want to read it in stages. However, I wanted to get the whole plan out there and explain it in one go. We’ll aim to package the key points in a more user friendly way in the days to come but as we have now settled upon a plan for remote learning I wanted to explain it here both to set out our intentions and help manage expectations.

Managing expectations is probably the most important aim of this whole blog. What follows below is our earnest intention and we will strive to deliver it, but I must ask for some patience and understanding for when we are not able to do so.

  • Firstly, as the weeks go on it is increasingly likely that staff may have to self-isolate making it harder and sometimes impossible for the teachers themselves to deliver remote lessons. Up to now we have miraculously escaped the worst if this compared to many school in Stockport, but staff absences are starting to increase and common sense would suggest that this trend will continue.
  • Secondly, when a colleague isolates another member of staff has to pick up extra duties in school which can delay their own efforts to provide remote learning.
  • Thirdly, where students are isolating due to family reasons (ie not at the direction of school) the news of when they start and stop isolating can come in at any time. It is not possible for all teachers to check the status of all students all the time, and so there can be a delay in setting up remote lessons or work on SMHW.
  • Fourthly, when school is informed of a positive case and we identify a cohort of students who have to isolate, communicating this to staff can take some time as the list of close contacts is reviewed and finalised. When the news is shared late in the evening it’s not reasonable to expect that remote learning will be fully in place by the next day.
  • Fifthly, staff are of course subject to usual illnesses as well and may not be able to set work in the normal way. Pre-Covid other colleagues would have stepped in and planned work in this situation, and whilst we will still do this the priority will need to be to set work for those in school meaning that it won't always be possible to set work for students at home. Of course students at home won't know if their teaching is ill or not, so will just need to be aware of the possibility. 
  • And finally…our now-normal covid precautions are very labour intensive and demand a lot of time from staff across the school – more duties, more time supervising forms, more moving around the one way system – all of this reduces the spare time of staff in school and therefore diminishes our flexibility as a staff.

However…please don’t see this an me moaning! Not a bit of it!! I am ambitious for our school and am amazed on a daily basis at the creativity and dedication shown by my colleagues. I have every faith that they will strive to deliver what I outline below, but my job is to protect colleagues when I need to and it is only fair to point out that there may well be times when remote lessons don’t happen, SMHW tasks arrive late or a student has a day without a hybrid lesson.

So, now that I have explained that, here’s the plan


Scenario One: If a whole class or whole year group has to isolate

We have only had to ask one Year group to isolate, and that was for four days with the very first case in late September. Since that point we have been able to speed up our response terms of live lessons:

  • On the first full day of closure work will be set for students via Show my Homework (SMHW). The intention will be that all this work will be online by 8.30am, but this will depend on when news of the closure is communicated to staff. It may be that some live lessons are possible on day one, and if so teachers will communicate this via messages on SMHW.
  • On the second full day of closure all lessons will be live streamed on Microsoft Teams. Students can see how to access Teams on the school website here
  • All lessons will continue on Teams until the isolation period ends

We are very confident that this plan works and believe that this represents a great deal for students. It is in line with best practice amongst other schools in Stockport and should enable students to keep up with their studies well. IF (and I have not been given any inside info!) schools are asked to operate on a rota with some years in and some years out, then this will be the model we operate for all groups not in school.


Scenario Two: If individual students are isolating, either due to family reasons or because school has asked them to

I have blogged a number of times now about the challenge of catering for students at home and those in the same class in school at the same time. It is without doubt much harder than scenario one above, but we believe it is our duty to keep as many students in school as possible and so if we can restrict self-isolators to as small a group as possible then we should. However, that means that we need to make sure that the students at home have instant access to as near to the same learning as their classmates. The simplest way would be just to post similar work on Show my Homework, whereas a more complicated but often more effective solution is to run ‘Hybrid’ lessons which is where students at home can ‘join’ elements or all of their real lesson live from home.

We feel that to rely solely on SMHW would lack ambition and not adequately cater for students’ needs. But, at the same time, we don’t think it possible to run hybrid lessons 100% of the time. They demand a great deal of planning and management to run, which is why some schools are not offering any at all, and for all the reasons mentioned above it’s not sustainable to offer these every lesson.

Hybrid lessons come in different shapes and sizes, and if you can bear to listen to me then here’s a narrated assembly featuring a special guest to show you what a day might look like for a student in this situation. Note that not all lessons on any day will be ‘hybrid’ – we are aiming for at least 50% but students may well be offered more.


Here are the plans for this scenario.


When students are isolating due to being told to do so by school following a positive case:

  • From the first day of absence onwards students should join their form group via Teams at 8.35am. Details on how to do this are on the narrated assembly here.
  • On the first full day of absence, work will be set on SMHW by teaching staff as early as possible in the day. We will aim for 8.30am but, given the late notice of isolations, this will often not be possible. Students must therefore check SMHW regularly throughout the day. Some lessons on day 1 may be ‘hybrid’ in which case this will either be communicated on SMHW or teachers will have told their classes in advance
  • From the second day of absence onwards students should check their SMHW after 8.30am. If lessons are not hybrid, or partially hybrid, then work will have been set for the day. If lessons are fully hybrid then there will either be a note to say so on SMHW, or students will have been told by the teacher that all their lessons are hybrid for the duration of the isolation.
  • Students can expect that every lesson will have work set, and that around 50% will be ‘live’ in one form or another


What if a student is isolating due to family reasons, not because school has told them to?

  • From the first day of absence onwards students should join their form group via Teams at 8.35am. Details on how to do this are on the narrated assembly here.
  • Work will be set on SMHW and hybrid lessons will take place as above, but we cannot guarantee that all necessary information will be on SMHW by 8.30am. This is because we cannot keep a track of the start and end of isolation periods for students in this situation – the changes are so regular that to do so would take individual teacher so long they wouldn’t be able to deliver their lessons properly either for those in school or out.
  • Where hybrid lessons are set students should join as normal, and all work on SMHW will be set.

For all of the above a much simple guide that pulls out the key information is being compiled now and will be available next week.


What if my child’s experience doesn’t match the plans above?

Firstly, if it’s almost there but not quite (eg 3 lessons have work set/Hybrid plans in place by 8.30am but the other two are a bit delayed) then please bear in mind the different directions that staff may be pulled in. However, if there are significant issues that persist for more than one day please email Lyn Lawton at and she will make sure the issue is looked at.

Finally, a word on devices

We have run a few surveys now to ascertain which students may not have access to a suitable device on which to complete their work at home, and have recently handed out over 70 further laptops. Whilst government stocks are running low we may be able to use school funds to help in certain cases, and so if you or someone you know needs a device please contact you child’s Head of Year asap.

Well then, there you go – a mammoth blog this week but I hope a useful one. Barring unexpected changes we anticipate running this system for the foreseeable future, and we hope that parents agree that it will provide good education for isolating students in a way that is sustainable for everyone involved.

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